If you decide to go winter camping, you’ll enjoy empty campsites, no bugs, and some well-deserved peace and quiet. All outdoors enthusiasts know how rewarding it can be to go camping in the winter! But, the most experienced campers also know how important it is to be prepared. While this applies to camping trips any time of year, it’s even more important if you know you’ll be faced with cold temperatures or inclement weather.
If you plan to go camping this winter and want to stay safe, you’re going to want to invest in the best of the best in winter camping gear, clothing, safety gear, and important extras.
Winter camping gear you should invest in:
First things first, you’re going to want to set up your campsite so that you have somewhere to relax, take shelter, and sleep. Your tent will protect you from the harsh elements of winter as well as serve as a place to sleep.
Your tent will need to be able to support low temperatures, snow, rain, sleet, and wind. That’s why it’s so important that you invest in a 4-season tent that will support your needs at any time of year! You’ll want to opt for a durable model that will protect you no matter the weather.
You may also consider building a snow fort to sleep in for shelter, as the snow will insulate you from the cold and will help to protect you from freezing temperatures. However, we suggest that you bring along a tent. It can take years to perfect a good snow shelter, and even if you know what you’re doing, it could take hours to build. Do yourself a favor and save time by investing in a durable 4-season tent instead.
Now that you have your tent, you need a quality winter sleeping bag to be able to sleep comfortably in it! Winter camping can be even more tiring than camping in warmer weather due to the cold temperatures, so you’re going to want something warm and cozy to climb into after a long day outside.
When choosing a sleeping bag for winter camping, you’ll want to make sure that it will keep you warm. Keep your eye out for a sleeping bag with a minimum sleeping temperature rating of at least 20 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if you know you’ll be outdoors in extreme temps, you’ll probably want to purchase one with a rating of 0 degrees Fahrenheit just in case. There are several different models out there that are down-filled, durable, and lightweight.
While a quality sleeping bag is important, you’re going to need another layer between your bag and the freezing ground. Even if you invest in the best tent and sleeping bag, you may find yourself feeling a little bit chilly. That is where an insulated sleeping pad will come in handy!
When choosing an insulated sleeping pad, you need to look for the pad’s R-value. Sleeping pads with higher R-values will give you more insulation from the cold ground than lower-value pads—sleeping pads with R-values of 4 or higher work the best in freezing temperatures.
Some models work in the same way emergency blankets do, meaning that they use your own body heat to keep your warm. These types of insulated sleeping pads are your best bet for a camping trip as they are lightweight while also staying efficient!
Stove, stove platform, and fuel
Now that your shelter is taken care of, it’s time to consider how you’ll feed yourself while out in the wild. In the same way that getting a good night’s sleep after a day out in the harsh elements is important, the food that you eat will help you stay fueled up and ready for a day of exploring or hiking. And, you’re going to need a stove to help you cook up your nutritious grub.
You’re going to want to invest in a stove that is compact, dependable, and durable enough for cold weather. You’ll also want to opt for a model that boils water fairly quickly. The best option for a winter camping trip is an all-in-one canister stove. You’ll simply need to light the stove and let it work it’s magic!
Other models use white gas placed in a refillable fuel source, which is then connected to the stove by a small fuel line. These stoves tend to be larger and heavier.
You also need a stove platform to place your stove on. In winter camping, your stove will heat up and melt the snow on the ground below, which can create an uneven surface, making cooking difficult. Avoid any added difficulty by investing in a quality stove platform. You can also make a platform yourself by wrapping the foam pieces of an old sleeping bag in aluminum.
Utensils to cook with
Depending on what you plan on eating during your winter camping trip, you may need some cooking utensils. If you plan on eating your dehydrated food straight out of the bag it comes in after you’ve boiled water on an all-in-one stove, you probably only need to bring along a fork – or a spork. If you plan on using a larger stove, you’ll need a small pot to cook in. Aluminum and titanium options are the most lightweight.
You may also want to bring along a mug for coffee, tea, or hot chocolate too!
Lamp for your head
A headlamp is an essential item for any camping trip, but it’s even more important for winter camping. The days are shorter in winter. In some places, the sun will start to go down as early as 4 pm. If you’re out skiing, hiking, or snowshoeing into the late afternoon, you may need some added light to help you find your way back to your camp. A headlamp is more convenient than a flashlight, as you don’t need to worry about carrying it in your hand.
Winter camping clothing you should invest in:
Warm winter coat
The fact is, it gets cold out there in wintertime! You’re going to want to have a warm winter coat to protect you from the elements and to keep you cozy. Keep a lookout for plush down coats that will keep you warm without weighing you down.
The best warm winter coats are a little on the expensive side, but think of it as a good investment. If you’re tight on cash, there are some less expensive options too. Just make sure that you save the lightweight down jackets for warmer weather or use them as another layer beneath your plush down coat. In general, you’re going to have to wear several different layers to stay warm and dry!
