7 Winter Camping Tips from an Avid Cold-Weather Camper

Cold-weather explorer hiking through the snow pulling a sled with camping gear behind him
Our Top Tips for a Successful Winter Camping Trip

As the temperature drops and snow starts to fall, most people put away their camping gear for the winter and wait until warmer seasons to venture into the wilderness.

But for those of us who love the thrill of cold-weather camping, the chillier months offer a unique and challenging experience that can’t be matched by any other season.

So, what are the benefits of camping in frigid weather that most people steer clear of?

There are zero bugs, you’ll find more solitude in the backcountry, and silent nights offer the utmost peace and tranquility. These reasons are precisely why I’ve grown to love the cold nights that winter brings.

After weeks of polar expedition training courses and countless harsh nights spent in temperatures well below zero, I’ve become a hopeless winter camping addict. Through these experiences, I’ve learned plenty of valuable lessons and have compiled a list of essential tips for anyone considering a cold-weather camping trip.

Keep reading for my best advice on staying warm, comfortable, and safe during your next winter camping adventure.

Invest In the Right Gear

Packing the right gear is essential to surviving frigid nights sleeping under the stars. Proper winter equipment should keep you warm, dry, and comfortable, even in the harshest conditions (provided you know how to use it).

Essential gear for cold-weather camping includes a proper four-season tent (I use a hot tent), a winter sleeping bag rated for the temperature, a sleeping pad with a high R-value, and a reliable stove for cooking hot meals.

You’ll also need a warm set of insulating layers, winter gloves, a thermal hat, and a waterproof outer layer. Invest in high-quality gear to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, or skimp on cold-weather camping gear at your own peril. Your choice.

Wear Several Lightweight Layers

Man with sunglasses and an orange jacket hiking through the snow with trekking poles in his hands
Layer up wisely to keep a stable body temperature in cold weather conditions

While it’s important to dress in layers, it’s equally important to wear lightweight layers. Heavy clothing can cause you to warm up too quickly or cool off rapidly when taken off.

For example, bringing four lightweight fleece jackets instead of two super heavy insulated coats is far more effective when winter camping. Why? Because the four layers will allow you to fine-tune your temperature if you become too cold or hot.

Seek out lightweight fabrics like merino wool or synthetic blends that are breathable and wick moisture away from your body. Avoid cotton, which retains moisture and will leave you feeling cold and damp.

Dress Loosely (Tight Clothes Make You Colder)

When dressing and packing for cold weather, remember that tightly-fitting clothes won’t do you any favors. Overly snug clothing will restrict blood flow and reduce the amount of insulation that your body can provide.

Dress loosely and wear light layers. Start with a base layer of moisture-wicking fabric (not cotton) to pull sweat away from your skin.

Then, add a middle layer of insulation (like a lightweight fleece jacket) to trap body heat and keep you warm. If you’re still cold, add another lightweight oversized fleece layer or an insulated puffy jacket on top.

Finally, add a windproof, waterproof, and breathable shell to protect you from the elements and prevent cold air from infiltrating your layering system. Size up accordingly to accommodate layers!

Ditch Your Pants For Bibs

Another way to stay warm and dry in cold weather is by wearing bibs instead of pants. Bibs cover more of your body and eliminate invasive drafts that sneak in from the waist up to your lower back, sending a chill up your spine.

Bibs are also more practical than pants for outdoor activities like hiking or snowshoeing. They allow for more freedom of movement and are less likely to ride up or down, exposing your skin to the cold.

Look for a bib made of waterproof and breathable materials that’ll keep you dry and comfortable in any weather. Avoid bibs with too much insulation, as they can cause overheating (and sweat) when you’re active.

Add an Extra Sole Insert in Your Boots

Boots walking down a snowy trail with trekking poles at the hiker's sides
Add insulating soles to your boots to ensure your feet don’t freeze

Winter camping often means walking on snow or ice, which can freeze your feet and make life miserable. To combat this, add an extra sole insert into your boots.

Most people don’t realize you can lose a whole lot of precious heat through your feet! Just try standing still on a layer of ice for a few minutes in your everyday shoes. Eventually, your feet will get cold, leading to a drop in temperature that’ll spread to the rest of your body.

The extra sole insert will provide more insulation between your feet and the cold earth, keeping your feet warm and more comfortable. They will also provide more cushioning and support, reducing the risk of injury from slipping or falling.

