The fun is far from over when the temperature drops below freezing. Winter camping brings new pitch-a-tent possibilities and scenic surroundings to explore. Thanks to the seemingly daunting conditions of cold weather camping and shortened sunlight in the day, it’s important to pack properly for winter conditions and prepare for the elements. Besides having the right winter gear for your activities, knowing a few winter camping hacks can transform your overnight experience from battling the elements to thriving in a winter wonderland.
Create the Perfect Campsite
When pitching a tent for winter camping, you need to avoid deadfall, decrease your exposure to the wind, and choose a spot where you won’t wake up in a puddle of snowmelt. After finding the perfect spot, you can begin shaping your winter retreat. With an avalanche shovel or equivalent tool, dig a pit below your tent’s vestibule. This dug-out space should provide plenty of room to orchestrate the evening routine of taking off boots or the morning shuffle of redressing. After digging a vestibule pit, it’s rewarding (and warming!) to continue digging out a kitchen space, community pit, or cozy fire ring.
Upgrade Your Food for Cold Storage
Due to the tougher travel conditions, colder temperatures, and extra chores involved with winter camping, it’s important to pack some calorie-dense foods. One major benefit of cold-weather camping is the natural refrigerator you’ll be spending your time in. This means you can substitute some usual summer camping fare and upgrade to more perishable items, including pre-cooked meals, deli meat, and even bacon. Quick prep meals will keep you from sitting in snowbanks too long, and hot thermos drinks never taste as good as they do when winter camping.
Water sources can often freeze over during winter camping season, and water filters don’t always perform quickly in cold conditions. Boiling snow is one of the best options for hydrating on winter adventures. Liquid-fuel stoves are more dependable in cold-weather conditions than fuel canisters. It’s recommended to test any stove at lower temperatures before packing it into the backcountry. Regardless of what type you use, it’s important to bring an abundant amount of gas to heat all that snow. In fact, having an entire backup stove system can be a lifesaver, keeping you from losing your primary source of water and food due to a malfunction.
Go to Bed Warm
The biggest trepidation for winter camping often comes from the idea of spending the night in the cold. With the proper gear and apparel, including a quality sleeping pad to insulate you from the ground, staying warm should be easy to do—especially if you hit the sleeping bag already toasty. Before going to bed, consider doing some light exercise (while avoiding excessive sweat) or eating an energizing snack that can act like fuel for your furnace. If you need a little extra heat though, a classic hack works just as well in the outdoors as at home: fill a water bottle with hot water (not boiling!) and stick it into your sleeping bag near your feet.
Add an Extra Layer Beneath You
The ground will zap any warm feeling you have right from underneath you. Having plenty of insulation between you and the tent floor is just as key as a good sleeping bag in staying comfortable through a long winter night. Consider adding an extra layer underneath your usual sleep system, such as a yoga mat or rug. Piling non-sharp gear into the tent can also help transfer the subterranean chill to objects that aren’t your warm sleeping body.
Sleep with Your Clothes
Keeping essential items from freezing can be a mindful challenge of winter camping. Piling tomorrow’s clothes into your sleeping bag not only adds extra insulation to your sleep system, but it makes putting on tomorrow’s undies much easier. Water bottles should also be kept somewhere insulating and stored upside down so that if they do begin to freeze, the caps won’t be first to ice over.
Reinforce Your Zippers
By adding an extra key ring to your zippers, not only can you reinforce some of these essential pieces of micro-gear, but you can also make them much easier to operate with gloved hands or cold fingers. Other micro adjustments you can make while winter camping includes utilizing drawstring bags instead of ones with buckles, switching out cold-weather intolerant alkaline batteries for lithium power sources, and converting cold-conducive metal sporks to wooden utensils.
Other Quick Winter Camping Hacks
Keep Your Mouth out of Your Sleeping Bag: Ventilation is key for sleeping in a winter tent, and by keeping your breathing holes outside of the sleeping bag you can minimize the time you need the next day to dry out your sleep system.
Pee When You Need To, use a Bottle if You Want To: A build-up of urine inhibits the body from warming up efficiently, which means that as hard as it might be to crawl out of your cozy sleeping bag, relieving yourself will aid in staying warm and sleeping better. For easier motivation, embrace the pee bottle or a funnel system.
Wrap Fuel Bottles in Duct Tape to Prevent Frostbite: the stick of a warm hand against a cold fuel bottle is less than fun, and by wrapping these cold conducive containers in duct tape, you can prevent this frostbite and pack along some extra utility.
Pack It Out: Packing out waste material, including human waste material, is very important when camping atop snowpack. Bring a sealable disposal bag and plenty of “provisions” to make quick and efficient work of the process.
If you are looking to practice some winter camping hacks, or perfect your cold-weather camping techniques, the United States is stacked with unbelievable places to discover covered in snow. From the snow-rimmed caldera at Crater Lake to the frozen bodies of water of the Boundary Waters, these 8 Winter Camping Destinations deliver on winter wonderlands.