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17 Essential Winter Camping Tips for Ultimate Comfort

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Just because you venture out camping in the winter  doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice comfort, warmth, or an abundance of activities to enjoy and not feel miserable.

Many of us are apt to consign our camping kit to the store cupboard for the year when the first frosts arrive in the fall.

Unfortunately, winter camping is not without its difficulties and risks, and staying safe requires a little more know-how and care than camping at other times of the year.

Winter Camping Tips

We’ve compiled a list of tips to help you make your camping a four-season affair without falling foul of any of the many misadventures or calamities that await the unprepared winter camper.

1. Do Your Research

checking winter camping spots

The risks inherent to winter camping are, as you might expect, much higher than those of summer camping.

On the plus side, we don’t have to deal with the threat of heat-related ailments, snakes, bears, or carrying back-breaking quantities of water, bug spray, and sunscreen, but on the downside, there are a number of other equally spooky hazards that come into play.

The most notable ones are as follows:

  • Avalanche risks
  • Hypothermia
  • Frostbite
  • Snow blindness
  • Blizzards
  • The added weight of winter gear
  • Technical winter skills, such as the use of crampons and an ice axe, are essential.
  • Frozen water sources
  • Snow-bound (or blocked) segments of the trail
  • A shortage of daylight hours

Before embarking on a winter camping trip, it’s advisable to thoroughly research the area in which you’ll be camping.

The objective of your research should be to minimize or mitigate each of the aforementioned risks.

  • Assessing avalanche danger so you can either put your trip off or avoid avalanche-prone terrain
  • Assessing weather conditions and temperatures to ensure that you don’t sell yourself short on insulation and shelter.
  • Getting a more accurate idea of the gear requirements for the trails leading to your proposed campsite
  • Locating reliable (not “seasonal”) water sources
  • Determining whether or not all portions of the trail will be passable
  • Give yourself plenty of time to reach your campsite and make the return journey in daylight.

2. Planning and Gear

Start in your own backyard with a local overnight to test your skills and get acquainted with your new gear.

Figuring out how to set up your tent quickly, prepare a hot meal, and sleep comfortably closer to home helps build your skills and confidence for longer outings.

Try a state park or national forest that is open year-round. Check online to double check that the camping destination you choose is open and has any warnings or restrictions.

Winter camping can be gear-intensive, but having the proper equipment, clothing, and supplies can be the difference between a life-threatening experience and an inspiring jaunt into nature.

3. Leave Your Route With Someone Back Home

Getting lost or having an accident while hiking or camping at any time of the year can spell disaster.

The fact that there will be fewer people on the trails to help if necessary, the longer time it takes to return to safety due to the conditions underfoot and heavier gear, and the fact that snow obscures trail signage or markings all increase the dangers in the winter.

Additionally, the winter months offer much shorter time frames for successful rescues than other times of the year, so it’s crucial to narrow down the search area for rescuers as much as possible to increase your own chances of survival.

To give yourself the highest chance of surviving an emergency situation when heading into the backcountry to camp in the winter months, leave a detailed trip itinerary with someone back home before leaving.

Try to stick to this itinerary as closely as possible, and be sure to include the location of nightly campsites and any potential deviations you might envision taking.

Finally, establish a time at which your contact will raise the alarm with emergency services should you not return, and, of course, be sure to call them as soon as you get back to civilization.

While all of the above measures might strike you as a touch drastic, they’ll seem a lot less so should you happen to find yourself in trouble and in need of urgent assistance.

4. Thermal Efficiency

Any type of insulation works by trapping the heat your body produces, not by actively producing heat.

Because our bodies don’t quite have the same thermal capacity as our heaters or radiators back home, making the most of their heat depends on minimizing the amount of space to be heated.

We can take several steps towards achieving this goal.

