12 Winter Camping Tips – How to Stay Safe Outside in the Cold

Everything you need to know about camping in the winter!

Camping in the winter is a bit different than camping in the warmer months of summer and spring. In addition to safety and food, you have to consider cold temperatures and winter elements. When temperatures drop significantly, staying warm can present a real challenge to inexperienced winter campers. It’s important to know what to do to stay warm and safe so that you can have an awesome winter camping adventure. We’ve got a few winter camping tips that you can follow to make the best of your cold weather camping trip.

Check the Weather Conditions

Check the weather before you start packing for your camping trip. If the forecast temperatures are dangerously low, it may be best to reschedule your trip. Also keep an eye out for heavy snowfall, which it’s best to avoid. If you do still plan to camp, make sure you look out for the overnight temperatures and pack accordingly!

Wear Multiple Layers of Clothing

The best way to dress for cold weather is to layer up your clothing. A common practice in the camping community is the “three W system”. The system includes wearing a wicking layer, a warmth layer, and a wind layer.

Wicking Layer

The purpose of the wicking layer is to remove the moisture from your body. This is your base layer, so you want to find a shirt that dries quickly so the moisture from your body evaporates. Avoid cotton and look for athletic tees that are made of synthetic material. Popular examples are shirts from the brand Under Armor.

Warmth Layer

On top of your wicking layer, you want an insulating layer. Good ideas for insulation include a sweater, a fleece, or a down jacket.

Wind Layer

Your outermost layer of clothing needs to protect you from wind, rain, and snow. Choose a coat that has a weather-proof lining.

In addition to layering your clothes, you will definitely need a good pair of gloves, a hat, and warm socks. To keep your feet warm, waterproof boots and wool socks are a great choice. To make sure everything stays dry and moisture free, we recommend bringing a stuff sack with you.  

Pack an Extra Set of Gloves

On a winter camping trip, you should absolutely bring an extra set of gloves. It is fairly likely that you will lose a glove or they will get wet. If you lose a glove in freezing temperatures, you are going to be in for a rough time. It is much better to be prepared, so make sure you pack an extra set of gloves. In fact, throw an extra hat in your bag while you’re at it!

Stay as Dry as Possible

When your clothes get wet, your body temperature quickly lowers. This means it’s extremely important to stay dry when you are outside in cold temperatures. Wear a coat that has a weather proof lining. Do not wear sneakers; invest in a pair of waterproof boots.

It is also a good idea to be mindful of how much you are sweating. If you notice yourself getting a bit warm, remove a few layers of clothing to cool back down. Sweat can quickly build up and wet your clothing, which can prevent you from warming back up.

It is better to over-pack than to find yourself in a situation where you have no dry clothes at all. Be prepared and stay warm!

Choose an Ideal Campsite

Choosing a good campsite can be a huge factor when it comes to keeping warm. The goal is to choose a location that most effectively shields you from the elements. The best campsite would be on a flat ground with nearby trees to help shield you from the wind. It is best to avoid the bottom of hills where cold air forms. Additionally, you should also avoid the top of hills because they are exposed to excessive wind.

Camping in the Snow

Pack the Snow Beneath Your Tent

After you choose a good campsite, you want to pack the snow where you are going to set up your tent. Before you begin setting up your tent, walk around the area and compress the snow with your feet. Packed snow will insulate the heat in your tent much better than loose snow — this will keep you warmer throughout the night. It is a good idea to insulate your tent as much as possible.

Bring an Insulated Sleeping Bag and Blanket

This is one of the most important winter camping tips. The right sleeping bag and sleeping pad can go a long way when it comes to keeping warm throughout the night. It is really important to make sure that the bottom is significantly layered. The main idea is to ensure that your body is not touching the cold ground. You will lose a significant amount of body heat through conduction by laying on the cold floor, and this will make getting warm very difficult.

Rather than individual sleeping bags, couples should consider using a double sleeping bag. An insulated double bag combined with the body heat from two people can make a big difference.

You may also want to consider using a sleeping bag liner. Liners are placed inside of the sleeping bag and are great for insulation if you select the right material. We also highly recommend investing a thick wool camping blanket, which go a long way towards keeping you warm and comfortable throughout the night.

Another great way to fight heat loss is to keep your body off of the ground. An easy way to do this is with a sleeping pad or cot. For a sleeping pad, we recommend using a closed cell foam pad. They are very comfortable and do a great job of preventing the loss of body heat through conduction. Camping cots keep you elevated and prevent heat loss through conduction.

Use a Pee Bottle

Cold temperatures cause our bodies to urinate more frequently. Usually, this means campers will exit the tent and visit the woods nearby. Leaving the tent and removing clothing to urinate will prevent you from getting warm. Instead, it is recommended that you keep a pee bottle with you inside the tent. For women, there are affordable products available that can help you pee into a bottle. While it may be a bit gross, staying warm is absolutely more important. Label the water bottle and store it in a distinct location. You don’t want to confuse it with drinking bottles!

Use Candlelight Inside the Tent

Since the inside of your tent is such a small area, lighting a candle can really help warm things up. This is absolutely a fire hazard, so you will want to take a few safety precautions. We recommend only using a candle lantern and safely hanging it from the ceiling of your tent. The flame should be far enough from the tent’s ceilings, walls, and any fabrics or items that can catch fire. Do not carelessly light candles inside of your tent, this can be extremely dangerous. Additionally, extinguish the candle before you go to sleep.

Winter Camping Tips - Candle at Night

We only recommend using a candle inside of the tent. When you build a campfire, make sure you build it outside.

Put Vaseline on Exposed Skin

If temperatures get dangerously low, you can use Vaseline to help insulate and protect exposed areas of your skin. Rubbing a bit of Vaseline onto your face, neck, and ears will help prevent you from frostbite and cold, bitter winds.

Keep Your Drinking Water From Freezing

Waking up thirsty and discovering that your water container is frozen can be extremely frustrating. However, there are a few steps that you can take to prevent frozen water. First of all, using a large water container is a great start. A larger volume of water requires a colder temperature and more time to freeze.

Another great practice is turning your water container upside-down overnight. Water freezes from the top down, so this will prevent the top of the container from freezing. If the top freezes you won’t be able to pour or drink from the container’s opening.

Additionally, insulating the container can also go a long way.

Melt Snow and Boil It

The best way to filter water for drinking or cooking is by melting and boiling the snow. This is ideal because you don’t want to carry and depend on filters and devices in low temperatures. Snow water is not sterile, so it is best to be safe and boil it before drinking any. Boiling the snow will also provide you with hot water for tea or coffee, which is comforting and warming in its own right.

Be Safe, Smart, and Careful

The most important thing to remember is to be safe, smart, and careful. Make sure you are experienced and well prepared for your adventure. Do not take any unnecessary risks. It is also very important to have a way to contact someone in case of an emergency. Be sure that someone back home is aware of the area you will be traveling through.

We recommend bringing a portable emergency radio when you go winter camping. The weather can be harsh and unpredictable, especially during the winter months in a cold climate. Storms can quickly approach the campgrounds with little or no warning.

Those who participate in primitive camping should especially be prepared while camping during the winter months. We do not recommend primitive camping unless you are experienced.

And most importantly, make sure you have fun!


Do you have an awesome winter camping tip to add? Let us know in the comments below.

Happy camping and stay warm out there!


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