Our Sneaky Tips for Staying Warm When Camping in Freezing Temps
We asked our hardcore winter camping pals how to stay warm in freezing temps. Here’s what they shared.
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Right about now, you might be asking why you’d go camping when it’s freezing cold outside. Whether you’re a hardcore adventurer who likes to ice climb, you’re looking to save a little green, you want to beat the fair-weather crowds, or you just love gazing upon serenely snowy forests first thing in the morning, we’ve got you. Here are your tips for staying safe, happy and (relatively) warm.
Buy the Right Supplies
Winter camping is not for amateurs, so you’ll need the right supplies to stay safe and warm, avoiding hypothermia. A four-season tent and a mummy sleeping bag are good starts. Grab those fire starters, and Hot Hands heat packs. Base layers are a must, as are GoreTex hiking boots or snow boots. Need we say extra merino, synthetic or Gore-Tex socks? Okay, we’ll say it: extra waterproof socks! If you end up tromping through a creek in your supposedly water-resistant but no longer really water-resistant hiking boots, don’t call us, because we told you: extra socks. And extra socks as understudies for your extra socks.
Prep Your Site
Sweep aside any snow where you’re going to pitch your tent, so it doesn’t melt under you. Get your fire started as soon as you get into the site, and bring fire starters to use. Align your tent so that it’ll receive those warming sunrise rays.
Keep Everything Dry
Your goal when winter camping is to prevent moisture and condensation from gathering in your tent and in your clothes. That moisture will get cold, and having cold, wet clothes during winter camping is pretty much the definition of misery. To prevent your clothes from getting moist, you’ll want to wear moisture-wicking base layers and underwear—believe us when we say the investment is worth it. Take off any wet layers as soon as possible, dry yourself, and replace the wet layers with dry ones. And whatever you do, no cotton—cotton absorbs moisture rather than moving it along in a capillary fashion.
If you want to prevent condensation in your tent, don’t bring any wet clothes inside, pitch it on a dry spot under the trees, and make sure it’s well-ventilated by opening the windows, door and rainfly when it’s not raining and not humid.
Don’t Sleep On the Ground
You need to separate your warm body from the cold ground. A closed cell foam sleeping pad is the way to go, because it insulates much better than a regular sleeping pad or air mattress. Same goes for your pillow — try an expandable foam one.
Skip Dishwashing and Showering
We know, we know — we told you to keep your campsite clean. But it’s probably best to avoid getting your hands or body wet in freezing temps. If you can clean your dishes with wood ashes or coarse salt, that’ll prevent them from getting wet. As for showering, go as long as you can using dry shampoo, deodorant, freshening sprays like this aloe and rosewater facial toner, and cleansing wipes.
Organize Your Kit Before You Head to Bed
Make a few preparations before you get into your sleeping bag. Don’t let your water freeze overnight, or you’ll need a fire in the morning to defrost it — a cooler will usually insulate your water from the cold. Keep your feet warm. Fill a classic British hot water bottle or other non-insulated bottle with hot water and put them by your tootsies. Consider popping Uggs or warm shearling moccasins over your wool sock-clad feet. Gather an evening snack like gorp or a granola bar that you can nosh on in the middle of the night or before you head to bed — it’ll help fuel your body and keep you warm during the night. Some folks even like to make a hot chocolate or tea and add a stick of butter or MCT oil to keep themselves warm and full.
Avoid Leaving Your Tent at Night
Grab everything you might need for the night before you bed down. If you resist drinking too much of that hot chocolate before bed or water during the night, you won’t have to get up at the coldest part of the morning to use the restroom. If you do though, many winter campers go to drastic measures to avoid going outside, including creating a makeshift receptacle inside the tent.
Read the 2021 Camping Issue
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