Use Plastic Grocery Bags as a Vapor Barrier for Your Feet

Getting wet means risking hypothermia and/or frostbite, which is why you must stay dry while winter camping. Keeping your feet dry is often the trickiest part of cold-weather camping.

Moisture from sweat or condensation that infiltrates your boots can instantly make your feet feel cold and numb. One trick I’ve learned while working for a polar explorer is to use a vapor barrier for your hiking socks to help keep your feet dry.

Essentially, this means layering your footwear.

Here’s the system I recommend:

  • Liner sock (super thin sock)
  • Vapor barrier bag (plastic grocery bag or bread bag)
  • Thick winter sock (heavy wool)
  • Insulated winter boots

To properly deploy this method, put a plastic bag between your liner socks and thick winter socks before putting on your boots. The bags will trap any moisture your feet produce and prevent it from seeping into your insulation layer and/or boots.

This method is especially helpful if you plan on hiking, snowshoeing, or doing any other high-intensity activities that might make your feet sweat.

Prepare Hot Soup for Lunch

Camper wearing warm winter clothing sipping soup from an insulated steel thermos
A thermos full of hot soup will warm you from the inside out

Eating a hot meal is a great way to warm your body from the inside out. Next time you’re camping in chilly conditions, try preparing a piping-hot serving of soup for lunch. Not only will it be a great way to warm up, but it’ll also act as a filling and nutritious morale boost.

Cooking hot soup is a go-to method for the polar explorers I’ve worked with to keep warm in freezing weather. In the morning, they prepare their soup with a stick of butter and keep it warm in an insulated thermos to sip throughout the day.

To make hot soup, all you need is a camping stove, fuel, a pot, and some basic ingredients. My simple vegetable soup usually includes canned vegetables, chicken broth, various spices, and butter. If I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll whip together a hearty chili or stew.

If you’re after simplicity, throw a packet of Ramen into a pot of boiling water! Add butter or oil (fats) to help your body produce warmth throughout the day – regardless of the cold temperatures.

The warmth and comfort you’ll get from a hot bowl of soup (or two) are hard to beat on a cold winter’s day.

Why You Should Go Cold-Weather Camping

Cold-weather camping offers a challenging yet rewarding experience that can’t be matched in any other season. Winter landscapes are stunning, and the quiet solitude of the wilderness can be meditative and peaceful.

Setting up camp during the winter months also offers the opportunity to challenge yourself and test your survival skills. You’ll need to be prepared for harsh conditions and be entirely self-sufficient, which can be a satisfying and empowering experience.

Most people are only three-season campers, but you don’t have to be. Winter camping in frigid temperatures can be even more exhilarating than typical summertime adventures, so long as you’re prepared. Trust me on this one!

Go Camping in the Winter (the Right Way)

Tent pitched in the snow with a mountain range in the distance
Winter camping is as rewarding as it is challenging

Let’s be honest; three seasons of outdoor fun simply isn’t enough.

Winter camping can be a remarkable experience that rewards those brave enough to face the elements head-on. The seven tips I just shared will ensure that you forge unforgettable memories while staying safe, warm, and blissfully comfortable during your next cold-weather expedition.

Use these tips and tricks (like putting those pesky grocery bags under your sink to use) to neutralize cold temperatures and thrive during your next winter camping experience. Layer your clothing, eat hot and fatty meals, and do everything possible to stay dry.

Wintertime offers a much-needed respite from the fast-paced demands of daily life. The freedom to camp year-round allows you to disconnect from the omnipresent grip of technology and bask in the unadulterated beauty of nature, no matter what the forecast looks like.

Amidst this idyllic setting, you’ll find solace and tranquility, reveling in the uninterrupted symphony of silence.

Are you ready to gather your gear, pack your bags with eager anticipation, and embark on a cold-weather camping adventure? Follow my advice, and you may just return home with a revitalized spirit and vitality that surpasses your wildest expectations.

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Last Updated on July 16, 2023

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Tanner Cibula

I’m Tanner, the owner of TannersTrails.com. I'm passionate about adventure, survival, and wilderness self-reliance. Visit my blog for advice on how to have successful backcountry adventures, learn bushcraft tips, and pick up other valuable outdoor skills!

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