Ask 100 people whether they prefer camping in the warm or cold weather and you’re likely to get 100 of the same answers. Sun, sand, and water sports have a mass appeal, while cold weather brings a new set of challenges for the truly adventurous camper.
That doesn’t mean that camping in the winter should be avoided. Sure, there are stark contrasts and challenges that the winter months bring, and that’s where the fun begins.
Whether it’s a night or two in the snowy Rocky mountains or thru-hike on the PCT and you hit snow in the Sierra’s. You’re going to need to be prepared to stay warm throughout the day and most importantly at night. This list of tips and trick on how to how to stay warm while camping will save you from sleepless nights and frozen toes.
Tips for staying warm while camping
Camping in cold weather can be a real drag, however, it doesn’t have to be. Here are 51 practical tips to keep you warm when the weather doesn’t want to cooperate.
Choose the Perfect Location
Your campsite makes all the difference in the world. While finding the first spot and tossing a tent up is the easiest (laziest) method, your location makes a world of difference.
1. Don’t camp near bodies of water
Avoid camping within 200 feet of any body of water is stated clearly in the Leave No Trace principles. While the sound of the water flowing will be soothing during the summer, in the colder months the moisture from the water will get everywhere.
2. Consider the wind chill factor
Even if it’s not freezing, the wind chill factor will make it feel colder outside than it actually is. Camp within the cover of a large tree, thick bushes, or large rocks so you have a natural windbreak.
3. Don’t set up in low-lying locations
Don’t camp on low-lying sites, cold air is heavy and tends to sink into valleys and low points. Move to higher grounds to avoid freezing your ass off.
4. Employ a windbreak
Set up a windbreak to minimize the cold air when you are camping in an exposed position. A windbreak can be a rainfly, a tarp, or anything else that will stop the constant flow of wind.
5. Camp where the sun does shine
In this case, you can have your cake and eat it too. Find a place with wind protection that’s also exposed to the sun. It will make your mornings more pleasant and keep you warm in the afternoon.
Use a 4-Season Cole Weather Tent
Would you bring a knife to a gunfight? Nope, you also wouldn’t use a 3-season tent during the middle of winter. Sleepless nights in a cold tent will ruin a trip and make you wish you were back at home with the heat blasting.
6. Use a 4-season winter tent
Find a cold-weather 4-season tent that has a 4-season rating. If the temperatures will be freezing, then a 4-season tent is going to be crucial. They are designed to withstand the cold weather and will keep you significantly warmer (and more alive) than a 3-season tent.
7. (Rain)Fly coverage
A tent with good (rain)fly coverage helps envelope the tent completely and act as a windbreak. It blocks the wind from entering your tent and reduces cold air exposure.
8. Open up the vents
It may feel like the best practice is to close all the vents completely, however, while you sleep your breath will cause condensation that will build on the inner walls of the tent.
9. Use a double walled tent
The primary reason that we use double walled tents is to prevent the buildup of condensation (a recurring theme) and to add another layer of protection between you and the cold weather. A double walled tent consists of a single layer tent with mesh vents, and a separate layer that protects you from the elements.
How to Stay Warm Inside of Your Tent
Now that you have a few tips on selecting your location and correct cold weather tent. Here are some ideas that will keep your tent stay nice and toasty from the inside out.
10. Use an insulated sleeping pad
If the ground is completely frozen and you’re having trouble driving the tent stakes, then a single layer of protection from the ground won’t be enough. Add a sleeping pad beneath you with a high R-rating to give you another layer of insulation.
11. Hot water bottle trick
Pour boiling water into a water bottle and keep it on you at all times, in fact, fill a couple up and bring them inside your tent to use as little heaters. They will last for a few hours and are a cool little trick to stay warm.
12. Add a carpet layer on the inside of your tent
Place some well fitting carpets on the inside of your tent. This is will be one of 3 layers of protection, combined with your ground cloth and sleeping pad. When it’s freezing outside every layer makes a difference.
13. Use a footprint
A cloth footprint provides insulation from the freezing ground and will protect the tent from moisture underneath. Use a cloth footprint (a tarp will work too) that is custom cut to fit your tent size and place it on the ground before you stake your tent.
14. Use the right size tent
If you have two people, use a 2-person tent. In the summer a bigger tent is fine, however, in the winter it just means more air to keep warm. Use a tent that feels a little claustrophobic, it’s less space to heat.
