“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?” wrote John Steinbeck. Point taken, but there’s also a certain sweetness to the cold of winter. Cold-weather camping is a great way to savor those tranquil moments and settings only winter can provide—untouched snow-covered landscapes, early nights and early mornings, a warm fire—yet even some experienced campers balk at the prospect.
It’s easier than you may think to stay comfortable while winter camping. People prospered in frigid climates long before synthetic down and GoreTex, so you don’t necessarily need to break the bank at REI to stay warm and happy in winter conditions. On the other hand, you’ll be in serious trouble if you head out into the freeze underprepared. Check the weather forecasts and make sure your tent, sleeping bag, and clothes can handle the conditions. It’s best to keep it simple on your first trip—stick to routes commonly traveled in the winter, and save that week-long excursion for when you have more experience.
Here are 10 other tips to keep in mind as you prepare for your first trip. Many of these were sourced from Kevin Callan’s recently published Complete Guide to Winter Camping. Callan, a longtime outdoor enthusiast and author of 16 books, skillfully covers the basics of winter camping and showcases tips and tales from some of North America’s most accomplished winter campers. Check it out if you’re planning a trip and want to learn from the best.
1. Layer up
The lynchpin to your winter camping getup is a close-fitting base layer to trap body heat. A pair of polypropylene long johns work great as a cheaper option. You’ll also want an insulating layer that you can take on and off as you warm up and cool down throughout the day. A down jacket, lightweight fleece, or even your favorite wool sweater will do the job. Your outermost layer should protect you from wind, snow, and rain, so choose a shell with weather-proof lining like GoreTex.
Avoid cotton altogether when packing for your trip—it’s no good at wicking moisture, and once it’s wet it can cool you faster than standing naked in the cold.
2. Stay dry
That brings us to a second winter camping maxim: stay dry. Water conducts heat better than air does, so wet clothes will quickly lower your body temperature. Even working up a sweat can dangerously cool you down in the long run. Take it slow and peel off layers to limit perspiration.
Wet feet mean frozen feet, so leave the trail runners at home. Waterproof boots and gaiters (along with snowshoes) are a must when trudging through deeper…