Don’t make your first trip a five-day backcountry expedition! Winter camping requires extra planning and quite a bit of specialized gear. You’ll carry extra pounds of gear, face unique risks, and need to learn new methods for cooking, navigating, and–yes–burying your poop.
Winter hiking requires quite a bit of specialized equipment. Staying dry, warm and comfortable may be necessary for comfort on a summer hiking trip, but they are necessary for survival in the winter. Check and double-check all of your winter gear to make sure you are prepared for your trip.
Camping in the winter isn’t just a summer outing with more layers of clothes. Colder temperatures require a different level of planning and skill set–but if you can learn to camp comfortably in that environment, you can tolerate anything.
Personally, I enjoy the long hours of darkness and tent time snuggled in a warm sleeping bag with a good book and cup of tea. On the other hand winter camping solo is way less fun than it sounds and with the additional risks cold weather brings make it a fine time to go camping with someone who will embrace the challenges and enjoy the peacefulness with you.
It’s best to have a few new skills developed before heading out to the backcountry to camp in freezing weather. If you’ve heard about the joys of the winter wilderness– the solitude, how easy wildlife tracking is, and the peace the stillness brings to mental status–you’ve probably heard about some of the challenges, too.
Above all, remember these four essential bits of advice for winter camping:
- Begin in your backyard– Start small, with a local overnight, to test your skills and your new gear. Any time you introduce a new skill to your repertoire–like digging a snow cave–practice it in a place where success is not critical to your survival. Figuring out how to set up your tent, prepare hot drinks and sleep cozy close to home builds the skills and confidence for longer outings.
- Take your time – Snow and cold slow everything down. You’ll travel half the miles and double your tent-pitching and cooking time, Account for this when planning your route, and respect the details: Spending an extra 30 seconds to get your gaiters just right can make a big difference if you break through ice while crossing a stream.
- Avoid gear shortcuts – Getting quality equipment–and the right stuff–is vital. Do what it takes–beg, buy, borrow, or rent–to outfit yourself in a complete set of proven gear. Down booties, puffy jackets, nylon-walled tents, snow pants are just some examples of gear you may want to acquire. Remember to check and double-check all of your winter gear to make sure you are prepared for your trip. (See our list of essential winter camping gear)
- Make a Winter Menu – Fueling up for winter outings requires more calories and more effort than summer trips. Hydrating is just as essential in winter as well, so be sure to learn how to melt snow for drinking water.
Two things to remember: Cold weather is a good refrigerator AND there’s no guilt from overeating on winter trips. You’ll burn every calorie you consume and then some, which reminds me: Everything is better with butter!!!
Winter camping can bring very unique experiences, untold new challenges and create some epic tales of adventure. I would highly recommend attending a winter camping seminar or organized class where you can learn a variety of skills and practice them until you are confident in your abilities. Also check out these 3 books as reference guides:
- NOLS Winter Camping – by Buck Tilton and John Gookin
- The Winter Camping Handbook: Wilderness Travel and Adventure in the Cold ‑ by Stephen Gorman
- AMC Guide to Winter Hiking & Camping: Everything You Need to Plan Your Next Cold Weather Adventure – by Lucas St. Clair and Yemaya Maurer
So grab a friend, learn some new skills and forge a new path into the wild white wonder known as winter camping.