Winter camping is full of marvelous adventures, from the possibilities of playing in the snow to spotting creatures you may have missed in the summer. If you want to camp without excessive crowds, mosquitoes and other bugs, winter is the perfect time to camp. Of course, for many, the thought of camping in the winter chills them to the bone. How could you ever possibly stay warm in frigid conditions? We’ve compiled some tips to answer just that.
1. Wear Layers
Wear thermals or long johns to keep a warm layer on your skin. Be sure to wear the right materials, like merino wool, to wick moisture away from your skin and keep you dry. Some will argue that you actually sleep warmer in fewer layers, but ultimately, this depends on your own sleeping temperature as well as how cold it really is while you are camping. If you are in sub zero temperatures, you just really shouldn’t sleep naked. If it’s a warm summer night, more power to you.
When wearing layers, it is most important to be flexible and make adjustments as needed. If you are getting too warm, shed a layer. If you are getting too cold, add a layer. And remember it will be easier to add layers if you have brought your extra layers into your bag with you. This way you don’t have to freeze just to get your extra layers on.
2. Fill a Bottle With Hot Water To Place In Your Sleeping Bag
Right before you go to bed, boil some water and pour it into a bottle. You can bring this bottle into your sleeping bag and store it wherever you find you lose the most heat. I like to have one near my stomach and one near my feet. Having this extra warmth radiating within my sleeping bag helps me to fall asleep. If you wake at night and find that the water has turned cold, just ditch them. You don’t want to waste your body heat trying to heat cold water bottles.
3. Invest In a Sleeping Bag Liner
Sleeping bag liners are great for adding extra warmth through the night, in addition to keeping the interior of your sleeping bag clean from sweat, dirt, and bugs. There are various materials and shapes you can buy for sleeping bag liners. Make sure you buy the one that makes the most sense for your sleeping habits and your camping habits. For example, you wouldn’t buy an insulated liner for summer camping.
4. Keep Disposable Heat Packs/Pads on Hand
These are so handy to keep you warm at night. If you keep a couple on the inside of your sleeping bag and you wake up with teeth chattering, simply massage the heat pack to activate and feel the warmth. These are also good to have with you while you’re hiking in cold temperatures to warm up your extremities.
5. Pack More People Into Your Tent or Use a Smaller Tent
Smaller tents, or packing more people into larger tents, will help to warm up your space. This is in part due to the power of body heat, but also due to the amount of dead air around you. If you have a lofty tent with few sleepers, your body heat will go toward warming up all that space. Whereas with a smaller tent with more sleepers, you will lose less body heat.
6. Insulate Yourself From the Ground
If you fail to insulate yourself from the ground, your body will spend the entire night attempting to warm the entire earth beneath you. I’m sure you can understand why that is an impossible feat, and one you don’t want your body working on while you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep. There are several ways to insulate yourself from the ground. First, always use a tent footprint or tarp. In addition to providing extra protection for your tent floor, it will help to keep the tent floor warm. Consider adding an emergency blanket to the floor. It will radiate your body heat back at you.
7. Use The Right Sleeping Bag
Don’t bring your summer sleeping bag on a winter camping trip. Prepare to spend at least $100 on a high-quality winter sleeping bag. Winter bags are usually rated by the degrees they are meant to withstand. So you may find a 30 F degree bag, which is cold, but if you’re going to be in 15 F degree weather, it’s not going to cut it. Shop appropriately.
8. Bring Extra Blankets
You can use your extra blankets as needed. Curl up by the campfire with the camping blanket, lay it on the ground floor as extra insulation, or throw it over top of your sleeping bag for extra warmth.
9. Use a Cot, Not an Air Mattress
If you are a camper who loves that double up air mattress, reconsider in cold weather. For one, you could lose a lot of your air overnight in cold weather. Waking up in a sunken shell of a bed is no fun. But more importantly, just like if you were to lay directly on the ground, your body heat will be wasted on the air within the air mattress. It is impossible to warm that air mattress with your body alone. Instead, consider using a cot with a foam sleeping pad. This will not only separate you from the ground, but will keep you warmer for longer.
10. Pitch Your Tent on High(ish) Ground
Scout out your campsite as soon as you arrive. Low grounds will be extremely cold while high grounds will be noticeably windy. Try to opt for a happy medium. When in doubt, go higher, rather than lower. This will keep any precipitation from pooling in your tent. And we all know that a dry tent is a warm tent. Moisture is the enemy to staying warm in a tent.
11. Eat a Fatty Meal Before Bed
I’m no scientist or dietitian, so I don’t know all the mechanics of how this works, but I do know that eating a good quality meal before bed (particularly a warm meal) can keep you warm throughout the beginning of the night.
12. Stay Dry
As I mentioned earlier, water is the enemy of warmth. Don’t let yourself start sweating. Do your best to ventilate the tent. And dry off completely before entering.
13. Stretch and Exercise Before Bed (not enough to start sweating)
Stretching and completing a light exercise, like a brisk walk or jog, will get your blood pumping and bring up your internal body temperature. When you get in your sleeping bag for the night, you will already be warm. It is crucial, however, that you don’t work out to the point that you break a sweat. Test yourself at home so that you know what level of activity will start you sweating, and what level is safe to perform before crawling into your sleeping bag.
14. Know Before You Go
Check the weather report before you leave. Decide if it’s worth it. If you only have equipment for 30 F degrees, don’t go on a camping trip where it will be below 0. If you are a camping extraordinaire with all the equipment a person can dream of, still check the weather before you go, so you know which equipment to bring, and what to leave behind.
15. Don’t Breathe Into Your Bag
This goes hand to hand with staying dry. Breathing into your bag will inevitably cause moisture to build up inside of your sleeping bag and it will make you colder. If you are the kind of person who likes to burrow or nuzzle your face, bring a blanket to put on top of your bag so you can burrow into the blanket, without ruining the warmth of your sleeping bag.
16. Use An Emergency Blanket
Emergency blankets or thermal blankets are your friends. You can hang these on your tent ceilings and place them on your tent floors to create a heat vortex within your tent. The reflective material will radiate all heat within the tent back onto itself, keeping you warm all night long. If you like things extra toasty, you could even have several emergency blankets to sleep with as well.
17. Consider Your Own Sleeping Temperature
If you sleep naked at home with a fan on you, you probably don’t want to use every single warm up trick, or you will find yourself waking up sweating. And if you always wake up freezing, you may want to combine several strategies. Pick the ones that make the most sense for you, and use them. Consider testing the tricks yourself before you go camping, if possible, by mimicking camping conditions, so you will know if it will be enough to maintain a comfortable temperature.
18. Ventilate as Needed
If you are really cold, you may be tempted not to open the tent vents. I have to urge you, however, to open them anyway. Without ventilation, the water vapor on your breath will condensate on the interior of your tent. And if you want to stay warm, you absolutely must stay dry. So ventilate, ventilate, ventilate.
How do you stay warm while camping?