15. Invest in instant hand warmers
Hand and toe warmers, like the ones you put int your gloves while skiing can be a nice cozy heat source when your hands and feet get cold. If you’re a winter camping baller, break open 10 and use on your hands, feet, stomach, legs, and anywhere else your heart desires.
16. Use an electric heater (very carefully)
Portable heaters can be used for heating up your tent, but you need to be extremely cautious and make sure you use it safely. Heaters should never be left running while you’re sleeping and the vents should always be open when heaters are in use.
17. Camp cuddles
One of the best ways to stay warm is someone else’s body heat. If you have a significant other or a friend that you don’t mind getting up close and friendly with, snuggle up and get warm.
18. Stay off the ground
You should already have some sort of protection down on the ground, if not, keep your butt and body away from it. The cold will seep through to your body you’ll freeze your butt off.
How to Stay Warm Inside Your Sleeping Bag
Not sleeping well because of cold weather is miserable. Your sleeping bag needs to be able to handle the lowest possible temperature that you are camping in. Use these tips to ensure a good nights sleep.
19. Get down
Not dancing, get a down sleeping bag. Goose and duck fill down are both popular choices for winter campers and cold weather ratings that will cover nearly every temperature imaginable.
20. Respect the rating
Sleeping bags are rated/designed to perform in specific temperature ranges. If it’s 40 degrees out and you have a 0 degree rated sleeping bag, you’re going to sweat your ass off.
21. Men’s and women’s sleeping bags are different
Believe it or not, there’s a scientific reason women tend to be colder than men, so pay attention to the temperature ratings. Women’s bags are also narrower, have wider hips, and more insulation in the upper body and feet.
22. Get cozy in a mummy bag
A mummy bag is designed for extremely cold temperatures and is fully enclosed. There is a small opening for your mouth and nose which allows very little extra air inside, other than that, your completely covered.
23. Keep your feet warm
Sometimes your whole body feels warm except for your feet, it’s super annoying. Wear a thick pair of dry socks to bed, throw a couple hand warmers down there, or use the water bottle trick to keep your feet warm at night.
24. Enjoy a tight fit
This is the same concept as a small tent, pretty simple really, the less extra space you have to heat, the quicker it gets warm. Body heat is a beautiful thing, and with a snug fitting sleeping bag you’ll warm up before you know it.
25. Use a sleeping bag liner
This is an easy way to add another layer of insulation to your sleeping bag, and they come in all kinds of fabric, including thermal bag liners. If you end up getting too hot and sweating at night, which is common, washing a sleeping bag liner is way easier than washing a down sleeping bag.
Choose the right clothing to stay warm
It goes without saying that the right clothing will play an important part in keeping you warm on chilly nights. It’s not just what you wear, how you wear it.
26. Never wear cotton
Plenty of clothes are made of cotton, the problem with cotton is it absorbs and retains moisture and that’s the last thing you need in the middle of winter. Synthetic materials and wool are a better option as they are sweat wicking and keep moisture away.
27. Wear a base layer
The base layer is the first layer that you put on, and usually is a type of long john or thermal underwear. It should sit tightly against your skin and be made of sweat wicking material.
28. Use a middle layer
This is the workhorse of your winter wardrobe, it’s the layer that’s going to do the majority of the work keeping you warm. The middle layer retains heat from your body, so if you splurge in one place, make it on the base layer.
29. Have a good shell layer
The shell layer is going to protect you from the elements and keep your clothes dry from the outside world. A nice waterproof jacket and pair of waterproof pants will do the trick.
30. Don’t wear more than 3 many layers
It seems like the best idea is to layer up, but you need to find a happy medium. It’s easy to throw on a bunch of layers, however, you end up in a constant circular motion of too hot and too cold. Best practice is 3 layers of clothing.
31. Wear a hat
Hats are essential to winter camping, we lose body heat through our head and it’s important to keep it warm. It’s good practice to have a couple winter hats and if you end up sweating through one while on a hike you can replace it with a dry one at the campsite.
32. Use a neckwarmer/buff
Cold air getting down your shirt and around your neck sucks. A neckwarmer or buff will protect yo neck. They can also be used on your head like a hat, over your mouth like a mask, and of course around your neck.
