Camping in the winter is cold, there’s no two ways about it. Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a warm weather oasis, winter camping typically means below freezing temps and sometimes, snow. Although you can’t control the weather, you can control what you pack and having the proper gear can make or break your trip. Here are some items that will greatly enhance your wintertime camping experience.
A tent is one of your only forms of shelter while camping, so having a good one is crucial. For winter camping, you’ll want to make sure you have a three or four-season tent. If there’s no storm in the forecast and temperatures aren’t too extreme, a three-season tent should do the trick. But if high winds or heavy snowfall is predicted, do yourself a favor and opt for a four-season tent.
Three-Season: Stoic Madrone
Four-Season: Eureka Mountain Pass
Another great option for winter sleeping shelters is a Bivy Sack. A bivy is an elements-proof outer shell that you insert your sleeping bag and pad into and sleep in instead of a tent. They’re often used by mountaineers and backpackers for their lightweight nature, but they’re also great for winter camping as the reduced space inside keeps you warmer than a tent. It’s also hard to beat the unfettered connection with nature of sleeping under the stars.
Our Pick: Black Diamond Spotlight Bivy.
Whether you choose to go with the tent or the bivy sack, either way you’ll want to pair it with a footprint. Also called a groundcloth, a footprint is nothing more than a durable tarp that you put under your tent. Useful all year round to protect your tent from damage and make it last longer, a ground cloth is essential in the winter as an added layer of insulation between your tent and the snow or cold ground beneath it. Some tents, like the Eureka Mountain Pass, above, come with a footprint included.
A good footprint is one that fits your tent. Shop footprints on Backcountry.com.
After your tent, your sleeping bag is probably the next most important piece of gear. Sleeping bags are rated for different temperatures, so a good rule of thumb is to pack a bag that is rated 10 degrees colder than the coldest temperature you expect to encounter. Down and synthetic bags are popular options – down tends to be warmer but synthetic keeps your warm when wet. Pro tip: If you want to be extra warm, pack a sleeping bag liner to increase your bag’s rating up to 25 degrees.
Sleeping Bag: NEMO Equipment RIFF Sleeping Bag
Liner: Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme
Sleeping pads are good for more than just comfort – they provide an extra layer of insulation between you and the ground. When picking a pad, be sure and check out its R-value. Sleeping pads are rated on a scale of 1.0-8.0, the higher the R-value the warmer the pad. If it’s especially cold, it can be helpful to use two pads. Try using a foam pad on bottom and an inflatable pad on top for maximum warmth.
Inflatable Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm
Foam Pad: Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL
Base layers are possibly your most important layer of clothing because they help maintain body temperature. A good base layer works to wick sweat away from your skin, keeping you dry and in turn, warm. For base layers to perform at their best, you’ll want to choose something that fits snugly but is still comfortable.
Our Pick: Patagonia Capilene Collection
A solid pair of socks can make a world of difference on chilly nights. While there are a lot of options to choose from, wool is always the best bet. Wool is good at regulating moisture, keeping odors at bay, and will keep your feet warm when wet. Wool socks tend to be a bit pricier, but they are well worth the investment.
Our Pick: Darn Tough Mountaineering Socks (Men’s and Women’s)
When it comes to cold weather, not all camping stoves are created equal. For winter camping, your best bet is a liquid-fuel stove. Liquid-fuel stoves run on white gas, which perform well during cold weather. If you opt for a canister stove, you’ll want to be sure it has a pressure regulator and make sure you keep the fuel warm by storing it in your sleeping bag or jacket pocket. Be sure and pack extra fuel as you tend to use more at higher elevations.
Our Pick: MSR WhisperLite Stove
Hot meals in cold weather go a long way. But if it’s freezing, you likely won’t want to spend a lot of time doing meal prep outside of your tent. Cue freeze-dried meals. Most freeze-dried meals simply require boiling water and then you’re good to go. Pick a calorie dense meal to get the most bang for your buck.
Our Pick: Good To-Go Thai Curry
Camping in the snow is cold, but it certainly has some upsides. For one, with enough snow on the ground there’s no need to bring chairs or a table, just make your own out of snow! To do so, you’ll probably want a shovel. Backcountry avalanche shovels are made for rescues, but also make great snow camping shovels as they’re ultralight, pack down small, and can move a lot of snow quickly.
Our Pick: ARVA Ski Trip Shovel
Editor’s Note: You’ll need more gear than what we’ve listed. These are just essential pieces that will greatly enhance your trip. For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.
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