You may also want to choose a coat with a hood to keep your head warm. You’ll also want to look at how the coat closes and how many pockets it has. A zipper with buttons is best for keeping out snow and sleet.
Hardshell outer jacket
While a quality winter coat will keep you warm, you may also consider adding on a hardshell outer jacket to really protect yourself from harsh weather! This added layer will help protect you from the snow, sleet, rain, or hail. If you’re snow fishing or building a snow shelter, you’ll want that added layer – trust us!
A quality hardshell outer jacket is versatile and will give you an added boost of warmth and safety. Even the best warm winter coats can sometimes become drenched with rain or snow. That freezing cold liquid could seep into your clothing, putting you at higher risk for hypothermia. You’re going to want to be prepared for anything if you go camping in the winter, and a hardshell outer jacket can help make you feel more at ease.
In the same way that a hardshell outer jacket will protect you from getting wet, hardshell and softshell snow pants will protect you and keep you warm and comfortable.
Hardshell pants tend to give you more warmth and are waterproof, which adds another layer of comfort for those long days out in the snow. There is an added layer of insulation in most hardshell snow pants, so you don’t have to worry about your legs getting cold. Plus, if you plan on doing a lot of winter sports (like skiing or snowshoeing) while out camping, snow pants are essential!
Softshell pants are lighter but can still add a layer of security. These models are lightweight and breathable while encouraging mobility and ease of wear. If you’re concerned about water leaking through your snow pants, you may consider layering on a softshell pant over a hardshell.
Layers (base and mid)
It’s all about the layers when it comes to winter camping. Remember that you’ll be out in the elements for most of your day and night, so it’s important to dress correctly to avoid getting sick or, in the worst-case – hypothermia. Because you’ll want to wear these added layers for the duration of your trip, choose materials that are insulating as well as comfortable! You’ll need a base layer as well as a mid-layer.
For the base layer, opt for fleece pants and a merino wool sweater. Merino wool is soft as well as odor-resistant, so if you sweat a little bit, you don’t need to worry about stinking up your clothing. Your fellow campers will thank you for that! A base layer is fundamental to keeping warm, especially if you know that temperatures will go down as low as the teens. That added layer could potentially save your life!
Mid-layers are also important. This is the layer between your base layer and your coat. Tt’s a great option for those of you who plan to leave your campsite early without returning until the evening. Temperatures will be cold in the morning at the end of the day, but they may increase as the day goes on. If you start to feel uncomfortably warm, you can also remove your mid-layer until the sun starts to go down!
It simply won’t be possible for you to go camping in the winter if you don’t have a pair of gloves. Your hands and fingers need protection from cold weather and sleet, rain, and snow. You won’t be able to grip things properly if you don’t have the proper protection.
You’ll want to bring several pairs of gloves with you on your camping expedition. Try to bring along various models for the various situations you may encounter. Waterproof and lined ski gloves are a great option for most activities, while a lighter pair of fleece or wool gloves work well if you need more control over your hands.
Gloves will also help you avoid ice burn. Metal conducts, and many of the tools you need for camping are made of metal. This is especially important when you’re cooking. Most stoves will be made of metal, and if you’re not careful, you can seriously injure yourself if you touch one with your bare hands. Opt to use your lightweight gloves for increased mobility when cooking, without sacrificing protection.
Think of it this way: you’ll likely be wearing gloves during your entire camping trip, except for when you’re sleeping. Invest in a few quality pairs, and your hands will thank you!
In the same way that gloves are essential for any winter camping trip, hats will protect your head and ears from harsh elements. Just as with your gloves, bring along a few different hats so that you have something for every type of situation! Again, like gloves, bring a lightweight as well as a heavy-duty option.
A thick beanie will keep you warm at night and for ice fishing. A lightweight version is your best bet if you know that you’re going to be active and possibly working up a sweat. Some prepared campers will also bring along a baseball cap or another type of brimmed hat for those sunny days.
Make sure that you bring a different pair of warm socks for each day you’ll be camping. Some campers will be tempted to save on space and only bring one or two pairs, but we suggest that you bring a change for every day.
There’s nothing worse than walking around in damp socks when it’s cold outside. Plus, this can be really dangerous. If you wear damp socks for an extended period, you risk trench foot or frostbite. Both injuries can occur if your feet are exposed to damp and cold conditions.
Just like your base and mid-layers, a good material for socks is merino wool. Remember to choose a pair that goes up beyond your ankles. Then that part of your body is protected from the elements.
Sunglasses and goggles
Winter camping can be potentially dangerous if you don’t protect every inch of your body. This includes your eyes! Eyes are one of the most sensitive parts of the body, and they need to be protected from harsh sunlight and snow reflection.
