Cold Weather Camping Tips: Winter Camping Checklist

cold weather camping
Russell McCarty
Written by Russell McCarty

While staying outdoors might be one of the loves of your life, still the task can prove to be a challenging one, especially when you have to brave the cold. Outdoors living can make or break you and sometimes it all boils down to how prepared you are.

In addition, freezing temperature can result in death, especially if you are not experienced at living out in the cold. By taking these 13 top cold weather camping tips seriously, you are on your way to becoming an expert cold climate camper.

Take at Least One Person with You

Being a lone ranger might have its benefits, but not in all cases as winter camping can get dangerous and you can lose your life out in the wild. When going winter camping, it is better that you bring along at least one companion so that if you get into danger, he or she can help you out.

Cold winter camping with friends

In fact, it is even better if your companion is an expert in snow navigating, building shelters and locating routes as these are vital skills to have in the wild.

Make Sure to Wear The Right Clothing

It may be snowing and the type of clothes you wear out in the wild can mean the difference between life and death. Therefore, when going camping, make sure to wear the right clothing that can keep you warm, especially during the cold nights when you are less active. Some preferred clothing can include polyester thermal underwear for starters. See our article on the top insulated jacket to keep out the cold and give you more choices.

If you want to escape the itchiness that some clothes carry, you can go for wool fleece blends or merino wool and experience the smooth feel of wool fabric on your body.

You can also tag along with a neck gaiter or scarf because you can put on or take them off easily according to the temperature you may experience out in the wild. In addition, remember to carry along your waterproof and breathable lightweight jacket to help keep the cold from cramping up your body.

Cold weather camping clothes

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It is equally important that you take into consideration your head and feet while camping outdoor. Therefore, keep your head warm by taking along your wool or fleece material caps. If the temperature still feels cold against your head, you can cover the cap with a detachable hood. For your feet, wear wool material or polyester socks when you go hiking. Also, do check out our earlier post on how to choose the best thermal underwear for your needs.

Your boots are also vitally important if you hope to combat the cold. Waterproof or water repellant boots are good for getting you around in the snow. Therefore, follow your winter camping tips all the way to the next level by choosing your dress code properly so that you can beat Mother Nature at her worst.

Your Hands Are Important

Make sure to take your hands into consideration when making out your winter camping checklist. When the temperature gets really cold, your hands can get frostbite and you may have to be treated for gangrene or even worse, lose a few fingers.

Winter gloves

It is therefore important that you cover your hands with the right material when you go camping in the cold season. To keep your hands warm and safe against the harsh cold, wear gloves and carry some polyester glove liners as reinforcement. Check out our top pick for the best winter gloves to keep  your hands warm and frostbite-free.

Start a Long Lasting Fire Quickly

For your campfire you will need a few things like:

  • Matches or cigarette lighter
  • Dry kindling sources such as twigs, bark and leaves
  • Small branches
  • Tinder: Newspapers, bark, dry leaves, pine needles, cardboard, etc.
  • Logs
  • Liken

A fire is a wonderful weapon against the cold and one of the first things you should do when you arrive at your destination campsite is to get one going. With a fire present, the campsite area will be kept warm and in addition if it gets too chilly, you can always take a break from any manual work you are doing and just chill at the fireside to take advantage of the warmth it gives.

Above is a video lesson about how to build a fire in the snow.

Foods to Take with You

For your winter camping, you need to bring along the right types of food. Even if you intend to do some hunting, trapping small food animals can pose a problem for you since during harsh wintertime most animals remain scarce and the lakes are usually frozen, thus making it difficult to catch any fish.

Here is a list of food types to carry along when you are out winter camping:

  1. Foods with carbohydrates. Since your body is important, you should try to get at least 50% of the food you eat packed with carbohydrates. Why carbohydrates? Food consisting of carbs is easier to convert into energy and if your body lacks proper energy it will lose its warmth very easily.
  2. Foods with 20% proteins. Foods with the proper protein in them will help to mend damaged muscles that may get worn out during your outdoor activities. Protein is also a great source to satisfy your hunger calls as well.
  3. Foods with fats. Fatty foods can help your body to gather heat that it needs during the cold. Therefore, your camping food supply should consist of about 30% rich fats.
  4. Liquids. During the winter time, especially when it is snowing, it is possible for dehydration to set into your body and you not be aware of it. To keep hydrated, you should make warm drinks like teas, hot cocoa, hot ciders and soups part of your daily diet. In addition, if you are leaving camp to go hiking, make sure to take a good supply of drinks to keep your body from experiencing dehydration.

Boil the snow to provide adequate drinking water for you and your fellow campers as well. Never settle for melting the snow to provide drinking water as snowflakes can posses dust particles packed with viruses or bacteria.

One strong note of advice: Avoid cooking in your tent when you are camping out. Once the flame catches your synthetic tent materials it can easily spread fast and cause havoc, even endangering your own safety.

However, if you are an expert winter camper and prefer cooking inside your tent vestibule you should go for it. If you are not an expert tent vestibule cooker then you should not attempt it.

