Now that you’ve been hooked by the joy of camping, you’re probably gazing out the window, waiting for the parks to thaw. Good news! You don’t have to wait. And you shouldn’t wait! In fact, camping in cold weather provides its own special experiences to which even the most iconic summertime excursions can’t compare.
If you don’t have a site to yourself, you’ll be sharing it with others who are just as committed to the outdoors as you are. Both give you the space and quiet to connect more deeply with your surroundings. Colder temperatures and lower light conditions paint over familiar landscapes, providing dramatic contrast and an entirely new view into the world around you.
Along with these unique benefits are unique challenges you’ll need to address. While you should always be prepared when you camp, cold-weather camping requires a little extra effort for success. Our general camping guide is a good place to start, but our winter guide below will help you prepare and make the most of what cold-weather camping has to offer!
- Don’t go alone. There are more risks and fewer people around, so you need a group, just in case.
- Know the trail conditions. Will there be snow? How deep is it, and is it powdery, packed, or slushy? These can affect your trip, and even how you get around - if you have to snowshoe or ski rather than hike.
- Know your campsite. Make sure you’re protected from the wind and, if it’s snowy, you’re not in an avalanche zone. Also, make sure it’s easy to find, as snow and less daylight can make navigating tricky.
- Pack extra food. Your body will use more energy and, even though you might have less of an appetite, you will need to eat more to rise to the challenge.
- Four-season tent and sleeping bag. These provide extra protection from cold and wind, keeping you nice and cozy.
- Layers, layers, layers. You can adjust on the move, but make sure to have enough to hold your heat overnight. Wool is ideal.
- Waterproof shells. Always have rain gear when you camp, but especially where there’s snow. The cold makes wet clothes even more dangerous.
- Snow shovel. If there’s snow, at least. This helps you prepare your campsite and collect it for cooking.
- Extra fuel. It takes longer to boil snow.
- Sunscreen. The sun still burns in winter.
SCA’s Top Tips
- Again, go with a group.
- Do not eat snow. Your body uses extra energy converting it into water. Instead, boil snow with your stove.
- Carry extra food in case of emergency.
- Beware of cold-weather health issues. Hypothermia, frostbite, and dehydration are major concerns.
- Be prepared for avalanches in snowy, mountainous areas.
- Survey your route. Especially if there’s snow, you’ll want to look back and get a visual sense of your way out.
- Put on all your warm clothes at camp. Once you’ve stopped moving for the day, you’ll want to hold in the heat you’ve generated through the chilly night.
- Don’t stop for long lunches. You’ll lose heat if you do. Instead, snack while you move.
- Walk before breaking camp. Mornings are chilly - this warms you up. It also helps to set up facing the sunrise, for warmth as much as a beautiful alarm clock.
- Always practice the Leave No Trace 7 Principles for Outdoor Ethics.
About the Author: Andrew Carpenter is an American University graduate who studied international relations, focusing on human rights and environmental justice. His starry-eyed tendencies have led him to bike across Europe and the U.S., last year writing about transportation issues that affect communities across the country from a cyclist’s perspective. Andrew is a freelance writer who looks to promote innovative, sustainable ideas that inspire discovery and bring communities together.