Winter Camping: 10 Tips On How To Survive The Artic Cold
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Winter camping can be a fun and rewarding activity for people of all ages, but having a warm place to hang out is especially important during the colder months. As a result, it is crucial to have a source of warmth to keep you comfortable. Thankfully, there are various alternatives.
Why Winter Camping?
Here are some reasons why you might consider winter tent camping:
Scenic Beauty: Winter provides a different perspective of the outdoors, with snow-covered landscapes, frosty trees, and crisp air.
Peace and Quiet: Winter is a quiet time in the wilderness, with fewer crowds and the absence of summer sounds like buzzing insects and chirping birds.
Adventure: Winter camping can be an adventurous experience, with challenges such as navigating in the snow, building a fire, and staying warm.
Challenge: Winter camping can be a test of your survival skills and a great way to push your limits.
Fitness: Winter camping requires physical effort, such as hiking through snow, setting up camp, and staying active to stay warm.
Quality Time: Winter camping can provide a great opportunity to spend quality time with friends or family and create lasting memories.
Appreciation for Nature: Winter camping can deepen your appreciation for nature and help you understand and connect with the natural world in new ways.
In short, winter tent camping can provide a unique and challenging outdoor experience that allows you to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and connect with nature in a new and exciting way.
Table of Contents
What to use for Heat while Winter Camping?
Tip 1: Moisture or Heat Barrier
Opt for dual sleeping mats during winter excursions. We highly recommend combining a foam sleeping mat with an inflatable one for optimal insulation and comfort. When selecting an inflatable sleeping mat, it is advisable to use a pump to ensure proper inflation. Self-inflating mats often fail to inflate fully, particularly in cold weather conditions. By utilizing both types of mats, you can enhance insulation from the cold ground and achieve a more comfortable sleeping surface, providing a better night’s rest during winter camping or outdoor activities.
Tip 2: Type Of Tent
A four season winter tent is warm and more water resistant than a three season one. Some kinds also have a snow skirt, which means you don’t need to lay an insulated tarp on the ground outside your tent. Vents allow you to ventilate, even when covered with snow, and the sleeping bag should be rated for the temperatures during your winter camping trip. If you plan on sleeping in a hammock inside your tent, choose one that is smaller than you think you’ll need—the smaller the space, the warmer it will be.
But when you are in the tent for any length of time and temps drop below zero, it gets fight and uncomfortable. I use a tarp as an extra layer of insulation to help keep me warm, off the ground and give me some added protection from the snow and wind.
Tip 3: Higher Rating Sleeping Bag
To stay warm during winter camping, it’s important to have a high R-rated sleeping pad and a down sleeping bag with a 20-degree rating. However, everyone’s heat tolerance differs, so individuals transitioning from tent camping should assess their own gear and consider adding extra layers or limiting exposure to the cold.
Enhancing warmth can be achieved by using a fleece throw inside the sleeping bag and ensuring a tight zipper closure to prevent cold air from entering.In the selection of sleeping bags, opt for sleeping bags that come with ample amounts of goose down or synthetic insulation. Many people prefer down due to its excellent warmth-to-weight ratio. However, it is important to ensure that the down stays dry, as it loses much of its insulating capacity when wet.
Winter bags are characterized by features such as draft tubes positioned behind the zippers, draft collars located above the shoulders, and hoods that help retain heat inside the bag.
For additional insulation, minimizing wear, and maintaining cleanliness, a sleeping bag liner can be added, providing an extra 5 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit of warmth and ensuring a comfortable sleeping experience.
Read here for more winter camping tips on better care to prolong the life of your sleeping bag,
Tip 4: Hot Water Bottle
The easiest thing to do for heat is to get a Nalgene bottle with warm/hot water and put it inside your sleeping bag. Instead of placing a hot water-filled bottle at your toes, the suggestion is to position it at your groin. By doing so, the heat from the bottle will warm the blood circulating throughout your body, reaching your extremities and promoting overall body warmth more efficiently. This simple trick can make a noticeable difference and is worth sharing with fellow campers. It’s important to exercise caution when handling hot water to avoid burns and ensure the bottle’s lid is tightly closed to prevent leaks.
