Camping or backpacking in the winter season is greatly appealing to anyone, especially those who enjoy the snow and serenity of a pristine cold wonderland. There are no crowds, no bugs – just the peacefulness and beauty of the snow and winter. Even though the thought of staying outdoors in the cold may be scary for some, winter camping is a truly memorable experience, provided that you plan It right. With a little preparation, you might be surprised by how comfortable your trip can turn out.
Why Go Winter Camping?
Even though the majority of campers may prefer summer camping over winter, the latter does bring its advantages, some of which include:
- No Mosquito bites and bugs – Winter is a season where you will be able to camp without worrying about bugs. That’s because insects start hibernating in colder weather, which means no more annoying buzzing and bites for you.
- Easy Food Storage – In winters, you need not worry about carrying a mini-fridge for your food items because they won’t spoil. You can easily use your shovel and make a storage cabinet for your edibles out of snow.
- No crowds – especially if you are looking for a memorable getaway from all your worries and people in general, then winter camping is all you need. Since camping in the wintertime is not the first preference of a lot of campers, you will be able to enjoy the tranquility and beauty of the campsite thoroughly.
- Cheaper Campsite Rates – prices for campsites typically drop during non-peak seasons, especially during the winters.
- Mesmerizing Scenery – Winter camping offers a special kind of landscape and is quite alluring. Trees have already shed their leaves which makes a breathtaking view. Frozen mountain tops and rivers offer an opportunity to ice-skate or ice-fish.
Pre-planning Tips for Winter Camping
Winter outings offer different struggles as compared to summer camping. You must prepare yourself for more serious weather and shorter daylight hours by packing additional gear and extra skills. Before leaving home, have a plan.
- Avoid going alone. Despite how much you may be looking at winter camping as a chance to get away from people, you should always bring along a few friends who have expertise in various winter skills such as snow travel, snow shelters, route finding, etc.
- Research the campsite area thoroughly and study maps in detail. How long will it take to reach there and set up the camp? In case something goes amiss, what emergency services (rescue and search, medical, etc.) are nearby.
- Talk to people who have been to the same campsite that you are planning to visit, and ask them to give you some pointers. You can also visit the campsite’s website and look for any reviews that may be of benefit to you.
- Check the weather prediction and see if the conditions are favorable.
- Make sure that the trail and local road conditions are safe and favorable to drive.
- Identify and steer clear of avalanche regions. Check the local avalanche forecast and postpone the trip is the danger is high. Remember that avalanche forests may be general and not precise for certain areas. If you are on or near any hill greater than 20 degrees, then your group should indulge in proper avalanche training beforehand.
- Leave behind a trip plan. This will help inform others of your whereabouts throughout your trip, and other details regarding when you will be there when you return, your vehicle information, names and contact information of your group members.
- Ensure that everyone in your camping group has the same expectations, plans, goals, and turnaround times.
- Carry some handy cash for unexpected emergencies or charges.
- Always expect the unexpected, and be prepared for it. Keep extra clothing and food just in case the weather changes, you get lost, or your trip brings along any surprises.
Winter Camping Checklist
In the absence of the right tools, the right clothing, and the right skills, your winter camping trip can turn into a hellish nightmare in just a matter of seconds. To help you steer clear of those hurdles, we have compiled here a list of essentials that will make your adventure much more adventurous and enjoyable.
Without a doubt, insulation is the most important piece of winter camping if you are to enjoy it. Humans do not naturally do well in cold climates, which is why staying warm is key to survival and having a good time. Before hitting the trail, make sure to pack the following:
- Warm under layers (wool socks, long johns, etc.)
- Warm outwear (pants, shirts, sweaters, jackets, vests, etc.)
- Gloves and hats
- An inflatable sleeping pad (air cushion beneath you helps trap the heat)
- A cold-resistant sleeping bag. Make sure that the temperature of the sleeping bag is lower than the temperature you are expecting.
- Space blanket
- Boots. You can go with a pair of traditional hiking boots, but snow-trekking is greatly enhanced by mountaineering or winter boots that are insulating and waterproof. Snowboarding and skiing also require their boots that are compatible with the bindings.
- Googles and Glasses. Your eyes also need protection from the wind and sun. There are various lens tints for different weather conditions.
It is very difficult to stay warm outside when you are winter camping in the absence of a fire. Heck, it is hard to do so even in the summer, especially if your campsite is at an elevated spot. For this reason, you should always carry backups in case one source of fire goes out. Pack the following items:
- A lighter or box of matches
- A waterproof container
- Firestarter – flint or something of the sort
Batteries & Lighting
Winter nights are very long, so make sure your flashlight and headlamp batteries are fully charged or brand new before an excursion. Lithium batteries do well under the cold weather, but they can subjugate some devices like headlamps. Make sure to check your product’s user guidebook for compatibility. Alkaline batteries are less expensive and should work nicely on practically any device. However, they do drain at a much faster rate.
Keep in mind that cold temperatures drain battery life faster, so store your batteries and battery-run devices in your sleeping bag to keep them warm.
The shelter is one of the must-haves for any camping trip. Both tents and hammocks get the job done nicely, but if you are looking for portability and a more comfortable setting, then we recommend a hammock. Hammock camping is all around a lot more comfortable, easier to carry and set up, and can be rigged above ground. If you are planning to take a hammock for winter camping, make sure you have a fully enclosed hammock so you won’t get exposed to the cold wind air and can stay better insulated sleeping in it at night.
Repair Kit & Tools
With winter camping, you never know when something might break or go wrong. For this reason, it is always important to have a repair kit and some tools on your side to patch up gear or jury-rig another tool. The following items should be packed:
- Knife or a multi-purpose tool
- Kits for your camp stove, tent, and sleeping pad.
- Duct tape
First Aid Kit
Safety comes first, especially when you are out in the wild, completely exposed to the harsh environment. Being exposed to the natural elements and staying far away from the hospital induces a higher risk of injuries and complications, which is why keeping a first-aid kit by your side at all times is extremely important.
You will most likely have no cellphone connection when winter camping in the backcountry. However, two-way radios can allow you to stay in touch with your group members who travel at different speeds than you. These radios, however, are restricted to line-of-vision coverage. Satellite phones and messengers provide an option to communicate with your family members at home.
Winter camping is a time when you do not want to be lugging tons of heavy water. A good solution to this problem is to invest in a good filtration system and merely replenish your water bottles in a nearby river or stream to your campsite. If your campground has a fair amount of snow on the ground, then bring some snow to a rolling boil and hold it there for a minute to purify it.
It is always a good idea to allocate extra funds for food, in case you need it. Winter camping burns a lot more calories, which is why having adequate food backup is important.
You should have some backups by your side, in addition to your phone. This includes maps and compasses etc.
Keeping the tips mentioned above in mind will help you prepare for a winter camping trip of a lifetime. Visit this page for a complete downloadable winter camping checklist.
I have been camping and going outdoors for over 15 years! My first experience was when I joined the scouts. There I learned a lot. From building a campfire to set up a really big tent. Then I know this is awesome. Around 2005 I also started Geocaching. This is a lot of fun. And every time we go camping we look at the map to see if there are some nice caches around.