Below is a video that shows you the right way to cook in a tent vestibule:

Here are a few tips to follow when cooking at your campsite:

  1. Dig out a small area in the ground where you can place your stove. Make sure the ground is even and if it is not even you can use small pieces of wood or stones to balance the stove.
  2. Have easy access to all your ingredients. The danger with not having easy access to your ingredients is that while you are moving back and forth to fetch them you can easily knock over the stove in the process.
  3. If your cooking source is a liquid gas stove, you should make sure to use it a safe distance away from your tent. If the stove flares up, you could be in for plenty of trouble as the flames can devour your tent and all its contents. It is better for you to set up a makeshift fire and cook on it to avoid any fire accidents from happening.
  4. Try to concentrate only on cooking while you are at it. Multi-tasking can trigger accidents to happen and as the saying goes, “prevention is better than cure”.

The Campsite You Choose Is Important

To have a fighting chance against the cold, you should choose a campsite that is exposed to the rays of the sun. To find a spot where you can be more exposed to the sunlight, you should make a note of where the sun’s first appearance shows during sunrise time.

Winter camping tent

It will be a bonus if you can place your campsite close to a source of running water as well. However, you may only find a running stream when most of the snowing is over and the hard surface disappears.

Therefore, not only will you be getting the warm sunlight to shield you from the chilling cold, but you will be at a place where you can take advantage of a stream or river to carry out your daily routine, which may involve freshening up and washing used pots as well as other things that you can use water to do.

Stay Hydrated at All Times

In winter, most people do not drink plenty water. However, water is a great source for your body and the more you drink it the more your body can keep from getting dehydrated, thus helping you to remain in good health. It is therefore better for you to have your supply of drinking water handy.

You can either drink your water cold or hot, it does not make much of a difference as long as your body is getting its beneficial value. If you prefer to take hot beverages, you can drink hot chocolate or hot tea. The hot drink going down into your body will help keep your inside warm, too.

Make Sure Your Tent Stays Dry

During the cold night, chances are that condensation will occur and will make its signature mark on your tent. In the morning, it will push up its ugly head and snow down on you. To avoid the trouble it may cause, you can place a vent inside your tent; however, the vent is no guarantee that your tent will attract heat, though it might help to keep it a bit dryer. Here’s our review of the top portable camping heater to help you stay toasty and comfortable.

Dry camping tent

In addition, remember to put out your sleeping bag to dry during the day so that when night comes you will not sleep in a wet, freezing bed.

Make Sure Your Insulation Is Working Full Force

Having a good night’s sleep in sub-zero conditions can be difficult at times to achieve. To get a great sleep during the night, you need to make sure that you have sufficient insulation coming from the ground. Some winter campers combine a lightweight inflatable with a closed cell foam mat to continue the insulation process.

Do Not Ignore The Bathroom Bottle

Having a bathroom bottle close at hand while you sleep under your tent is vital if you do not want to get up at 3 a.m. in the freezing cold to go outside and use the bathroom.

Do Not Strip Naked When Going to Bed

Unlike some people who will strip naked and curl up in a sleeping bag when nighttime comes, for you the cold winter does not afford you that luxury. Since the nights are unusually cold, you should try to wear as much clothing as possible to bed.

To get even warmer, you can boil some water and put it inside a water bottle that is heatproof then put it on your body while you are in the sleeping bag. Sleeping with plenty heat on your body is a great way to stay warm and stop the cold from causing damage.

Communication Is Vital

If you are winter camping in a group, it is best to bring along a few two-way radios to keep in touch with each other. Make sure to choose the type of radio that is best suitable to your need. Some model radios allow you to communicate from up to 10 miles and more.

Having a good communication method is essential as some campers might get lost in the snow and have no way to find their way back to camp without proper directions.

Two way radio for winter camping

What is more, winter campers who go hiking can get into an accident and need to call for help. Your two-way radio is the ideal communicator to have out in the freezing cold where there are no power lines or other ways to facilitate land and mobile phones.

Use Vaseline Or Animal Fats To Protect Your Exposed Skin From The Cold

To protect your exposed skin such as your neck, face, ears, wrists and hands from frostbite and windburn, you can slap some Vaseline and animal fats on them. This practice has been going on for years, especially among the Inuit who are indigenous people belonging to certain areas in Greenland, Alaska and northern Canada.

Winter camping can be exciting and thrilling; yet, the dangers are ever present and so you need to take the right precautions to overcome them. Your cold climate camping experience can be an unforgettable one and you can spend plenty of time getting to know your environment while you are out in the wild away from home.

Once you realize how exciting your winter camping trip can be, chances are you will be looking forward to the next one the following year.

Are you interested in winter camping? Do you have an experience to share? Let us know about your favorite cold weather camping experience.


Russell McCarty

Russell McCarty

Russell considers backpacking one of his great passions in life. He actually managed to transform his passion into a living becoming a professional adventurer. Russell loves long-distance backpacking and he enriched his portfolio with famous trails like the Alaska-Yukon Expedition or the Appalachian Trail. With thousands of miles under his feet, Russell is the expert to consult when it comes to how to prepare for a successful outdoor adventure.