  • At night, bring all of your gear inside the tent (not the porch area) with you.
  • Buying a smaller tent with less square footage in the sleeping area
  • Stuffing the bottom of your sleeping bag with clothing to reduce the size of air pockets and also keep clothes warm for the morning

You can also increase your tent’s inherent insulating capacity by:

  • Pitching a tarp over the rainfly to provide a third (or second, if using a single-walled tent) layer of insulation
  • Carrying an additional groundsheet or laying out clothes under your sleeping pad to minimize the amount of cold air seeping through the tent floor
  • Making use of natural windbreaks like trees, hollows, or boulders

5. Choose Your Camping Spot Carefully

The tick list of desirable attributes for a summer-time camping spot is usually fairly short, but in the winter months we have to be just a little more fussy to ensure we can get our slumber on as safely and comfortably as possible.

The ideal place to camp during the winter season is:

  • The location is far from the run-out path of avalanche-prone slopes.
  • Not directly beneath snow-laden branches— High winds and snow weight can cause rotten branches to fall. If you pitch your tent on their landing spot, it’s a bad sign.
  • Sheltered by trees, scrub, rocks, or other natural features
  • The room is east-facing to receive the morning sun and warm up quicker.
  • Not on ice—while you may think this is a Darwin-Award-worthy mistake to make, it’s not unheard of, and, in a landscape carpeted by snow, it’s frighteningly easy to do.
  • To avoid this hazard, get your map and compass out, triangulate your location, and make sure you don’t pitch up on a frozen lake or pond.

6. Make Your Tent a Fortress

winter camping tent and backpack

If you happen to be car-camping and don’t have to worry about pack size and weight, then there are a number of steps you can take to make your tent capable of dealing with the absolute worst the weather can throw at it.

In addition to the previously mentioned thermal optimization, these include:

  • Reproofing your tent before setting off
  • Carry extra blankets to place over and on the floor of your tent to improve insulation.
  • Using snow to build small walls around your tent to keep the worst of the wind at bay
  • To minimize drafts, use stones or rocks to pin down the tent fabric between stakes.
  • Bring snow stakes instead of regular tent pegs, as the latter will likely be ineffective in soft snow.
  • Stomping out a “footprint” for your tent in the snow to ensure it has a solid foundation
  • Pegging or staking out all guy lines to make your tent as stable as possible
  • Use a tarp or emergency bivvy bag and trekking poles to create a windbreak similar to those commonly found at the beach.

7. Do a Pre-Sleep Warm-Up

Getting into your sleeping bag cold at night is a fairly sure way to guarantee you stay that way for most—if not the remainder—of the night.

Before going to bed, it’s a good idea to perform a few quick exercises to raise your core temperature—star jumps, push-ups, squats, and on-the-spot jogging all work well.

Also, if possible, eat a quick snack before turning in, as this will not only allow you to benefit from diet-induced thermogenesis (meaning, in layman’s terms, simply that your body heats up during the digestion process).

It also provides you with the energy required to shiver, your body’s natural way of producing heat.

8. Build a Fire

If you’re not one for the type of pre-sleep cardio session mentioned above, there are other ways of keeping yourself warm before turning in for the night.

The most obvious, of course, is that age-old bringer-of-heat that has warmed the chilled bones and extremities of many a camper for many a year: fire.

But what do we do, you might ask, if there’s snow? Well, the presence of snow isn’t necessarily prohibitive to making yourself a roaring fire; it just means you’ll have to be a little more meticulous with your prep.

Before leaving home:

  • As a fire starter, soak a small handful of cotton balls in Vaseline or another petroleum jelly.
  • Pack an egg box with a few lumps of coal.
  • Stow matches in a sealed, waterproof sandwich bag.

At camp:

  • To make a fire pit, stomp out a section of snow.
  • Line the base with rocks or branches (the drier, the better).
  • Place the cotton balls and egg boxes on a flattish stone in the center, along with any other dry wood you can find in a tepee-type shape.
  • Get that fire started!