If you’re camping at high altitudes, you’ll be at high risk for snow blindness. Snow blindness occurs when your eyes become sunburnt. You’d be surprised, but even on overcast or partially cloudy days, your eyes are at risk for becoming sunburnt. The sun will reflect off of the white snow, with the result being potential damage to your eyes. You can seriously harm your vision if you don’t wear sunglasses or protective goggles.
You can choose to opt for traditional high-quality sunglasses or a pair of protective glacier goggles. If you know you’re going to go out skiing, snowshoeing, or cross country skiing, glacier goggles will also protect your eyes from flying snow. They can also be helpful if there is simply just a lot of wind wherever you’re camping out. Just be aware that your goggle may fog up if you wear them for an extended period. If you’re really concerned with this, opt for sunglasses.
Winter camping safety gear you should invest in:
Snowshoes and backcountry skis
Any good camping trip will include some hiking. If you’re camping out in the winter, you’re likely to be out in snowy conditions, and you may find that traditional hiking boots just don’t do the trick.
Snowshoes are a great option for all of you winter campers that don’t like to ski. Here, you’ll need to wear a pair of durable and waterproof hiking boots to get the protection and grip you need.
If you like to ski, go for a great pair of backcountry skis! Choose a pair that are lightweight and include touring bindings. Just make sure that you also invest in a pair of skins to attach to the bottom of your skis. These skins will give you more traction when climbing up an incline.
While backcountry skis may take a little getting used to if you’ve never skied before, they are truly your best bet for winter camping. You’ll have so much fun cruising around your campsite on this ideal form of winter transportation!
Depending upon your needs, you’ll need to wear a pair of backcountry ski boots or mountaineering boots on your winter camping trip.
If you know that you’ll be using skis to get around, you’ll need backcountry ski boots that can attach to your touring bindings. There are several different models out there, each with pros and cons, so consider what you’ll be using your backcountry ski boots for before you buy. You’ll be able to choose between heavy-duty models that are ideal for skiing up steep hills or more lightweight versions that are ideal for speed.
If you want to ditch your skis and head out for a hike, you’ll need a pair of mountaineering boots. This type of footwear will give you grip and traction on those snow-filled trails, and most pairs are heavily insulated. You’ll be able to keep your balance while also keeping your feet warm, dry, and cozy! Choose a pair that will allow you to attach skis or crampons for even more added versatility!
Backpack or sled
If you’re used to camping in warmer weather, you may be surprised at how much more gear you’ll be required to bring on a winter camping trip. But, the fact is, you need more equipment to keep you safe in colder temperatures.
Purchase a large backpack to store your equipment. We suggest that you choose a model that can hold between 50 to 70 liters of material. This will really come in handy if you know that you’ll be camping for an extended period.
If you plan to go out for a quick weekend trip, you may not need a large backpack. In that case, opt for a sled that you can pull behind you! Simply place your duffle bag or smaller backpack on the sled, and you’ll be at your campsite in no time. This method of transportation is also a lot gentler on your back and knees, so if you know that you’re sensitive in either of those areas, a sled can be helpful.
Poles will help you walk through high snow with ease! Keep your eye out for models with large powder baskets, which will help prevent the poles from sinking down to the ground as you put your weight on them to move forward.
Poles can also help you keep your balance and will give you the push of strength you need to keep moving at a quick pace. If you already have a pair of trekking poles, you have the option of using them. Simply attach power baskets to the end, and you’ve got yourself a pair of snow poles! Standard ski poles can also get the job done, although some models may be on the heavier side.
If you want to save on space, consider purchasing a lightweight pair than can also be folded.
There are so many different navigation device options out there! You can choose between a GPS, a map, or an application for your smartphone. Any camping expert understands how important it is to know where you are, where you’re going, and how to get there. A navigation device can help you achieve this! This is an essential tool, especially if you’re camping in a place you’re unfamiliar with. Plus, snow can quickly change the landscape or appearance of any location. You’re going to want to carry multiple navigation devices with you just to be safe.
GPS is a great modern invention. This type of technology can act as a lifesaver if you find yourself off the trail and lost. There are also several different smartphone apps out there that act as a GPS. Just be careful to charge your GPS and your smartphone before you head out on the trail. Another trick to keep your battery life is to try to keep your device close to your body. Batteries don’t like the cold and tend to die more quickly if they are exposed to low temps.
A good old fashioned map is a great choice as you don’t need to worry about it losing battery. But, make sure you study the map carefully and that you know how to read it. Brush up on your map reading skills before you head out camping so that you feel more comfortable.
Beacon or transceiver
A beacon or a transceiver is another device that will help keep you safe. It’s a small device that you strap to your chest before going out onto a hiking trail or a mountain. If you get caught in an avalanche and can’t get yourself out, you can use your beacon to alert your friends that you’re in trouble. They will then receive an alert to their own beacon, and they’ll even be able to search for your signal using their device.