Tip 5: Blanket
You can consider an emergency blanket or space blanket (i.e., reflective emergency blanket) to radiate your own body heat back to you under your loft or under an emergency blanket /space blanket insulation barrier (not both). I personally use a USB powered heated lap blanket for my whole body, I love it! There are plenty of options on how to stay warm camping and some can be powered by USB power banks and portable batteries. In general, the larger the battery pack the more power you have, but also the more weight you’ll have to carry when winter camping.
Tip 6: Tent Heater
A tent heater will keep your tent warm, it won’t get heat through the walls of your tent or other outside temperatures that affect heat loss. If I have electricity, I use a portable electric heater. It dries out the tent, and prevents condensation as long as you have extra insulation in your tent. They are often more expensive than propane heaters. If no electricity, I use a Mr. buddy propane heater. Please be careful using these heaters, especially when you are in an enclosed space. Ventilate your tent, and keep a carbon monoxide detector nearby.
If you are looking for tent heaters, we have a write up on the best tent heaters for winter camping.
Wood stove is also another the preferred heat source and will provide equal comfort to you as compared to propane heater. Wood has been used for heating since ancient times and has no bad by-products. The only problem with wood heat is, it takes longer time to get things warm because wood is not as quick as propane but once it gets going it will last all night long. You can get a fire going early for staying warm while winter camping and keep it going all night.
Tip 7: Clothes
For campsites that are extremely cold, warm pajamas with a clean body underneath the pajamas is recommended for cozy winter camping. Do not wear previously worn clothes to bed, clothes absorb the sweat and oils from your body and will become cold. You need to sleep in fresh dry clothing. And make sure to wear wool socks on your feet, it will wick away moisture keeping you from sweating which helps keep you stay warm camping. Wearing wet cloths from sweating during the day is miserable and does not do much good for your sleeping bag. A hat can be very helpful.
Another essential tip is to layer your clothing strategically. By wearing multiple layers, such as base layers, mid-layers, puffies, and shell jackets, you gain better control over regulating your body temperature. Throughout the day’s activities, your body generates heat, but it’s crucial to avoid excessive sweating. Sweat, when it evaporates, can leave you feeling chilled. Therefore, managing your body heat by adding or removing layers constantly becomes vital in preventing excessive sweating, which plays a significant role in staying warm during winter adventures. To delve deeper into the topic of dressing in layers for winter camping, I recommend checking out this article.
Tip 8: Cover your Head
It is well-known that a significant amount of body heat is lost through the head, making it crucial to cover your head while sleeping. However, traditional options like beanies and jacket hoods often slip off during the night, failing to retain the heat effectively. The solution lies in wearing a balaclava, which securely stays in place and traps the hard-earned heat, ensuring maximum warmth throughout the night. Additionally, the balaclava provides a breathing hole for ventilation, preventing any discomfort. For optimal warmth, it is recommended to layer the balaclava under a beanie or hood as you peacefully drift off to sleep. Implementing this technique can significantly improve your sleeping experience in the great outdoors.
Tip 9: Ventilate your tent
Although it may appear counterintuitive, allowing airflow inside the tent is crucial. Breathing releases warm vapor that, when it comes into contact with the cold tent fabric, condenses and freezes, leading to uncomfortable frost accumulation. By opening the vents of your tent, even partially, you can prevent waking up in an icy environment. This prevents the formation of frost that would later melt, potentially making you wet and uncomfortable. Proper ventilation ensures a more comfortable and enjoyable winter camping experience.
Tip 10: Effective Floor Space Utilization
To improve the warmth inside your tent, it’s important to make efficient use of the available floor space. When there is a large amount of empty space, it becomes challenging to heat up the interior.
A useful tactic is to bring your backpack and other gear into the tent, ensuring that you exclude any sharp items that could potentially tear the tent fabric, such as crampons and axes. Once inside, arrange these items strategically around you on the tent floor. This serves a dual purpose: not only does it keep your gear easily accessible, but it also acts as insulation against the cold ground.
