Warm summer nights and cool, crisp fall weekends aren’t the only times of the year you can enjoy camping outdoors. Winter is a great time to get outside as well. In fact, just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you need to pack all your camping gear away and call it a day. Cold weather camping can be a great way to enjoy all four seasons outdoors. At Bearfoot Theory, we do our best to not be, ahem, fair-weather outdoor adventurers, but lovers of the outdoors in all kinds of climates.
So, if you think you need to go easy on the camping when the temps drop, then think again. To successfully stay outside and have fun camping in the winter all you need is a good attitude and a few good tips for staying warm in cold weather — twenty to be exact.
Read on for our list of 20 tips for cold weather camping to keep you warm, cozy, and dry.
20 Tips to Stay Warm While Cold-Weather Camping
1. Layer up
To stay warm, it’s important to wear the right layers for cold weather like quick-drying, breathable, and temperature-regulating merino wool or sustainable synthetic base layers followed by insulated mid and outer layers. Opt for outer layers that have strategically-placed ventilation like pit zips so you don’t get damp and sweaty.
Check out our posts on cold-weather layering basics for details and suggestions on what to wear when hiking and camping in the winter.
2. Keep your feet and core warm
Try to keep your feet and core as warm and toasty as possible since these areas regulate our temperature the most. Warm wool socks and a quality base layer as explained above are essential. The right materials should wick moisture and dry quickly, but if you return to camp sweaty from a hike and your base layers are still damp, be sure to change into something dry.
3. Keep your head covered
We tend to lose most of our heat through our head, so wear a beanie and/or a hood during the day, and do the same at night or use your sleeping bag to cover your head so that it’s not exposed to the cold.
4. Bring Extra Clothes To Sleep In
Bring a separate set of clothes to sleep in so that you don’t have to wear damp clothes you spent the day hiking in to bed. Wearing dry clothes at night is important to help you stay warm when temps drop even further and to help you get a good night’s sleep. A warm pair of long johns, a cozy long sleeve top, and a pair of warm wool socks should do the trick with extra layers to add on for when you emerge from your tent.
5. Pack waterproof outer layers
Pack waterproof clothing like gaiters, ponchos, boots, and rain jackets to ward off hypothermia. Even if there isn’t any snow or precipitation in the forecast be prepared and bring quick-drying rain gear just in case.
If it looks like the weather will be wet, check out our tips for hiking in the rain.
6. Keep clothes inside your sleeping bag
You can put your clothes for the next day in your sleeping bag with you to keep them warm before you put them on in the morning. This way you don’t have to start your day by pulling on freezing cold layers.
7. Try a sleeping bag liner
A sleeping bag liner extends the life of your sleeping bag by protecting it from wear and tear and it also helps to keep you warm. It’s a good product to have for any camping or backpacking trip but it’s especially handy when camping in winter. Look for a liner that’s lightweight and packable with an added warmth of 10-15 degrees F.
8. Pack a pair of socks just for sleeping in
Leave an extra pair of warm, wool socks in your tent. Never take them out and only put them on just as you are going to sleep. To keep your feet uber warm in extreme cold try a pair of down booties, like our favorites from Enlightened Equipment.
9. Check your sleeping bag size
Make sure that your sleeping bag is the right size. If it’s too big, it won’t trap your body heat well. If you aren’t able to swap out your sleeping bag, try to stuff any extra clothing or other items that can help insulate in the foot box to keep heat from escaping.
10. Check your sleeping bag temperature rating
Always make sure that the temperature rating of your sleeping bag is lower than the actual air temperature. Think of it this way: a 20-degree sleeping bag won’t keep you as warm as you would like it to when it’s actually 20 degrees outside.
So, a good rule of thumb for cold weather camping is to prepare for even chillier temperatures when it comes to your gear ratings. If you’re looking for a sleeping bag that will work for car camping and backpacking, check out our roundup of the best lightweight sleeping bags.
11. Stake a tarp above your tent
Hang a tarp over your tent to trap additional heat and keep you protected from the elements. Adding a tarp as an extra layer will catch snow and ice as it falls and can protect your rain fly from condensation that can freeze overnight.
12. Opt for an insulated sleeping pad
Get a sleeping pad with added insulation. Some sleeping pads contain down inside the material and others have a synthetic layer to stay warm. Another option is to look for a sleeping pad with an R-value of at least 4, which signifies it’s appropriate for cold-weather camping.
You can’t go wrong with the Therm-a-Rest Trail Pro Sleeping Pad. It has an R-value of 4.4 and provides a good amount of insulation from the cold ground. If you’re a cold sleeper and want something even warmer, try the Exped DeepSleep Mat. It’s a super warm and luxuriously comfortable sleeping pad with an R-Value of 8.5.
13. Choose calorie-dense foods
Eat snacks that are high in fat and protein throughout the day to keep your internal body temperature higher. Plan a nice, hot, calorie-dense meal for dinner too. Calorie-dense foods take longer to digest and create more heat.
14. Sleep with a hot water bottle
If possible, fill a water bottle like Nalgene or Hydroflask with hot water and put it in your sleeping bag at night to give off heat & provide warmth against your body.
15. Drink hot liquids & Stay hydrated
Drink plenty of hot liquids like coffee and tea in the morning to warm you up and throughout the day to keep you warm. Stay hydrated and bring plenty of drinking water too. It’s easy to assume that you don’t need as much water when camping in the winter since you aren’t sweating as much in colder temps, but the opposite is true. You can use NUUN Sport Hydration Tablets to make sure you’re getting all the electrolytes you need.
16. Don’t try to hold it
Going to the bathroom in the cold can be a pain, but if you gotta go, just go! This tip is especially for the middle of the night when you wake up and have to pee but try to resist getting out of your warm cozy tent to brave the cold. It takes more energy to hold it in and will prevent you from sleeping soundly, so just get it over with. It’ll feel so good when you get back to your cozy bed and can sleep the rest of the night in comfort.
17. Get Moving
Get warm the old-fashioned way by doing jumping jacks before you hop in your tent or do some crunches to help you warm up once you are inside. Then, in the morning, give yourself a few minutes to wiggle around and stretch inside your sleeping bag and tent before going outside.
18. Keep your phone and electronics warm
Your batteries will drain faster in colder environments. Store your cell phone and other electronics inside your sleeping bag or wrap them in an insulated jacket to save battery at night.
19. Make a Fire
When you’re camping in cold weather, fires aren’t just for evenings, they’re nice to have in the mornings too. Keep a fire going when you’re hanging out at camp to help you stay warm. Just be sure to follow our tips for having a safe campfire.
20. Pack a mylar blanket for ‘just-in-case’
If you’re heading somewhere really cold, it’s a good idea to bring an emergency kit with a mylar thermal blanket just in case. That way you have it as a last resort option if you can’t get warm in your sleeping bag.
Have you ever been camping in the winter? Where is your favorite place to go cold weather camping? Leave a comment below.