Camping in cold weather has its advantages. The weather makes it less crowded. You are in the serenity and peacefulness of a winter wonderland. If there is snow, it allows for unique winter activities such as making a snowman, skiing, snowboarding, and more. There are also fewer insects to bug you. However, the key to enjoying cold weather camping is being prepared and taking the right cold-weather camping gear with you. Here a short guide on what to take with you.
The human body is designed to produce heat which is eventually lost to surroundings. There is enough natural heat produced in the body however, in colder weather, the heat loss is increased. The way to keep warm is to have proper insulation. You want to take clothes that are designed to keep you warm in cold weather. Typically, these clothes have plenty of air space enclosure. It is not the fabric that will keep you warm, but it is these small pockets of air enclosure that help minimize heat loss.
Apart from certain winter clothes, you should plan on dressing up in layers, which allow for more air space enclosure between the fabrics. It also allows for more versatility in case you increase your physical activity and produce more heat. It is important to keep in mind to not have too many clothes on as that can lead to sweating and dehydration. A balance needs to be maintained. Rather than taking one big heavy overcoat, try to keep a couple of lightweight wool or fleece jackets.
Wool is an ideal material for winter. About 80% of wool fabric is made of air making it an ideal lightweight insulator. It also absorbs moisture without feeling damp. In more snowy conditions, fleece might be better than wool as it absorbs less moisture and will not get heavy. The wind resistance of fleece is not as good as wool. Fleece is best worn as the middle layer of clothing with a breathable water-resistant layer on the top. The base layer next to the skin should be polyester or wool to absorb moisture from the skin. More about clothing for cold-weather camping.
In case you are headed to extremely cold weather, you want to consider specialized gear for head, hands, and feet. The head accounts for about 70% of the total heat loss from the body. A balaclava is a simple, effective, and affordable headwear. If you expect gusts of wind, consider getting a face mask too. For the hands, wear gloves with an inner mitten and an outer shell.
Insulated boots should be the choice for the feat but the type of footwear will depend on the activities you plan on doing while camping. If you are planning a lot of physical activity, makes sure you get shoes with some ankle support. For extremely cold weather go for something like the Army Boot which is rated for -40 F. Here is a guide to snowshoes. Pair the shoes with non-cotton socks that fit comfortably.
To ensure a comfortable night’s rest, pick a sleeping bag that is rated -10 F less than what you expect during your camping trip. You can always allow for airflow in case you get too warm. Down material is a great choice for insulation for sleeping bags. It allows the sleeping bag to be lightweight and portable. Make sure you keep the sleeping bag dry.
Along with sleeping gear, you might consider taking a sleeping pad to provide cushion support and insulation from the cold snow surface. You can use two pads in case the surface is extremely cold. Try to use a self-inflating pad on top of a closed-cell pad for ideal heat insulation. It is important to get the right size sleeping pad as excessive free space in the bag will reduce the insulation. On the other hand, a sleeping pad that is too right will not be comfortable to sleep in.
Having a proper shelter is one of the most important items for cold weather camping. You would want to pick a 4-season tent in case there are high winds and snowfall. These types of tents tend to be sturdier with a heavier fabric. Keep in mind, they will also be more expensive and might take slightly more effort to set up. They are designed to be smaller, so if you are looking for larger tents, you would need to go with a 3-season tent. That would work as long as the weather doesn’t get too windy or snowy. Leave extra room for equipment that will need to be inside the tent.
Dome-shaped tents are best if you are expected snow. The shape allows for easy snow shed and the shape is also ideal to maximize interior space. Hang a frost liner inside the tent to minimize condensation. For optimum insulation, try to seal the edges of the tent with extra blankets or sleeping bags. A useful tip is to bring extra poles with you so that in case one break, you have spare. A whisk broom is great to brush off snow before getting into the tent. This can be extremely useful in keeping the inside of the tent dry.
The size of the backpack will depend on the duration of your camping trip. Your backpack should be large enough to carry all the essentials for the camping trip. Typically, you have three sizes of backpacks. There is the weekend size suited for 1-3 nights. As you can expect, this type if lightest and most portable but limited in size to 50 liters. The next size up is the Multi-Day, which can go up 80 liters. It is ideal for 3-5 nights stay. The largest size is the extended-stay which goes up to 100 liters. For winter camping, you might need this type of bag to accommodate all the essential gear.
The features of the backpack are also important. Look for a frameless backpack if you plan on climbing or fast hiking during your camping. The backpack that rides a few inches away from you back is great to allow for proper ventilation. Look for bags with tension-mesh suspension for this feature. Other advanced features include a removable top lid, extra pockets, rain cover, and more. For a detailed guide on how to choose a backpack, click here.
Food and Drink Equipment
You want to take food with you that gives good nutrition to weight ratio. Avoid foods that contain a lot of water such as fruit and vegetables. Take dry foods such as pasta, cereal, oatmeal, etc). Try to eat big during breakfast so your energy levels are good throughout the day. For utensils, take with you a large plastic cup and spoon for eating and metal container for cooking or boiling.
For basic cooking during cold weather camping, you can consider either a liquid fuel stove or canister stove. The liquid fuel stove is great for freezing temperatures but is heavy. They also require some preparation to get started with cooking. Canister stoves are more portable, but struggle to work in below-freezing temperatures. They tend to produce a weaker flame. So, if you are expecting very cold weather, take a liquid fuel stove with you. Try to bring extra fuel with you.
Water is an essential element to life and it becomes even more critical in cold weather. You might think that in hot weather, with all the sweating you need more water that is true, however, with winter the supply of water is the main problem. Unfortunately, you can’t eat snow to replenish water levels. Ideally, you want to be well-stocked with water. However, if your stay is longer you will supply water at the camping site. Bring with you a filter water bottle so that if you do find any water supply, you can get it cleaned through the filter. For more tips on how to prepare for winter camping, here is a more in-depth guide.
Cold weather camping can bring a few struggles for you. It is better to go prepared for the worst. In case you are camping near a region prone to avalanche, you will need certain safety equipment. The most basic of equipment you will need is a snow shovel. It can be used for several different purposes including digging out someone, leveling a tent site, getting snow to melt for water, etc. Keep an avalanche awareness map with you to avoid certain regions. You must learn to identify signs of avalanche danger.
A heater can be considered as a piece of safety equipment. Ideally, you want to preserve fuel for heater use and only us its extreme conditions. You must have a heater available in case you need it. Most portable heaters are going to run on propane. It is crucial that you remember to not leave the propane heater on inside the tent when you are sleeping. This could be fatal. To be safe, have proper ventilation at all times.