Winter camping isn’t for the faint of heart. But if you’re ready to blaze a trail into the harshest of seasons and push past your limits, camping in the winter can be a thrill-seeking, unforgettable experience. The quiet, the cold and the vast emptiness create an environment unlike any other. If you’re looking for a unique outdoor odyssey, winter camping will deliver.
For beginners, winter camping can be a bit intimidating. Luckily, all you need to succeed in sub-zero temperatures is proper planning and the correct all-season gear. Take full advantage of this all-season camping guide from The North Face® to prepare for your newest camping journey.
Winter expeditions have extremely unique challenges. Freezing weather, the risk of decreasing body temperature and the danger of inadequate shelter from the elements can lead to threatening conditions. Help ensure you can help ensure you stay safe while you explore by preparing beforehand. Use these tips to help you succeed in winter conditions.
As with any new outdoor experience, your first winter camping trip will involve some trial and error. Bring a notebook and write down the basics of what you discover so you can reference it later and build off your experience.
In inclement weather, it’s important that you stay warm. While this generally means that you stay bundled in thick layers and cozy up with a sleeping bag, it also means that you avoid heading into a snowstorm to find a place to do your business. Well-marked bottles or transportable camping urinals can help you stay comfortable, even when nature calls.
Do not eat snow for hydration. Your body uses too much energy to transfer water from a solid to a liquid state, which could lead to hypothermia if the conditions allow. To stay on the safe side, boil the snow before you drink it. If possible, add a little water to the pot before throwing in the snow to avoid scorching it and creating an unpleasant taste.
Old-school candle lanterns are heavy and a lot more trouble to use than an LED light, but they also produce plenty of heat. You’ll be surprised by just how much cozier a little candle lantern can make your tent.
The fuel canister for your stove will perform better if its temperature stays above freezing. To keep it warm, try putting it in your jacket pocket, keeping it in your sleeping bag at night or even keeping it in a bowl of water.
Sometimes, things break. Sometimes, items get lost. Bring extra gear like fuel sources and gloves to ensure you have enough warm meals, water and clothing to last your entire expedition.
Some of the warmest all-season sleeping bags are made of down. This material does an amazing job at keeping you warm at night – as long as it stays dry. Keep your down sleeping bags dry as much as possible, as moisture causes down to lose most of its insulating ability.
Using two sleeping pads can help keep the ice-cold ground and surrounding snow from leaching the warmth from your body. Lay one closed-cell foam pad on the surface and add another inflatable pad on top. The combination will give you a relatively soft, warm surface to rest on.
Find out which winter camping gear is required for safe camping in the coldest season.
If you’ve researched tents, you may have seen the "3-season" designation on many of them. This indicates that the tent is durable enough to protect you during every season but winter. In contrast, an all-season tent is designed to handle treks out to exposed, high-elevation locations. Constructed with denser, stronger materials and supported by sturdier poles, all-season tents can retain warmth and stand up strong against the winter elements.
It is important to note that you do not have to have an all-season tent to camp in winter. Plenty of adventurous souls push through with a 3-season tent. However, if you are expecting heavy snow and intense winds, or you want to stay out for more than three or four days, an all-season tent will provide the protection and support you need.
When you look for an all-season tent, check for the following design features:
A high-quality pack will work year-round for camping and backpacking. The big concern with winter camping is the volume of supplies that you need to carry. Clothing, sleeping bags and tents designed for winter camping are bulkier than gear for warmer weather. That bulk can add up quickly. While a 50-liter pack may have served you find in spring, summer and fall, it just won't cut it in winter.
When deciding on a technical pack for winter camping, consider the following:
After all the exploring you’ll do during the day, settling into your sleeping bag at night will sound like a dream. Make sure you can sleep peacefully throughout the night with a warm, fully insulated sleeping bag.
A good rule of thumb is to choose a bag that is rated for 10 degrees colder than the temperature you expect to sleep in.
When looking for a winter sleeping bag, consider the following features:
What you wear during winter adventures is critical. Pick clothing that is durable, comfortable and most importantly, warm enough for the conditions that lie ahead.
As with all camping, layering is important. You can always take off a layer, but you cannot add one you don't have.
You will need at least three layers to stay warm in the elements:
In the snow, accessories aren’t just for looks. These items are essential to winter camping:
If you’ll be traveling through deeper snow or icy conditions, bring snow boots or mountaineering boots that provide superior traction, functional durability and full support underfoot to keep you exploring all day. Choose men’s or women’s hiking boots that feature waterproof and insulated, plus full crampon-compatible mountaineering constructions for extra confidence while you embark through the unknown.
You are right on the edge of an epic journey. Prepare to thrive in the harshest weather and gain a newfound respect and understanding for snow-covered land. With proper planning and the best winter camping gear available, you’re well on your way to accomplishing the impossible.
For more camping challenges and new explorations, check out our other camping guides. Our backcountry camping guide explains everything it takes to successfully camp away from the beaten path, while our hike-in camping guide gives expert tips and advice to discovering nature’s playground without being weighed down by generic campgrounds and crowds.
See everything nature has to offer. The trail is waiting.