A little snow and ice doesn’t have to get in the way of your outdoor exploring. With the right gear, winter backpacking or camping could become your new favorite adventure. Here are our ten favorite camping hacks for winter.
Insulate from the ground up
To stay warm in your tent, remember to protect yourself from the bottom, not just from above. When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Eastern Europe, I learned quickly that no matter how many blankets I piled on top of the bed, I’d always wake up cold, because cold air seeped through the mattress. Instead, I slept between the blankets, with a few on top and a few underneath, and stayed toasty warm.
Get yourself a good insulating pad to go under your sleeping bag. If it’s still frigid, lay extra clothes or bedding on top of the pad, under your bag.
Get some biodegradable trail marking tape
For staying safe in the winter wilderness, mark your path with biodegradable trail marking tape. Whether you’re hiking, skiing or snowshoeing, you’ll want to take extra precaution not to get caught out in the cold. Plus, landmarks and trails can be harder to recognize in snow or ice. Pack a few rolls of this handy tape, and you can avoid getting lost. It’s biodegradable, too, so you can leave your winter playground just as pristine as you found it.
Wear latex gloves as insulators to keep your gloves dry
What’s worse than putting your hand in a damp glove? Keeping your extremities nice and warm is critical on winter camping trips. But what about the moisture from your own body?
Carry several pairs of latex gloves with you. Wear them inside your gloves when you’re out hiking, skiing or snowboarding, and you won’t have to worry about your gloves getting sweaty or soggy. Just change out the latex gloves when they get too damp, and go back to enjoying your warm, dry, gloves.
For your feet, try the same trick with plastic bags between your boots and your shoes. This will keep whatever moisture your boots absorb away from your socks, and vice versa.
Up your s’mores game
One of the best parts of winter camping is warming up—and pigging out—around the campfire after a long day in the elements. You’ll have to eat extra calories to stay warm on winter camping trips, so make them delicious! Add a touch of decadence to your s’mores with ready-to-bake crescent rolls, baked on the campfire. Pair them with the classics: chocolate and marshmallows, or add just about anything else.
Emergency blankets: not just for emergencies
Sometimes called space blankets, these shiny plastic foil coverlets are your best friend on a winter camping trip. They’re extremely small and lightweight, cheap, and surprisingly warm. Pack several with you and you’ll never run out of uses for them. Drape one over your sleeping bag, or even a couple on top of your tent for extra insulation. You can even lay one under your sleeping pad. They also make great sitting pads when you’re relaxing by the campfire.
You can also use an emergency blanket to wrap any gear that you want to keep warm, like food or clean clothes.
Ditch the cotton
Cotton: it’s soft, it’s all-natural, what could go wrong? A lot, in fact. Cotton clothing might be great in some situations, but it’s not a good choice for winter camping. Why? Cotton can’t wick moisture away from your body. What’s more, it absorbs relatively little moisture compared to its own weight, and won’t dry quickly.
Instead, try merino wool base layers. Merino is the softest wool out there, by micron count, and, just like it keeps a sheep warm and dry, it’ll do the same for you. Wool wicks moisture away from you, stays warm even when it’s wet, and dries quickly.
If wool just isn’t your thing, opt for a high-tech synthetic base layer to keep you warm and dry.
Pack in the calories
A winter backpacking trip is no time to diet. You’ll need extra calories to stay warm, so keep energy-dense snacks like nuts or raisins nearby while you’re on the trail. Pack them where you can access them without stopping or unpacking, and close to your body so they’ll stay warm. An inside front pocket is ideal.
When it’s time for supper, go for meals with plenty of fat and protein. These both take more time to digest than carbohydrates, and fuel your body for longer. A protein- and fat-heavy meal right before bed will help keep you warm all night. Choose options like jerky, cheese, and olives to keep you toasty.
Dig a pit in the snow in front of your tent entrance
To keep your tent warm, make sure to keep it dry. Moisture is your worst enemy on a winter camping trip. One way to do this is to position your tent so the entrance slopes downward, encouraging moisture to collect and escape at the front of the tent.
Take it a step further by digging a pit just in front of the tent entrance. This gives moisture a place to run out, and gives you a comfy spot for sitting and lacing up your boots when you go out.
Use nature’s refrigeration
Winter camping comes with some distinct advantages! One of them is the abundance of all-natural refrigeration. Use it to add some heartiness to your camping meals.
Since you can keep food frozen easily by leaving it in a cold spot near your campsite, or packing it where it will stay exposed and cold, skip the bland freeze-dried meals. Instead, try freezer bag meals that can be boiled or steamed in their bags over your camp stove.
Put tomorrow's clothes and socks into your sleeping bag while you sleep
When you wake up ready for another day of icy adventure, you don’t want to waste all the warmth in your sleeping bag. The night before, put your clean socks and base layer into your sleeping bag. They’ll be nice and toasty when it’s time to get dressed in the morning, and the extra challenge of changing inside your sleeping bag will get your blood flowing and help you generate even more warmth to start your day.
What are your favorite tips for a great winter camping adventure?