If you equate winter with frozen toes, damp socks, and snow-shovel-induced back injuries, winter camping is probably not high up on your “fun” list.
But the reasons to consider a winter camping trip are surprisingly abundant: There are little to no insects, most wildlife is in hibernation, the trails are practically empty, and your reward for slowly trudging through the snowdrifts? Epic views of pristine, snowcapped landscapes with nary another hiker in sight.
A little preparation and know-how are all it takes to keep your winter camping experience warm, comfortable, safe, and (shocker!) enjoyable. Here, some tips for making your experience a little bit better.
Learn how to preemptively manage your layers. Shed insulating down jackets and heavy fleece sweaters before you start breaking a sweat, and put them back on when you start to cool off. It takes resolve to layer down while your teeth are chattering, but it’ll be worth it when you arrive at the summit without a sweaty back.
Put down your hiking poles every so often and pump blood back into your fingers to prevent them from going numb. To do so, bring arms straight down next to your sides, flip hands out at a 90-degree angle to your hips, and shrug your shoulders up and down forcefully. Hand- and toe-warmer packets are also a great way to keep your extremities warm.
Make your first priority to keep your clothing dry. Take off wool socks and dry them by the campfire after hiking. Wrap boots in a plastic bag and bring them in the tent overnight. Avoid wearing cotton next to your skin at all costs. It’s better to have to carry some extra weight and have dry layers than to have to suffer in damp ones.
Pack along water bottles that are safe to store and drink hot liquids out of. Heat up water with your camp stove and fill the bottles—this will keep them from freezing during your hike. You can also sleep with hot water bottles in your sleeping bag for added warmth, and slip hot bottles in your hiking shoes to warm them up while you eat breakfast.
Stop every few minutes to hydrate and have a snack. You burn more calories in the cold, so bring nutrient-dense foods that don’t freeze to eat during your hike, keeping them close to your body so they stay warm and easier to chew. Reward yourself with a comfort food, like a peanut-packed Snickers bar.
Bring a headlamp and a game for the tent. Days are shorter in the winter, meaning you’ll be spending some quality time with your camping party inside of a lean-to or tent when the sun goes down. Be prepared with lighting, spare batteries, and a card game to pass the time.
Don’t skimp on your sleeping bag. Make sure you have a high-quality bag rated for the overnight temperatures you’ll be sleeping in, and always sleep on a quality ground pad that provides insulation and a barrier between your body and the cold, hard ground.
Bring a small piece of retired foam or an old ground pad along with you so you have something to sit on at the summit or around the campfire.
Go camping with someone you like. Someone you like-like. When it comes to staying warm, nothing beats spooning.
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