The Best Tips For Cold Weather Camping


Cold weather camping is a whole other ball game to cool or warm weather camping. Learning how to stay warm and survive in the freezing cold is important for any backpacker.

People have been gathering the best cold weather camping hacks for generations. So, whether you decide to climb Mt Everest or take a 3-day hike to discover the alpine animals of the Rocky Mountains, these tips will show you how to stay warm when needed most. Some of these tips could save our life so make sure you take note and maybe even print it out and take them with you!

Here are the 15 essential tips for those venturing out into cold temperatures this year.

Layer Up

Patagonia Nano-Air
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One of the biggest mistakes backpackers makes when cold weather camping is to only layer over the top and not underneath. It feels natural to throw a number of items of clothing over you when the temperature drops. However, it’s actually far more productive to start from underneath. This is one of the well-known winter camping hacks.

This requires investing in some decent layer gear such as SmartWool’s Merino base layer t-shirt or Patagonia’s Nano-Air jacket. You may want to also consider a well-insulated hat as we tend to lose a lot of heat through our heads making us colder much quicker. The SmartWool Cuffed Beanie is a good option, it’s made of 100% merino wool and is designed to lock-in the heat.

A fair amount of heat is also lost through the ground so consider layering your sleeping gear too. An extra closed-cell matt will help lock in the heat whilst you sleep. This matt from Napster is a backpacker essential made for cold or frozen ground and will keep you warm throughout the night.

Shake Your Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bag
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This is one of the most useful camping hacks to know about. Sleeping bags are effective at keeping you warm because they trap tiny pockets of air which absorb the heat from your body. During your travels, when walking the air pockets disappear but if you give it a good shake before getting in helps fill the sleeping bag up with air. For best results shake the bag from the bottom, this helps fill it with air at the top of the sleeping bag which is where you are going to need insulation the most.

Camp Near Running Water

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During the winter camping months, you will have to melt ice for water which is extremely fuel-intensive compared to summer trips. It’s worth trying to set up a base near running water so you have access to clean running water at any given time. This could save you up to three times the amount of fuel you would use in the Summer.

It’s also important to stay hydrated, even in the freezing cold when you may not feel like drinking too much. It’s just as easy to get dehydrated in cold weather as it is in hotter climates.

Reduce Ambient Space In The Tent

Winter camping
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Reducing the ambient space within your tent helps to insulate your tent further keeping you and your camping buddy warmer. There are a few ways to do this. First, bring your bags inside the tent and place them around the perimeter of the tent. This will act as extra insulation or as an insulation wall.

Second, if you are with a buddy in your tent put your sleeping bags next to each other. If you wanted to take it a step further you could actually buy sleeping bags that connect. Finally, stick a space blanket to the roof of your tent using duct tape. The blankets are cheap, light, easy to travel with and act as fantastic roof insulation.

Watch Out For Snowy Trees

Camping Trees
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As much as sleeping under snowy trees seems like a beautiful experience, the reality is that snow falls down and hard. The last thing you want to deal with at 4 am at -20°C is a ton of snow falling on your dry and cozy tent. Try to find a space with nothing overhanging above the tent. If you are in a forest look for a spot in the gaps of the canopies to pitch up.

It’s much better to be in an open space when looking for the perfect winter camping spot. However, that doesn’t guarantee your safety from the frosty grip of nature. Make sure you find a spot where windblown snow cannot accumulate. You don’t want to wake up surrounded by a wall of snow. Areas to avoid are near large rocks or a wall.

Pack A Hot Water Bottle

water bottle
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This is one of the most important winter camping hacks when thinking about how to stay warm! You can use a hot stainless steel water bottle to transform your tent into a sauna-like bedroom. Hot water bottles are incredible at warming you up. You can spoon one in bed, put it between your legs or just hug it out all night. The perfect tent buddy.

When looking for a quality hot water bottle look no further than the Stanley Classic. It’s the best-rated hot water bottle for temperature loss, is highly durable and big enough to hug at night. They’ve also been known to survive -70°C winds! Perfect for cold weather camping!

Choose The Right Sized Cold Weather Tent

Cold weather
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Bigger is certainly not better when it comes to cold weather camping. The more space you have the colder it’s going to get inside. Before heading off on your winter camping adventure it’s worth spending some time figuring out what is the perfect space for the number of people staying inside your cold-weather tent.

It’s not just your tent you need to size right either. Your sleeping bag is equally as important. You want to sleep as snug as a bug when winter camping. Enough room to move and be comfortable but tight enough to lock in the warmth. Choosing the correct cold weather tent is imperative to a successful winter camping trip.

Invest In Wind Resistant Tent Stakes

When facing harsh cold weather and blizzards your normal tent stakes won’t do. You will require stakes with a broad profile, concave shape, and some additional length. You can buy specific stakes made for consolidated snow which helps protect against blizzard conditions. They can also be used as a deadman anchor for extra safety. These MSR Blizzard Tent Stakes are perfect for the job. Made from 7000-series aluminum and lightweight.

Ventilate Your Tent

Ventilation Cold Weather Camping
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By allowing proper ventilation in your tent you can avoid condensation which will soon drop the temperature inside the tent. The best way to do this is to pitch your tent at 90° to the prevailing wind. Opening and closing the doors will allow for better airflow. Be aware that condensation can also be caused by cooking inside the tent. At first, you may think it wise to cook inside as it will heat you up but the condensation will soon cool the tent temperature right down. Always cook outside when possible.

When winter camping it’s important to make sure you don’t get an accumulation of snow outside the tent. You can usually hear this building up from within the tent. It might be worth checking every now and then.


Midnight Snacking

Cold Weather Camping
Image by Sancho McCann on flickr

Any excuse for a midnight snack, right? Well, it turns out midnight snacking can help keep you warm when cold weather camping. Concentrate on packing snacks with a good amount of fat, carbohydrates, and sugar. High-calorie food like chocolate, cheese or nuts is perfect due to the body processing protein before fat and fat before carbs. A nice warm meal before bed is also highly advised. Some great snack choices are instant oatmeal, cereal bars, nut trail mix, and protein balls.

Take Dry Thermals

Want to know how to stay warm? Thermals! They are an essential bit of hiking gear. They provide you with warmth and comfort without the bulk, useful when cold weather camping. It’s worth investing in quality when it comes to thermals so most people tend to buy merino wool. The advantage of merino is it is ultra-warm and doesn’t smell easy. Some opt for synthetic materials as they dry quicker.

Thermals are great whether you are walking, skiing or just curling up in your tent. The thermals from Kepler are a great choice for a backpacker. Made from premium New Zealand 160gsm merino they offer complete warmth, comfort and are durable.

Don’t Forget Boot Liners

boot liners Cold Weather Camping
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Imagine waking up all warm and cozy because you were so well prepared for the cold only to then step inside a freezing pair of boots! Probably one of the worst and most common mistakes made when cold weather camping. Fear not, there is a solution. Boot liners are a magnificent piece of backpacking gear that helps lock in the warmth inside your boots.

These boot liners from SmartWool are made from a mix of merino wool and nylon. They are ultra-light and act as a second skin to your feet. They are lightweight and easy to pop on and off.


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