Many people choose to go camping during the warmer times of the year, because, well, it’s warm! Winter camping is a thing, something not for the faint of heart, but there are fun winter camping activities, and it will build character too. That said, there are some winter camping essentials you need to have in your arsenal if you plan on doing this.
A Good Tent for Winter Camping
One of the most important things that you are going to need for winter camping is a good tent. You may already have a tent that worked fine for a weekend camping trip last summer, but no, that’s not going to do for a winter camping trip. Summer and springtime tents are fine when it’s not particularly cold, wet, or windy, which as you know, winter is all of those things.
Simply put, for the winter, you need a really sturdy tent that can handle being snowed on without collapsing. You are also going to want to pay attention to windproofing. A good winter tent is made with thick walls and well-sealed seams, necessary to keep that frigid wind out.
Another aspect of a good winter tent is the floor, which needs to be thick and waterproof. Some of the best winter tents even come with insulated walls, which is awesome if you plan on sleeping out in the freezing cold. The bottom line, winter camping requires a fairly well-winterized tent.
The next essential you might want to think about for winter camping is a rainfly. Now, this we could have included in the previous section, but the fact of the matter is that many tents either don’t come with a rainfly or only come with a lackluster option. When it comes to the winter, whether it’s snowing, raining, super windy, or all of the above, you need something good that can keep all forms of moisture out of your tent.
Have you ever had wet socks or gloves in the winter? Have you noticed how they really suck the heat right out of you? Now, imagine having a wet tent, wet sleeping bag, and trying to sleep like that, in the winter. Fun is not the word we would use. To keep all moisture out, anything like a good rainfly for your tent is absolutely a winter camping essential.
Winter Sleeping Bags
Something else essential that you will need for winter camping is a really thick sleeping bag. Don’t make the same mistake we made the first time around. A summer sleeping bag is in no way adequate for winter camping, not even if you sleep in your clothes. Some summer sleeping bags may look thick and plush, but when it comes down to it, they just don’t hold in the heat that well.
What you want is a sleeping bag that is rated for negative temperatures, one that can easily handle the predicted forecast. Generally speaking, you want to get a sleeping bag that is rated to keep you warm in temperatures a few degrees under what the weather forecast is calling for. It’s better to have a thick sleeping bag that is going to be super warm, rather than to freeze your butt off all night long.
The best way to go tends to be with a down-filled sleeping bag that is rated to handle negative temperatures with ease — a serious sleeping bag. If there is one thing that you should not cheap out on, it’s a good sleeping bag; there’s nothing worse than trying to get to sleep while you are shivering and your teeth are chattering.
Sleeping Pads or Mats
Yet another winter camping essential is a good sleeping mat. You might be thinking that you now already have a tent with a good floor, as well as a super thick sleeping bag, so why would you waste money on a pad or mat? The reason is that during the winter, with snow covering the frozen ground, you will be thankful that you have something soft to sleep on.
Sure, during the summer, dirt is still pretty hard, but there is often grass and a bit of softness going on. However, during the winter, with the ground frozen solid, it’s going to be hard as a rock, so having a layer of padding is going to help a lot when it comes to comfort.
There is also the fact that the cold ground is going to suck the heat right out of you, and right out of that plush winter sleeping bag. It helps to have an extra layer of heat-retaining material between you, the sleeping bag, and the ground; it’s just something else to help keep you warm and provide you with a bit of cushioning. Trust us when we say that you will be very thankful for it.
Winter Boots + Winter Socks
Yes, it is winter, and this means dressing up like you are going to freeze, because in all reality if you don’t dress right, you just might freeze for real. An essential part of dressing for winter, especially when it comes to a multi-day camping trip, is footwear. Just think about it, you will be outside in the cold, constantly on your feet, and walking through snow, slush, ice, and freezing water too. Therefore, you don’t want to be wearing running shoes, flip flops, rubber boots, or even hiking boots.
If you plan on camping during the winter, you need to have completely waterproof boots with winterized insulation. You need boots that go high up the legs, so they don’t let snow in at the rim, the boots need to be totally waterproof so they won’t get wet from being in the snow, and they need to be insulated well enough to keep your feet toasty warm.
Related to this, something else you need for winter camping is a good pair of winter socks, some really thick ones that will keep the heat in. You might think that socks aren’t important if you have good boots, but when it comes to keeping warm, it’s all about layers, and wearing one or even two layers of winter socks in your winter boots will go a long way in keeping your toes from falling off due to frostbite. There’s often nothing worse than having cold feet, and you want to prevent this from happening at all costs.
Hats, Scarves, and Gloves
Next on the list of winter camp must-haves are hats, scarves, and gloves, and not just generic or basic ones. When it comes to winter camping, you need the right gear. Perhaps most important here are the gloves. You need your fingers to set up the tent, go fishing, make a fire, and everything in between. If your hands are frozen and stiff, you won’t be able to do any of those things. Even just going to be bathroom out in the woods when you can’t feel your fingers is going to be a big challenge.
Therefore, just like with winter boots, you need gloves that are both completely waterproof and have great insulation. They need to keep your hands warm and dry. People will often go for dual-layer gloves that come with some sort of inner liner. These liners can be good because, as mentioned before, layers are always best for keeping warm. Second, in the event that the gloves get wet, you can take the lining out so they dry faster.
