10 Tips for Your First Winter Camping Experience


December 10, 2020


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Winter Camping

By now, most of us have seen the first snowfall of the year. It’s a sure sign that the holiday season is around the corner, but more importantly, it means the start of the winter camping season! I personally love winter camping and have been doing it for over eight years. My name is Ken Jones and I’m partnering with SAIL to share my top 10 tips for a great winter camping experience. I promise that if you take the time to plan, prepare, and pack properly, you can extend your camping into the winter months and experience the beauty that nature has to offer, even when it’s cold.

1. Always check the weather before heading out.

The forecast will tell you a lot about the conditions you’ll have on your trip. Is it going to be cold? What sort of precipitation can you expect? I use the weather network for checking the conditions before heading out. If you’re going for a longer trip, you can use a satellite communication device to get up-to-date weather forecasts from wherever you are. A GPS is also extremely handy in the case that you need to reroute during your trip due to a weather setback.


2. Remember that it gets dark early.

When winter camping, it’s important that you have some good lighting options for inside your tent and around camp. I personally love a mini lantern. It’s small and compact but gives off a surprising amount of light. It comes with hooks so that you can hang it from the inside of your tent. Just in case you run out of batteries for the lantern, it’s also good to have a candle backup.
Light isn’t the only important piece of enjoying winter camping during long nights. Entertainment is another factor. It’s less fun to go to bed at 5 p.m., so make sure to bring some books, cards, or other travel-sized games.


3. Your sleep system is everything!

Whether you’re sleeping in a hot tent, a trailer, or a winter camping tent, it’s important to realize that when you stop moving, it’s going to get cold. I always recommend that you pack for the coldest possible temperature to ensure you have the tools to stay warm if necessary. I recommend using a self-inflating mattress with reflective layers that reflect body heat and a baffled construction that retains warmth. This type of mattress will insulate you from the ground. And, don’t forget to pack a very warm sleeping bag!

4. Dress in layers for winter camping.

During the colder months of the year, layers are very important. They allow you to stay cooler during physical activity like snowshoeing or skiing, but you can also put more layers on to stay warmer during your rest periods. It’s always a good idea to have a solid base layer. I prefer to wear Merino wool, especially as a first layer. There are many layer options for men and women. Layering your clothing is the true and proven trick to staying warm during such an activity.

5. Don’t be afraid of the cold temperatures.

It’s better to be cold and dry than mild and damp. When deciding what clothing and gear to pack on your trip, don’t be afraid of cold temperatures. As long as you dress appropriately and use layering for the cold, you’ll be able to stay warm as long as you stay dry. If you’re going out when it’s milder, like early in the winter or at the end nearing spring, make sure to have some good waterproof gear to prevent yourself from getting wet from the elements. In milder temperatures, a softshell jacket can help keep you dry so you stay warm.

6. Try not to sweat.

When camping in the winter, it’s imperative that you stay dry throughout the day. If you stay dry, you’ll stay warm. For that reason, it’s very important to try not to sweat when you’re out and about during the day. If you sweat, you can catch a chill quickly and that can set you up for discomfort all day (and night). The best way to avoid sweating is to layer your clothes properly. Layering your clothing allows for switching it up whether you’re too warm or too cold, and back-up layers are never a bad idea either!

7. Calories are your friend in the winter.

Winter camping is not the time to be scarce on your calories. In fact, the more calorically dense food you can have, the better. When your body burns the calories you’ve consumed during the day, it will help keep you warm. A favourite dehydrated meal of mine is Pad Thai by Backpacker’s Pantry. It serves two, but you can eat it solo to take advantage of the calories and delicious taste.

8. Pack a variety of warm drinks that can be made quickly.

I always like to have a few different types of hot beverages that can be made up quickly by boiling water. This means that if I get colder than I’d like, I can warm up and enjoy a drink at the same time. Usually I pack a variety of coffee, tea, hot chocolate and apple cider. All you need is to boil water. I use a universal camp stove because it boils water quickly and holds up to the winter cold.

9. Use a sled instead of a backpack.

If you’re winter camping in the backcountry, on a mountain or other beautiful hidden location, chances are you have a bit of a hike (or snowshoe hike) to get to your site. I recommend that you pull your gear in a sled instead of trying to fit it all in a backpack. This will make sure that you’re not weighed down which can make walking in the snow difficult. It also means that you won’t have to worry about sweating under a backpack. Plus, all that snow will make pulling your gear behind you a breeze. I always use a sled for my backcountry treks.

10. Always chop more firewood than you think you’ll need.

Remember, winter nights can get chilly so it’s important to always have more firewood than you think you’ll need. If you’re chopping it yourself, this is good news because it’ll warm you twice (once when you chop it, and once when you burn it). If you’re buying firewood from a Provincial Park, make sure that you have a good stash of it to keep your fire going as long as you need.

If you’re venturing out for your first time this winter, I recommend that you go with someone who’s experienced winter camping before. Or, just go for one night and learn as you go! I hope you’ve been inspired to get out this winter and enjoy the beauty and tranquility of this wonderful season.

To learn even more, read our tips for choosing the best winter camping tent to brave the frigid, windy temps of the winter season.

Written by Ken Jones, a SAIL’S collaborator
Ken Jones is an avid outdoor enthusiast, roaming around the backcountry of Ontario, Canada. As a canoeist, hiker, gear junkie, and four-season camper, Ken Jones enjoys nothing more than being in the great outdoors and sharing his experiences. You can follow along on Ken’s adventures by following him on Instagram (@ken_jones.outdoors).

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