9. Choose Your Fuel Wisely

Certain types of fuel are more effective and efficient in cold conditions than others. The three main fuel types each have their advantages and disadvantages, but propane is usually the burner of choice for winter wanderers.

  • Liquid fuel burns well even in sub-zero temperatures, but it is heavier to carry and less efficient for cooking.
  • Butane is a poor performer in cold conditions, but it is light and energy efficient.
  • Propane is the best performer in freezing conditions but burns very quickly, meaning you might have to carry a hefty load if camping for more than just a night or two.

Here are some additional fuel-related tips for your campsite:

  • Bear in mind that you’ll need extra fuel to melt water.
  • Never cook inside your tent or use your stove to heat it, as the fumes could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • For the same reason, make sure your tent is not downwind of your cooking area.
  • Leave your fuel and cooking utensils in the open to cool down at night to reduce the risk of fire in your tent (tent fabrics and hiking clothing are, for the most part, highly flammable!).

10. Winter Camping Hacks

When camping in cold weather, you can use a few smaller but very useful “hacks” to ensure your warmth, safety, and comfort. The most notable of these are:

  • Carry your spare gloves, hat, and socks inside your jacket while hiking. Your body heat will warm them up nicely, and by alternating between your spares and your originals, your hands, head, and toes will remain toasty for the duration of your hike.
  • Pack a hot water bottle for bedtime.
  • Pack an emergency blanket or shelter in case you get caught in a blizzard, if a member of your team shows signs of hypothermia, or if you need to add more insulation to your tent or sleeping pad.
  • Keep batteries close to your body while hiking and sleeping because cold conditions can quickly drain their power.
  • Keep water in bottles instead of hydration bladders (which freeze more easily).
  • Stow your water bottle upside down in your pack—water freezes from the top down, so this will stop the bottle’s lid from freezing over.
  • Bring a pee bottle so you don’t have to leave the warmth of your tent in the middle of the night to take care of “business.”
  • Wear glove liners underneath your insulating gloves to provide the dexterity required to perform more intricate tasks without exposing your skin.
  • Leave your sharps (ice axes, crampons, snowshoes) in the tent’s vestibule to avoid rips and tears—it is, we assure you, no fun trying to repair these with frozen fingers in the middle of the night!

11. Setting Up The Camp

During the warmer weeks, most campers can get by with a convertible tent. During the winter, however, you’ll need to use a four-season-rated shelter.

These tents sacrifice ventilation and breathability in favor of improved warmth and protection from the wind and snow.

Find a flat, well-protected spot to pitch your tent. Pack down the snow, remove any debris, and lay down a ground sheet to improve insulation.

Secure the tent with lines to prevent it from blowing away, and set up your vestibule with supplies. As soon as possible, get your cooking gear organized and begin melting snow for water.

After you get setup, crack open the flask, make some hot chow, and enjoy the sounds of silence.

12. Dress the Part

warm clothes for winter camping

Proper clothing not only provides comfort and warmth but can have multiple purposes. Here is a breakdown.

Base layer

  • Wicking underwear
  • Midweight longjohn top
  • Midweight longjohn bottoms
  • Expedition-weight long john bottoms
  • Expedition-weight longjohn top


  • Waterproof/breathable jacket
  • Waterproof/breathable pants
  • Synthetic or softshell hiking pants
  • Insulated parka or down jacket
  • Insulated pants
  • Waterproof gaiters


  • Insulated camp booties
  • Waterproof hiking or snowshoeing boots (insulated is best) are essential.
  • Wool or synthetic socks (one pair every day or two, plus an extra pair for sleeping only)
  • Liner socks


  • Wool or fleece hat
  • Balaclava or facemask
  • Synthetic liner gloves
  • Mid-weight, insulated ski gloves
  • Heavyweight down mittens
  • Sun hat or visor

Remember, it’s all about layering, and be sure to check and double-check all of your winter clothing to make sure you are prepared for your trip.

