We hope these tips inspire you to get out and try winter camping for yourself.
- Watch the forecast - It’s important to pay close attention to the weather and plan around it for a safe and successful winter camping experience. We prefer to find a string of days with clear skies or light snow. Sub-freezing temperatures can be great if you have the right equipment, but the key is knowing the limits of your gear and setting yourself up for success. Continue to monitor the temperatures, wind, and expected precipitation as your trip dates approach. If conditions look too intense, it might be best to reassess or postpone your trip.
- Keep trips short & sweet - It’s best to keep daily mileage goals short for winter camping trips, even if you’re in good shape. Trekking through the snow saps your energy quickly, and you’ll need to save some pep to build your camp when you get there. It’s also smart to keep the length of your trip short if you’re new to winter camping. One or two nights out is a good test, because damp clothing and gear gets tougher to manage the longer you’re out in the elements.
- Learn to thermoregulate - Thermoregulation is all about awareness and knowing how to proactively manage your body’s temperature. Food, water, clothing, shelter, and physical activity are all tools you can use to increase your heat production and stay in control of your body temperature. Wear performance clothing that’s made with materials that dry quickly and layer so that you can add or remove items easily when your activity level changes. You’ll overheat quickly if you’re overdressed while active, so dress accordingly to avoid sweating.
- Know the signs of hypothermia - Staying safe and comfortable in cold conditions is easy, but it requires you to stay aware of what your body is feeling. Hypothermia is very serious, and occurs when the body’s core is losing heat faster than it can produce it. If someone is showing progressing signs of hypothermia like uncontrollable shivering, loss of coordination, or changes in personality, it’s time to get them to shelter to change out of wet clothing and hop into a warm sleeping bag.
- Check temperature ratings on gear - Since you’ll be sleeping on top of the snow, it’s more critical than ever to have an adequately warm sleeping pad and sleeping bag to insulate you on winter camping trips.
- Boost sleep system warmth - Wearing a down jacket with a hood inside your sleeping bag will significantly boost your warmth. You can also sleep in base layers, a warm hat, gloves, and even your raincoat and pants if things get truly frigid. If your feet tend to get cold at night, down booties are a real game changer.
- Prevent important stuff from freezing - The temperature drops dramatically once the sun goes down, leaving drinking water, wet clothing, boots, and liquids susceptible to freezing. Batteries also tend to function poorly in sub-freezing temperatures, so you’ll want to keep your electronics in a warm pocket close to your body to prevent them from becoming useless. We keep small items under our hats or in inner jacket pockets during the day, and use trash bags or waterproof stuff sacks to store important wet gear close to our bodies in our sleeping bags at night.
- Know avalanche safety basics - Avalanches are masses of snow that flow rapidly down a hill or mountainside after being triggered, and they’re one of the biggest threats to winter backcountry travelers. It’s important to know how to spot the red flags of avalanche danger so you can avoid putting yourself and others in a dangerous situation. That said, avalanches usually happen on steep slopes and are much less likely on gentle aspects. So if you’re just getting started with winter travel and camping, you can gain some experience without worrying about avalanche danger in areas with flat or rolling terrain. Take a look at your map before you head out. If your route traverses steep terrain, you should carry an ice axe and know how to self arrest. Avalanches can occur on any slanted surface in the right conditions, so it pays to be aware and know your stuff.
- Eat, drink, and be merry - A hydrated and well-fed body is far better at staying warm. And, you’ll be burning a ton of calories while winter camping, so it’s a great time to indulge in your favorite rich foods. Keep your metabolism firing on all cylinders by eating plenty of snacks throughout the day and chasing them down with several liters of water. A hearty dinner and a high-calorie snack at bedtime will help keep you nice and toasty. Just remember, food weight adds up quickly, so be choosy about what you bring. If you tend to get cold easily, sipping warm beverages will warm you from the inside out. Consider bringing an insulated water bottle, like the Lightweight Hydroflask, and plenty of stove fuel so you can keep the hot drinks flowing.