The gear acts as a barrier, preventing the cold from seeping through the tent floor and helping to maintain a warmer environment inside. By utilizing the available floor space in this way, you can enhance your comfort and insulation while winter camping in colder conditions.
If All Else Fails
Safety Tips When Winter Camping
Safety Tip 1: Camp with a buddy
Going winter camping solo is a big no-no. As much as the idea of venturing into the wilderness solo might seem epic, nature can be a real tough cookie. So, always bring along a camping buddy or two when you set out on your winter camping adventure. But hold up, don’t just pick any random pals. Look for folks who know their way around the winter scene like pros, the ones who can navigate through snowy landscapes, find the best paths, and build a shelter. Having these winter-savvy buddies by your side will not only make the trip more fun, but also keep you safer. It’s all about teamwork in the winter wonderland!
Safety Tip 2: Selecting the Right Spot For Winter Camping
When winter camping in the mountains, it’s crucial to choose a safe location for your tent. Avoid fall and runout zones, as well as potential dead fall from trees. Look for high ground or a ridgeline, and avoid sleeping at the bottom of a gully. Additionally, a location protected from wind can help keep you warm. Consider leveling the ground and building a wall of snow around your tent for added protection.
Safety Tip 3: Hydration and Cooking Strategies
Staying hydrated is vital during winter, despite reduced feelings of thirst. Opting for hot drinks minimizes energy expenditure for warming them up. Melting snow for water is a common practice to avoid carrying large quantities, with fresher snow found beneath the surface layer. Insulated containers keep water from freezing, while placing them in sleeping bags or between individuals prevents freezing.
Boil in the bag meals are convenient but inedible if stove or lighter fails, so having a flint and maintaining the stove is crucial. Utilize hot water efficiently by storing it in bottles for warmth or making a pre-bedtime hot drink. Sufficient fuel is essential for melting snow and cooking, with liquid fuel stoves recommended for consistent heat output and field serviceability in cold temperatures.
Safety Tip 4: Communication Planning
Inform a trusted person about your itinerary, including your destination and return time, enabling prompt rescue efforts if necessary. For remote backcountry exploration, consider using a SPOT device as an emergency aid. However, it’s crucial not to solely rely on electronic devices like GPS and to develop map-reading skills or, ideally, possess orienteering expertise. These measures ensure better preparedness and increase the likelihood of a safe and successful journey.
Safety Tip 5: Don’t run out of power
It is crucial to prioritize battery management for your headlamp, GPS, and cell phone. Ensure that these devices have either new or fully charged batteries before embarking on your excursion, and carry extras for emergencies. While lithium batteries are known for performing well in cold weather, they can overpower certain devices like headlamps (check the product manual for compatibility). On the other hand, alkaline batteries should work in any device but tend to drain at a faster rate. By carefully managing your battery power, you can have well-lit and connected equipment throughout your winter camping adventure.
Tips For Pitching A Tent in Snow
Compact the snow and anchor well
Loose snow tends to melt more easily under your body heat, which can make sleeping uncomfortable. Prior to pitching your tent, use skis or snowshoes to pack down the snow and allow it to harden for approximately 15 minutes across the entire tent site. Once the snow has solidified, proceed to pitch your tent using snow pegs instead of regular pegs. Snow pegs function similarly to standard tent pegs and can be inserted vertically or horizontally as T-anchors by digging them into the snow. Firmly stamp them into the snow and compress the surrounding area, allowing it to freeze for another 15 minutes before tightening the guylines.
Additionally, position snow along the side of the tent that faces the prevailing wind direction to prevent snow from blowing in between the inner tent and flysheet. It is crucial to properly anchor all ground loops and guylines. As snow conditions can be challenging, it is advisable to utilize multiple anchoring points to distribute the stresses evenly when the wind intensifies. By employing these measures, you can enhance the stability and resilience of your tent in snowy environments.
Construct a windbreak
In the event of strong winds, if feasible, construct a protective barrier made of snow around your tent. If building a wall is not possible, consider digging out the snow a few feet deep around your tent and vestibule. This excavation helps minimize the impact of the wind. However, it’s important to note that your tent should not be completely sealed off as it still requires adequate ventilation to prevent condensation and ensure air circulation.