When people describe the appeal of camping, the words “escape” and “nature” are sure to pop up somewhere, as well as “fresh air.” There’s also the benefit of exercise, the chance for artistic inspiration and personal reflection, and perhaps even the satisfaction of claiming just a little of that intrepid, roughing-it spirit of our ancestors. But let’s face it, most of us aren’t out to climb Everest. For us, one of the greatest challenges to camping is simply finding the time, gear, and know-how to do it safely and enjoyably.
So here’s a no-frills camping guide for anyone who wants to escape their pollution-choked city for a weekend this winter and venture out into the great already-explored-and-clearly-mapped wilds—all while staying warm!
Basic Camping Tips
Camping in the winter presents a unique set of extra challenges while eliminating the bug element and putting much of the wildlife into hibernation, but a few camping best practices never change.
- DO NOT go alone if you’re a camping newbie. Even the experts sometimes share trips for safety reasons as well as companionship.
- Research the area and bring maps.
- Leave a trip plan with someone who is not going that details where you’ll be, the vehicle(s) used, and the names and contact info of everyone in the group.
- Check the weather forecasts to be sure conditions will be favorable.
- Pack extras: food, clothing, batteries, water. (If camping in the snow, you can go light on the water.)
- Bring your basic outdoors survival essentials.
- Carry cash.
Keep-Warm Hacks and Equipment
Hate the cold? Then your motto during winter camping should be “Conserve all heat!” Here’s how to keep you toasty during your weekend in the elements.
Picking Your Spot
- First of all, if your desired spot is on or near a slope that’s greater than 20 degrees, you should be avalanche trained. Better yet, avoid such locations altogether.
- If you don’t want to rely on melted snow for drinking water, choose a spot near open water and pack the necessary gear for purifying it. Otherwise, plan to bring at least three times the fuel for boiling snow.
- Pick somewhere with available firewood if you don’t want to pack it in.
- DON’T wear cotton. The materials you wear should be moisture-wicking, quick-drying, insulating, breathable, and/or waterproof (i.e., wool, synthetics).
- Layer your clothing. Plan on three layers—base, middle, and outer—and remove and put them on as your body dictates (as soon as you start sweating, remove layers, and replace them when you rest). The base layer, sometimes two layers in extreme conditions, must be moisture-wicking and fast-drying so that your perspiration won’t freeze you later. The middle layer is for insulation. Here’s where you want your fleece and goose down materials. The outer layer is your waterproof shell. It should be ventilated and breathable.
- Your boots should be waterproof, warm, and well-fitted. Too tight and your feet won’t have proper circulation to keep warm. Socks should also be wool or synthetic. Even better if they are waterproof.
- Pack down the snow all around the tent to give yourself a solid foundation.
- Pack hand and sleeping bag warmers to keep with you in your sleeping bag and place in your boots and gloves, and/or sleep with a bottle of boiled water.
- Sleep on one or two yoga mats to separate you from the heat-sucking ground.
- Keep a clearly marked pee bottle in the tent so you don’t have to hold it and you don’t have to leave your tent at night, releasing all your conserved heat.
- Keep your boots in a waterproof sack at the bottom of your sleeping bag to keep them warm for the morning.
- To prevent condensation from building up inside the tent during the night, keep the top vents open or safely hang a candle lantern inside the tent to burn off excess moisture, and/or bring a towel to wipe it off before it freezes.
- If you’re on a budget and lack a winter-rated sleeping bag, make a flannel liner for it and/or insulate with heat reflectors for the car.
- Keep water bottles upside down during the night, since water freezes from the top down.
- Wrap any metal storage bins with duct tape.
- Use wooden utensils to cook with and/or eat with.
- Cover any exposed skin with Vaseline to protect from windburn.
- Wear eye protection. Snow is bright!
- Use lithium batteries where possible. They perform better in the cold and last longer.
- Bring an insulated water bottle! Hot water will serve any number of valuable purposes in the cold, and once you’ve gone through the trouble of boiling it, keep it hot for longer with an insulated water bottle.