33. Get a good pair of boots
A good pair of waterproof boots is one of the most important pieces of winter gear you will ever own, cold toes are the WORST. Trail running shoes or a cheap pair of boots that get wet after a couple hours are a recipe for frostbite. ALWAYS wear good boots.
Food and Drinks to Keep You Warm
Food and drinks are always something to look forward to whenever your camping. In the winter there are certain things you can eat and drink to increase the heat and make your life a tad more comfortable.
34. Enjoy a hot breakfast
In the morning a cold bowl of cereal is perfect for camping. In cold weather a hot bowl of oatmeal is a great way to get you heated up and ready for the day. Plus, the bowl will warm up your hands.
35. Prepare hot meals
There is nothing better than a hot meal at the end of a winter day. Prepare meals that are easy to make and will stay warm, a steak and potato dinner is probably not the best option. Aim for meals like beef stew, mac and cheese, fajitas, and stews.
36. Spice up your hot meals
You know that feeling after eating some super hot Thai food where your forehead and cheeks begin to sweat? We don’t want that, but adding a moderate amount of spice to your meal will warm you right up.
37. Embrace the fats
Your body generates heat as it digests the food you eat. Foods that are high in protein and fats are great for the colder months. Chocolates, peanut butter, olive oil, and feel free to add more fatty foods to your list.
38. Lots of hot beverages
Always have a pot of water ready to boil for tea or coffee. A warm drink warms you up from the inside out, and good cup of hot chocolate will make anyone smile.
39. Make your best trail mix
Let’s be honest, not every meal is not going to be gourmet when you’re camping in the winter, or just camping period. Keeping a bag of healthy homemade trail mix on you at all times is a quick, healthy, and simple snack.
40. Booze in moderation
There’s nothing wrong with a drink or two, especially a nice Baileys and hot cocoa. Too much alcohol can lower your core body temperature and that’s the opposite of everything we’re trying to achieve.
41. Hot soup in a thermos
I like to take a thermos full of soup on any winter hike, it’s a nice reward at the midpoint of a hike. In the morning you can reheat some soup that you make at home and put it into a thermos to use anytime you get hungry.
Other Tips and Tricks to Stay Warm While Camping
Here are some other ideas to keep warm throughout the day while your camping in the cold.
42. Take a hike
There’s no better way to keep your body temperature up than staying active. A hike is not only a fantastic experience, it’s a way to explore the world around you while keeping warm!
43. Add some honey to your tea at night
Adding a little bit of honey in a hot cup of tea can help you sleep. One teaspoon of honey will stimulate the natural release of Melatonin in the brain (source), which in turn, is going to help you get a good nights rest.
44. It’s imperative to stay dry
Avoid getting wet, and if you do change into dry clothes as quickly as possible. Wet clothes and cold weather is a recipe for hypothermia and you definitely do not want that.
45. Get your blood pumping
While you’re sitting around camp enjoying a great book it’s easy to get chilly. Some simple aerobic exercises like some jumping jacks or a jog will warm you right up, just don’t overdue it, you want to stay dry.
46. Stay active
Staying active throughout the day is going to keep your core temperature on the up and up. Try out some camp games like charades or a scavenger hunt to warm up while having fun.
47. Chase the sunshine
Follow the movement of the sun and ensure you get as much of that healthy sunshine as possible. The winter sun will keep you warm and make a huge difference throughout the duration of the day.
48. Take a hot shower
This obviously only applies to established campsites, not dispersed camping. If there is a hot shower, use it and use it a couple times a day. A hot shower raises your core body temperature and a hot night shower can help you sleep, and they’re awesome.
49. Get pee before you go to bed
Just like your mom used to tell you, go to the bathroom before you hit the hay. Waking up in the middle of the night in the cold weather and having to pee is no bueno.
50. Don’t go to bed cold
Before you hit the rack have a hot cup of tea with honey, take a quick jog, or run to take a pee. Get your core temperature up before you lay down at night.
51. Don’t worry. be happy
This list is long and if you worry about everything at once it can be overwhelming. The most important thing is to have fun, don’t worry, be happy.
Cold weather camping can be a miserable experience, or a magical one. The important thing is to get out there and camp. It’s better to forget a few things than to not go at all.
If there’s something you want to add to this list we would love to hear from you!
Keep calm and camp on.