Why We Love Winter Camping
Spring and summer may steal the show when it comes to outdoor adventure, but there are plenty of things to love about cold-weather camping.
For starters, there are fewer people to contend with, so if you want to grab the best spot (or heck, have the whole campsite to yourself), winter is definitely the way to go. Plus, the trails are quieter, the scenic views are more peaceful, and there's always a place to park.
Camping in colder weather also means no bugs. From bloodsucking mosquitos and irritating no-see-ums to horseflies the size of your big toe, nothing can ruin a great day outdoors like the constant buzzing, biting, and stinging of annoying insects.
Finally, winter camping helps you get a healthy dose of vitamin D during a time when most folks are hibernating indoors. Instead of waiting for the weather to warm out, get out there and soak up the sun's rays for a natural boost to your mood and immune system.
OKAY, BUT WHAT SHOULD YOU PACK?
For the purpose of this blog, let's assume you're new to cold-weather camping and you'll be driving to a campsite where you'll still have access to your car, or hiking just a short distance to your destination. (Longer backpacking trips, especially during the winter season, require a bit more preparation and planning since everything you need has to fit in your pack.)
That said, the following is a list of the top must-have items we recommend to ensure your cold-weather camping adventure is a success.
A DEPENDABLE TENT
As long as the forecast doesn't call for stormy weather, high winds, or heavy snowfall, a three-season tent (with rainfly) should do the trick. Otherwise, opt for an all-season tent for added protection against the elements. Do yourself a favor and size up to give yourself a little more elbow room, since you'll probably want to stow your gear inside to keep it warm and dry. So, opt a 2-person tent if you're camping solo, or a 3-person tent if it's you and a partner.
A COLD-WEATHER SLEEPING BAG
When it comes to staying warm in the Great Outdoors, the right cold-weather sleeping bag makes all the difference. Not sure which style is right for you? Check out this blog to help you make the right choice. Adding an insulated sleeping pad will provide an extra layer of insulation between your body and the cold ground, and a sleeping bag liner will add about 10 degrees of warmth to your bag.
A COZY CAMP CHAIR
A good camping chair is always essential, and this is especially true in colder temperatures. Basically, you want to keep your bum off the cold ground so you stay as warm as possible. The folks at CleverHiker put together a list of the 10 Best Camping Chairs for 2023 to help you get started. And if you're feeling super bougie, did you know they make heated camp chairs now? They're definitely a must for winter RV travels.
A COLD-WEATHER CAMP STOVE
Keep in mind that traditional canister stoves will struggle in winter. This is because the colder temperature causes the gas to cool and the output pressure to drop, often resulting in a low flame. Liquid-fuel (or white gas) stoves perform much better, even in below-freezing temperatures. The good news? A lot of newer camp stoves, like the MSR WhisperLite Universal Backpacking Stove, run on a variety of fuel sources for year-round use.
A PORTABLE FIRE PIT
If you plan to camp somewhere that doesn't have a fire pit already, be sure to bring along your own so everyone stays warm and cozy. Solo Stove makes a variety of portable fire pits in multiple sizes, so you can find the one that best suits your needs and camping budget. Just keep your camping axe handy in case you need to chop some extra wood.
A GOOD SHOVEL
You know what they say about the best-laid plans—which is why we always recommend bringing along a good shovel for winter camping. If there is already snow on the ground, you can use it to clear an area for your shelter. A shovel is also great for building snow walls around your tent and, just in case, digging out your tent in the morning if you get some unexpected snow overnight.
A few more items that will help you stay warm while camping in colder weather are a portable heated blanket, rechargeable hand warmers (we love this one from OCOOPA). Don't want to spend the extra money? Here's a quick hack: Bring along a hard plastic water bottle (non-insulated) and fill it with hot water just before you get into your sleeping bag at night. Keep it close to your middle or between your legs for maximum warmth.