How to Snow Camp: Tips for Surviving a Night in the Cold

Dropping temperatures and adverse weather doesn’t signal the end of camping season for a large number of adventure seekers.

In fact winter is often a favored season among many outdoor sports and recreation enthusiasts. As winter often means a decreased number of visitors to some of the country’s most beautiful outdoor areas.

While camping in cold temperatures takes some planning, with the right gear and preparation anyone can enjoy camping in cold and snowy areas.

Form multi-day backcountry tours to a single night of winter camping, these tips and products will help you not only survive a night in the cold, but thrive in the frigid temps.

Study The Regional Forecast

Know before you go as weather in the mountains can go from seemingly tranquil to dangerous in a matter of minutes. Photo: Pixabay

Picking the right weather window is going to be an essential part of ensuring that you have a safe and enjoyable experience. Hiking into a desolate winter destination only to be devastated by a raging blizzard is a surefire way to ruin your experience and possibly end up in serious trouble.

The NOAA site has detailed forecasts that can help you plan your trip.

Gear Up

Having the right tent can be the difference between warm and wet while winter camping. Photo: Pixabay

Having the appropriate gear for any adventure is important, but when adverse weather can make your adventure dangerous gear becomes critical. If you are camping in snow then you will want an all season or winter specific tent as the both the walls and poles are made to resist strong winter storms.

Picking the right sleeping bag is also essential, if you are in camping in snow then it is safe that you will want a sleeping bag that has a temperature rating of at least 0-degrees Fahrenheit, if you are in extremely cold regions you can get a sleeping bag that is rated up to -50-degrees Fahrenheit, both down and synthetic options are available and are usually in a mummy shape to utilize one’s own body warmth for heat.

Layering is key when cold-weather camping as you will heat while you are hiking or skiing and cool down as both your core temp and weather temps drop, having a synthetic first layer that wicks away moisture and dries quickly is important.

Add additional layers as you see fit, but make sure you also include a waterproof shell in case things get wet. Pack a base layer and pair of dry socks in a waterproof sack inside of your pack, and some sort of stove system to heat and melt water as these are the bare essentials.

Pick Your Spot

Try to find a safe spot with out of this world views while snow camping. Photo: Pixabay

It’s important that when traveling into the backcountry away from designated camping areas that you choose a safe camping site, especially in avalanche prone terrain.

Make sure you don’t camp at the base of steep or snow loaded faces and if you see any avalanche debris you are in an unsafe area. It is also helpful to find a spot that is sheltered from the wind if possible.

Once you have found a prime spot that is safe and secure, pat down the snow in the area you want to place your tent. Using either skies, splitboard, snowshoes or shovel create a snow camping area that best represents your most inner values. If you are a minimalist a simple flat area may suffice, but if you are a outdoors person of a more luxuries pedigree you can really let your creativity fly by digging out snow trenches with benches, bathrooms, storage areas and snow walls to provide wind protection and privacy. The sky’s the limit.

Change Into Dry Clothes

Staying warm means staying safe in the winter, make sure to keep a dedicated dry first layer and socks in your pack. Photo: Pixabay

It’s easy to be complacent after a long day of strenuous activity as you may feel all warm and fuzzy when you arrive at your campsite. However, as soon as the sweat starts to dry and your core temp starts to fall staying warm will become a necessary measure to assure both safety and comfort.

As soon as you are finished setting up camp change into a dry base layer and a dry pair of socks at minimum. It is handy to always keep dry clothing in a dry sack inside of your pack.

Bring Warm Food and Drinks

A nice warm meal is the perfect way to end a day of winter play. Photo: Pixabay

It can be tempting to crawl into your warm sleeping bag and cuddle up with an energy bar, but making yourself a nice hot meal and a warm drink will help you stay warm by providing both the caloric intake necessary to keep your body warm, and by ingesting something warm and soothing.

If you are on a multi-day trip back non-perishable goods like pasta and pre-packaged camp meals that can be made simply by adding hot water. If you’re on a single day trip or camping near your car it can be nice to fill up in high fat high protein foods like meat and dairy products.

Tea and instant coffee is another easy to pack warm beverage that can elevate your winter camping experience. Filling your water bottle with warm water and putting it into your sleeping bag can also help keep you warm on brutally cold nights.

Relieve Yourself

Use the bathroom when necessary, it will be worth it in the long run. Photo: Pixabay

The urge to use the bathroom can be another battle between comfort and necessity during the often freezing cold nights of winter. And while it may seem counter-intuitive to leave your warm sleeping bag to relieve yourself emptying your bladder will actually conserve energy and allow for a warmer night’s sleep.

So don’t fight the urge to go, as nature is a great place to be when nature calls.

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