Winter Camping: Basic Guide for Beginners



Winter camping is a thrilling hobby and a favourite pastime for those who are eager to live on the edge.

If you are an adventurous camper, willing to surrender your creature comforts and spend a night (or many) without modern amenities, consider giving winter camping a try.

While not for the faint at heart, winter camping can be enjoyable because it provides a deep feeling of connection to the outside world.

Without adequate preparation, however, winter camping can be very uncomfortable, or even dangerous.

Follow these guidelines to prepare yourself for your own winter camping experience.


Bring a Very High-Grade Sleeping Bag

A quality sleeping back is the most essential item for winter camping.

It is during the night that a camper is at highest risk of hypothermia, so it is critical that you have a sleeping bag designed to handle the elements.

All sleeping bags have a specific temperature rating.

This rating tells you how cold it can be before someone sleeping in the bag (when properly used) reaches a risk of hypothermia.

Always select a bag that is designed to protect someone at much colder temperatures than you will be experiencing.

A sleeping bag rated to -40 degrees Farenheit is ideal, and it is a good idea to also have a flannel sleeping bag liner.

You can check out our recommendations for the best sleeping bags for camping and backpacking here at Cycling Off-Grid.



Wear Thermally Efficient Garments

When shopping for winter camping supplies, select the most thermally efficient garments you can find.

These are more than just a pair of cotton long-johns and fuzzy socks–you need hard-core garments designed with winter camping in mind.

Clothing not made for winter camping is likely to be inadequate in cold weather, and does not dry quickly if it becomes wet with rain, snow, or sweat.

Some materials and brand names to look for in selecting thermally efficient, waterproof garments include polypropelyne, down, Primaloft, Polarguard, Microloft, and Thinsulate.

Always select garments rated to much colder conditions than you anticipate. Make sure you have every part of your body covered.


Remember your Feet, Head and Hands

Your extremities lose heat faster than any other part of your body, and they the most prone to frostbite.

Hats are particularly essential for controlling heat loss–because they have such a high surface area, they lose more heat than any other part of your body.

It is a good idea to bring a hat that includes a face mask when winter camping.

Hands and feet are also prone to discomfort and the potential for frostbite.

Wear very thermally efficient gloves, socks with liners, and insulated boots specifically designed for protecting the feet in very cold environments.

In especially frigid environments, over-boots may also be a good idea.


Have a Heat Source

Whether you have a stove or plan to build a fire, do not go winter camping without an intended heat source.

This is essential both as a heat source for your body and as an option to heat water and food.

Camping stoves and torches are readily available and inexpensive, and camp fires are easy to build with only a small amount of training or practice required.

Bring more matches than you expect to need and keep them in a waterproof container.


Eat High-Fat and High-Protein Foods

Foods high in fat and protein are ideal for winter camping digest more slowly than simple or complex carbohydrates.

In addition to keeping you full longer, they raise your body temperature by requiring more energy to digest.

Peanuts, tree nuts, beans, protein bars, eggs, soy milk, tofu, and protein shakes are all good foods to have on hand during a winter camping experience.

Select foods that can withstand abrupt changes in temperature, which can be thawed or unthawed by the weather without much trouble.


Know Where Your Water is Coming From

Are you camping in an established campsite with a well? Did you bring a water purifier?

If you’re relying on wild water sources, what will you do if the streams are frozen?

If you’re bringing your own bottled water, how will you keep it from freezing?

These are all serious and important questions to consider when exploring the hobby of winter camping.

Whatever course you choose, do not eat snow or ice unless it has been filtered, thawed, or boiled.

It is often contaminated with animal faeces or urine, and may cause infections, and it can also lead to hypothermia very quickly because it requires so many calories to warm it.


Maintain a Good Attitude and Remember: “Leave No Trace”

The essence of enjoying winter camping is to view the experience as a blessing.

Nothing can teach a person a greater sense of connection with Mother Nature, or a greater appreciation for modern amenities, than dangling the seasons’ most ragged edge.

Expecting winter camping to be brutal and unenjoyable will result in just such an experience.

Approaching the hobby as a thrilling adventure will result in a fantastic memory to cherish for years to come.

Above all else, be conscientious of the land you are using when you camp at any time of year.

Show respect for the environment–be it your local park or the backwoods of Nebraska–and refrain from leaving anything but footprints or taking anything but photographs.

Best of luck!

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