A good hat to keep your head and ears warm, as well as a good scarf for your neck, are things you need as well. Winter can get real cold, especially when spending several days exposed to the elements, and nobody wants their nose, ears, and fingers falling off due to frostbite.
Waterproof Winter Coat and Pants
It might seem a bit repetitive because once again, we are talking about clothing. Not to sound like a broken record, but indeed, winter gets cold, and it is always better to be safe than sorry, better to be warm, toasty, and maybe a bit sweaty, rather than shivering the whole time and potentially developing a life-threatening cold-related condition, such as frostbite or hypothermia.
Therefore, having a good winter coat and winter pants is essential not only to your camping comfort but for basic survival too. Just like with the boots, gloves, and more, your winter coat and pants need to serve two main purposes — protection from the cold and protection from moisture.
You need to find totally windproof and waterproof fabric, combined with thick and dense insulation to keep heat in. This is truly something that can save your life, so don’t cheap out on your winter clothing, especially the outer layers, which are essentially the most important of all.
Dry Firewood & Firestarter + Wind Guard
Making a fire in the spring or summer can already be hard enough. As you have probably found out the hard way, even just a bit of moisture and wind can make it difficult to light a fire. You need dry materials to burn, dry kindling, limited wind, and fire starter. Now, let’s take into account that winter is inherently cold and wet. Anything you might try to burn has been soaking and covered in snow, not to mention that cold winds can kick up at a moment’s notice.
Therefore, when you go camping in the winter, you should always aim to bring lots of dry newspaper, kindling, and firewood with you. It might be annoying to lug around a bunch of hardwood, but you’re better off doing that than struggling to find a single dry stick in the snow-covered woods.
Chances are that if you don’t bring your own materials to make a campfire, you won’t be making one at all, and that can be downright dangerous. Fire means warmth, and warmth means survival. On a side note, bringing some sort of wind guard so the winter wind doesn’t keep you from lighting a fire can be a big help too.
Gas Burner/Cooker + Cookware
Now, you might not be able to get a big fire going, either way, at least one good enough that can burn long enough to cook or just heat food. Seeing as nobody wants to spend the weekend eating cold food, or trying to thaw out frozen food, it’s probably best if you have a backup plan in mind for cooking.
We would recommend bringing along some kind of little propane cooker, something small that you can hook a propane canister up to, something with a good wind guard so whatever you are cooking doesn’t take forever just to heat up. A good little burner, a decent amount of fuel, and some half-decent cookware will go a long way in making cooking easier and keeping you fed.
You don’t want to be out in the woods, in the cold, getting hungry, angry, and tired. Whether beans and sausages, some soup, or a Big Mac, we all need food to survive, and just to keep us from getting hangry too.
Emergency Heat Blanket
So, your sleeping bag somehow got wet, your coat got wet, the whole mess got wet. You got the fire going and have hung everything up to dry, but what do you do in the meantime? You use your emergency heat blanket to keep you warm, that’s what you do. These things look more or less like a sheet of thin and flexible tinfoil.
They are called emergency blankets for a reason, and it’s because somehow, they do a fine job at keeping heat in and keeping people from turning into popsicles. It might not be at the very top of the list of winter camping essentials, but it can definitely be quite a lifesaver.
Other Essential Items for Winter Camping
There are a few other things which would probably be a good idea to bring along for a winter camping trip as well.
Winter Campsite First Aid Kit
Whether you are camping in the winter or summer, you should always bring a first aid kit along with you, just something good enough to stop the bleeding or clean and bandage a wound long enough to get them to really help in case something happens. You should always have a first aid kit with you.
Flares, Two Way Radio, Emergency Whistle
There are some other items of emergency gear that come in handy for winter camping too, mainly tools to alert people if you are in trouble, as well as gear for communication. Things like emergency flares, a two-way radio, and an emergency whistle may just save your life.
Long Underwear and Insulated Shirts
Here we are going back to clothing, and it’s not because we are fashion enthusiasts. It’s better to be safe than sorry when winter camping, and definitely better to be warm than cold. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but some good insulated inner layers, like skiing shirts and thermal underwear, will be useful.
A Small Camping Shovel
It’s winter, and it might snow while you sleep. Who knows, you might just get snowed into your tent, or you might have to dig a little path. Whatever the case, you might be happy you brought a shovel along for your winter camping trip.
Depending on where and when you go camping, snowshoes might not be considered essential. However, if you are going somewhere that is known for heavy snowfalls, you probably want to bring some snowshoes. Simply put, they will make it much easier to trudge around in the woods.
A Small Winter Sled
It might be overkill, but then again, a small sled is probably handy if you need to go a good distance from your car to where you want to set up camp. Simply put, lugging all of your stuff, your tents, food, cooking gear, and everything in between, is going to be much easier with a sled than anything else.
Food and Water
It might be a given, but don’t forget to bring food and water, and by this, we mean real food and water, not just vodka and licorice!
As you can see, although winter camping can certainly make for a fun, cold adventure, you do need to be prepared. Check out this post if you need more winter camping tips. We have gone camping unprepared before, and it’s not fun in the least. So, make sure to bring warm clothes, a warm tent, and just aim to stay warm in everything you do!