How to Take a Winter Camping Trip

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If you’re an avid camper like me but are looking for a new adventure or just can’t wait until the warmer months, don’t discount a winter camping trip! Winter camping can be an exciting adventure, but it’s important to be prepared for the added challenges the cold weather might bring. Doing the right research (like reading this blog post), having the proper gear and getting in a good state of mind are crucial for a cold-weather camping success. Let’s take a look at some specific tips so you’re prepared to camp no matter the time of year or the reading on the thermometer.

Check the Local Weather

As always, regularly check the weather. This is really no different than from the summer months. Be cognizant that conditions can change quickly, but having a general sense of what you can expect is vital. Always stay prepared for any sudden rain, snow, or extreme temperatures that might occur, because even more so than the warmer months, time is very limited if something were to go wrong.

If you anticipate rain or snow, look out for any trail or road closures. You may feel comfortable heading to a particular campsite you’ve been to a hundred times in the summertime, but haven’t considered the approach in snowy weather with slick roads. This easily overlooked detail could change your whole trip, so remember to stay prepared.

Also keep in mind that the weather and temperatures can change based on your altitude or terrain, too. This could come into play depending on where you’re located.

Gear Up

There is so much gear out there to keep you warm, and while collecting new gear is a lot of fun, it can be a little overwhelming as a beginner to decide what is essential.

First, start with your clothes. Specifically, you’ll want to incorporate various layers to keep you insulated. Layering is a good way to be able to remove clothing if you get overheated from hiking or other activities. Sweat drenched clothing in a cold climate is a recipe for disaster.

Try a base layer of long johns or a good pair of tights. Then, layer on a puffy down jacket or fleece jacket, which will provide you the most amount of insulation. These usually have different levels of thickness, so it might be best to find a local store to try one on. Lastly, always finish your layering with a waterproof jacket and pants. These are durable and will be able to keep you dry from any current or past precipitation.

One item I make sure I always bring in abundance is socks. Between sweat and snow it’s too easy to get your socks wet, which is never pleasant.

Beyond the clothing you pack, your tent, sleeping bag and other gear should be able to provide a lot of insulation, too. Sleeping bags and tents are made for certain temperatures. There are a number of ways you can keep cozy in a tent, but above all else be sure to read the product specifications of your gear to make sure that it is properly rated for the conditions you’re likely to encounter. Yes there are things you can do to maximize heat retention within your tent, but if you’re trying to use a 30° rated sleeping bag in sub-zero temperatures, you’re setting yourself up for a bad time.

Assuming you have the proper gear, as previously mentioned it’s important to be insulated, as being properly insulated will make your trip much more enjoyable. Filling your tent with insulating items helps keep the cold air out while your body heat warms the tent from the inside. If you’re interested in bringing blankets, there are camping blankets specifically designed to help keep you insulated. These will provide more warmth than just any old blanket laying around the house.

Bring a Heat Source

Heat is essential for warmth, but while on a camping trip it’s important to keep your body nourished and well fed, too. Non-perishable foods are always great to pack, but you should also consider a camping stove. This is a great way to cook nutrient-dense meals and make warm drinks like coffee or tea to keep you warm. Boiling snow is also a great source of purified drinking water so that you stay hydrated during your trip. Just keep in mind, the temperatures you’re expecting to encounter can dictate the type of fuel you’ll need.

Pro Tip: If you have an insulated water bottle you can fill it with boiling water and place it at the bottom of your sleeping bag to help keep your feet warm while you sleep.

When it comes to making a fire, keep in mind that if it recently snowed then there is a good chance much of the nearby wood will be wet, making it difficult to start a fire. Consider bringing fire starters, or for a DIY option you can fill empty toilet paper rolls with lint from your dryer, which is great for catching a spark from a ferro rod.

Stay Warm!

If this is your first time camping in the winter, hopefully these tips will help get your planning started. Always do your research and plan ahead so that you are prepared for whatever comes your way. If you’re just getting started on planning your trip and are open to different campgrounds, find a campsite near you. There are plenty of cold-weather, scenic campsites in the U.S. - and there’s nothing like waking up to a snowy mountain with a freshly brewed cup of coffee to keep you warm.

This was a guest post from Derek Edwards.

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