Like much of the equipment on this list, a beacon can save your life.
A probe is a thin piece of metal that can be extended. This tool works alongside a beacon. Once your friends have found your beacon signal, they’re going to want to help get you out of wherever you’re trapped. The beacon will let your fellow campers know the general vicinity of where you’re buried, but it won’t give them the exact location. That’s where a probe comes in!
You can also use a probe to measure the depth of a snowbank as most models will feature a centimeter or inch tick mark on the side.
A shovel is one of the most versatile pieces of equipment on our list. If you decide to go camping in the winter, you’re going to need a quality shovel in your arsenal!
A shovel can help you dig yourself or a fellow camper out of an avalanche. You can also use a shovel to construct a snow shelter, a snow wall to protect your camp from the wind or roaming animals, or to build a snow kitchen! You can avoid damaging your hands or gloves if you have a quality shovel with you.
Look out for models that are lightweight and compact as you want something that you can easily put in your backpack. Just remember that you’ll also want a strong enough model to cut through hard snow and ice.
Winter camping extras you should invest in:
This is one winter camping extra that you don’t want to run out of, especially if you’re in a place that does not condone fishing or hunting.
Bring along some fitness bars to recharge throughout the day, but you’re going to crave a steaming hot meal in the morning and the evening. Don’t worry about counting calories while you’re out on a winter camping trip, as you’ll likely burn a lot throughout the day. Skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking all burn calories, and your body will burn through even more just to keep warm.
Bring enough food for at least one or two days more than you plan to be outside just in case you get stuck.
When you go camping in the warmer months, you always have the option of finding water in a stream or a river. But, in the winter, your only real option for water will come from melted snow. You need to make sure that you have one or more water bottles that will keep you hydrated throughout the day and night. Most experts suggest that you drink between 1-2 liters of water a day if you’re out camping.
While a thermos isn’t the most important piece of equipment you’ll need on a winter camping trip, it will certainly come in handy! A piping hot beverage like coffee or hot chocolate can be a nice boost during a long hike or snowshoe expedition. If you can opt for a lightweight yet insulated version as you don’t want to weigh down your pack too much.
First aid kit
If anything serious happens to you while you’re out on a camping trip, your first plan of action should be to get to a nearby hospital as soon as possible. It’s still important to be prepared with items like bandaids, disinfectants, and over the counter pain reliever. These items can be helpful for mild injuries like a small cut or simply a headache!
You may want to consider wearing booties for added security in your backcountry ski boots or mountaineering boots. Booties will help give you even more traction and will help you feel more secure. Most models feature a gripped sole, and some even feature a foam insole. Plus, it’s an added layer of warmth for your feet!
Some snow pants and mountaineering boots come with a set of gaiters for added protection, but if yours don’t, you may want to buy some. Gaiters will add another layer of waterproof protection to your outdoor outfit. For winter camping, opt for a pair that will come up to your knees.
Capture the beauty of your winter camping trip with the use of a camera! If you have a smartphone, you may not need to add another piece of equipment. But if you’re a photographer and passionate about high-quality photos, bring an extra one along.
Sunscreen and lip balm
Just like you need to protect your eyes from the sun, you also need to protect your skin. Most of your body will be covered by clothing on a winter camping trip, but you’ll need some sunscreen for your face and lip balm for your lips. Chapped lips and burnt skin can be really painful in the winter due to cold temperatures and high winds.
A neck gaiter will work in the same way as leg gaiters; it’s an added layer of protection from the elements. Sometimes, a scarf can be a hassle, especially if you know you’re going to be active and don’t want to worry about tucking your scarf into your coat every five minutes.
Personal hygiene items
Some campers don’t want the hassle of bringing along items like toilet paper, but feel free to bring it if you don’t feel comfortable going without. The same goes for lotions, creams, and hair products. Don’t forget to bring any important daily medications you may need, too.
Lighter or matches
Some expert outdoorsmen are comfortable building a fire without the help of a lighter or matches, but for some of you less experienced campers, these items will help you light a fire to stay warm and cook your meals. You may also want to invest in waterproof matches, so you don’t have to worry if they get wet.
A multi-tool is a convenient all-in-one tool that you may want to have with you on a winter camping trip. These tools will typically include a knife, bottle opener, hammer, screwdriver, and more. If you want to save on space, this is the ultimate tool to pack in your bag.
If you know you’re going to be out in severe icy conditions, an ice ax will help you feel safer. This tool can also help you get yourself or a friend out of a precarious situation like an avalanche, or if you need to clear ice from your path as you hike.
It’s important to be prepared for any outdoor camping trip, especially if you want to go camping in the winter! The elements can be harsh, conditions can be dangerous, and you could find yourself in a bad situation pretty quickly. But, you can avoid all of this if you’re properly prepared for anything!