Experience winter camping safely and comfortably.
By Trent Jonas
A different set of rules apply when you're camping in the extreme cold conditions of winter. Your standard gear isn't going to cut it if temperatures are dropping into freezing territory. Reading up on the specs and capabilities of your equipment is a must. Is your sleeping bag going to keep you warm enough? Do you have the right tent for a snowy environment? Do you have the proper footwear for navigating an icy campsite? In spite of the conditions, the rigor of winter camping yields great rewards, from unspoiled views and gorgeous night skies to silence and solitude. Just make sure you have the right gear. Here are seven must-have winter camping products that should be a part of any cold-weather pack.
When you’re camping in cold weather, you’ll need a tent that can withstand the elements and keep them off of you. Look for a double-walled, four-season tent, with a bathtub floor and full fly, like the Marmot Thor 3-Person Tent. The Thor is ruggedly designed with taped seams, a vented full fly, a large vestibule, and plenty of tie-downs to keep it stable in high winds. The high-walled floor will keep you dry even if there’s an overnight thaw.
If you’ve ever camped, you probably know that sleeping pads, alone, do not keep you warm. This is because a typical, inflatable camping pad is not particularly well insulated and, therefore, doesn’t store heat. So when it comes to winter camping, you want a pad with a lot of insulation, which is expressed as an “R value.” Typical pads have an R-value of somewhere between two and five. Any pad with an R-value over 5 will be noticeably warmer. When it comes to winter camping, though, warmth is the one thing you should not skimp on. Get a high-R-value pad, like the Exped SIM Comfort 10 LW. It’s an extra-thick pad that comes with a mini-pump. At 25.6 inches, it’s wide enough to move around on without hitting the tent floor, and with an R-value of 9.5, it’s good for temperatures as low as 54.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
Like most other gear you’ll need for winter camping, you will also need a sleeping bag that’s rated for winter weather, like the Aleutian from the North Face. The Aleutian boasts plenty of insulation, and it’s designed to keep you warm down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The side zippers are short, to prevent heat loss, and the footbox is vaulted to keep your toes toasty. The draft collar will keep your head warm all night, while the fact that the bag is insulated with 30 percent post-consumer recycled material will warm your heart.
Another awesome way to keep in the heat while you’re sleeping is to use a sleeping bag liner. Bag liners add an extra layer of comfort and warmth that can boost the temperature inside the bag by up to 30 degrees. The Thermolite Reactor Extreme Liner from Sea to Summit is an awesome winter liner that packs down pretty small and can add up to 25 degrees of warmth to your sleeping bag.
If you’re winter camping, you may have cross-country skied or snowshoed to your site, but for just getting around on packed snow or slippery trails in your boots, get some extra traction. The Yaktrax Walk device is an easy solution that takes up very little space. They slip easily onto most boots or shoes and use a coil system, rather than spikes, so if you accidentally step into your tent with them on, you won’t puncture the material.
A reliable camp stove (and a way to light it!) is an essential piece of winter camping gear. Remember—you have to keep your water liquid in order to drink it and not lower your core temperature. The MSR Whisperlite Universal Camp Stove is a great choice for a winter expedition. It can use a range of fuel sources, from canister to liquid fuels, depending on your needs and the operating conditions. The stove comes with a heat reflector and a windscreen to ensure efficiency even in the coldest weather.
An insulated water bottle is crucial in cold weather: You don’t want your water to get too cold too soon. The Hydro Flask 40-ounce Widemouth Bottle will allow you to heat, store and use more than a liter of water at a time. At night, you can fill it with near boiling water and store it in the foot of your sleeping bag, which will both warm your feet and prevent the water from freezing overnight.