Pro Tip: Avoid cotton or other material that absorbs water.

13. Meals for Warmth

Winter retreats necessitate fueling the body to burn the excessive number of calories required to stay warm and active. Try some of these easy-to-prepare foods:


  • Dried Fruit
  • Meat sticks
  • Salami
  • Cheeses
  • Pepperoni
  • Fig Newton’s 
  • Meat and protein bars
  • Eggbeaters 
  • Crackers with peanut butter


  • Oatmeal (Instant)
  • Ramen Noodles
  • Bean Flakes (fast-working)
  • Dehydrated soups
  • Instant brown rice 
  • Dehydrated onion
  • Tortillas 
  • Lunchmeats
  • Dehydrated potatoes


  • Butter or Squeezable Margarine
  • Mustard packets 
  • Salsa packets 
  • Spices
  • Olive oil
  • Cinnamon


  • Tea bags for hot tea (non-caffeinated)
  • Hot cocoa mix
  • Instant (caffeinated) coffee

Pro Tip: Add 20–40 grams of butter to every meal on long trips. You burn more calories in winter and need more fat to stay warm. Aside from that, everything is enriched with butter!

14. Activities

Winter camping opens up a variety of activities you can only do in the snow. How about snowshoeing?

Snowshoes allow you to stay above the powder rather than sink down into it.

What about building a snow cave or even an igloo? Skiing, building a snowman, or engaging in a snowball war all require tons of available white powder.

15. Know How To Read Weather

Having a basic knowledge of clouds, barometric pressure, and local temperature patterns will give you more comfort in the fact that you will have a better chance of knowing that inclement weather is approaching, giving you time to prepare or bail.

There is no need to become a meteorologist; instead, focus on factors that may indicate a storm.

16. Sleeping in the Cold

The proper sleeping bag can make freezing cold conditions feel like mild winter nights. Winter hammocking is also an option.

Bags rated at 20 degrees are adequate for mild cold, but when the temperature plummets, a zero-degree bag or even a -20 degree bag will likely be a necessity.

Sleeping fully dressed will add some warmth to your sleeping bag. Wear a down jacket and down pants, and you’ll stay warm throughout the night. Make sure you are using a good pad to protect yourself from the cold ground.

Sleeping pads are essential for staying comfortable regardless of the season, but in the winter, an insulated pad adds an extra layer of warmth between you and the ground.

If possible, eat a quick snack before bed, do some light exercises, and fill your water bottle with warm water to place in your sleeping bag.

Middle-of-the night bathroom trips in the cold are not my idea of a good time. Store a large-mouth Nalgene bottle in (or next to) your sleeping bag and use it inside your tent to do your business.

Make sure to mark the area with large writing or a skull and crossbones to prevent accidental consumption of waste instead of water.

Tip: Store all your electronics in your sleeping bag at night to keep them from getting too cold.

17. Know Your Limits

windy weather during winter camping

Take your time. Colder weather slows everything down. You’ll be able to travel fewer miles and take twice as long to pitch your tent or cook your food.

When planning your trip, consider these factors and respect the weather: Spending an extra 60 seconds to get your gaiters on can make a big difference if you break through ice while crossing water.

Trying to go too fast will create an unsafe situation, so relax and stay within your comfort zone.

To Summarize

When choosing your base camp, it’s important to know how to find the ideal camping spot. Picking poorly can be dangerous.

Before you go, double check that everything is in working order. Assess your sleeping system and pad-bag clothing to get a sense of what it’s like to sleep on snow-packed ground.

Understand winter dangers: hypothermia, frostbite, and avalanches are real concerns, so know about each before heading out.

Practice emergency situations: knowing how to perform basic first aid, escape a water plunge, and build an emergency fire are life-saving skills.

When and if you get bored, the colder temperatures, combined with the shorter days and longer nights, will mean more relaxing time with a good book snuggled in your tent.