The Winter Camping Checklist (With Essential Gears Explanation)

Are you thinking about winter camping? We are! Here are the essentials you will need to bring along to make sure that you stay warm and safe no matter what the air temperature is.

Essential Clothes

Have you ever heard the saying, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing?” That applies to winter camping! When choosing clothing for winter camping, look for clothing made from materials that can retain warmth even when wet, and materials that are also quick-drying.

Wearing layers of clothing is the best way to dress for cold weather, since you can easily adjust how many clothes you are wearing depending on your level of activity and the air temperature.

The clothes that you will need to have in order to safely enjoy a winter camping trip include:

❒ Base Layer

❒ Midweight Layer

❒ Outer Shell

❒ Hat

❒ Waterproof Gloves With Liners

❒ Balaclava

❒ UV-Blocking Sunglasses or Goggles

❒ Insulated Boots With Good Tread

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1. Base Layer

Why You Need It: Even in cold temperatures, your body produces sweat, so it is important to keep a layer close to your skin that is not only breathable and comfortable, but can also trap heat. Polypropylene or merino wool are good choices for the layer to wear next to your skin. A two-piece set of long underwear that covers your arms, legs, and torso is the best way to start your layering.

Of course, your base layer should also include warm socks made from a cold-busting, breathable material, like merino wool.

2. Midweight Layer

Why You Need It: In cold air temperatures and high winds, heat is sapped away from your body quickly, so you will need layers to keep your core warm. Any layer that goes over your base layer should help to hold heat in. Think midweight, like a wool sweater or fleece pullover. The best midweight layers are quick-drying, zippered, and breathable. A zippered front allows you to vent it easily if you start to get overheated.

3. Outer Shell

Why You Need It: Wind, snow, and freezing rain are three ways that winter works to make you cold, so you need to limit your contact with them if you are camping.

Both waterproof and windproof, an outer shell is designed to keep the elements out so that your other layers can keep the heat in. A good outer shell will have a hood with a drawstring to make it snug around your face.

4. Hat

Why You Need It: Though you do not lose heat faster through your head than other parts of your body, it is still important to keep it warm. A wool or wool-blend hat will keep you warm even when it is wet, though hopefully the hood on your outer shell does a good job of keeping the snow and freezing rain off of your hat. Bonus: The natural antimicrobial properties of wool help keep it smelling fresh!

5. Waterproof Gloves With Liners

Why You Need Them: Since your fingers are particularly vulnerable to frostbite and damage from cold, protecting them in cold temperatures is absolutely vital. The waterproof outer layer will keep the elements out, but what about the inside? Your hands produce a lot of sweat, especially when you are hiking, and if your gloves get wet they will not keep your hands warm. Polypropylene, wool, or silk glove liners help absorb the sweat and keep your gloves dry. A spare set of liners will ensure that you always have a dry pair.

6. Balaclava

Why You Need It: A balaclava is a fancy name for a type of full-face mask, and it is a very helpful piece of clothing in bitterly cold weather. On very cold or windy days, this layer of fabric over your face will protect your skin and prevent frostbite and windburn. It also lessens the risk of sunburn, since a very high percentage of UV rays are reflected by snow. You can also wear it at night as a way to keep your face warm if the air inside your tent is cold.

7. UV-Blocking Sunglasses or Goggles

Why You Need Them: Sunlight reflecting on snow makes seeing anything difficult, so you will want sunglasses for your own comfort. However, you also need dark lenses for safety when you are spending a lot of time outdoors in the winter, since snow reflects up to 80% of the UV rays that fall on it.

Prolonged exposure can cause snow blindness, which is something like a sunburn to your eyes, and if it is severe enough it can cause temporary blindness. This can happen even on an overcast day, in winter so make sure that you wear UV-blocking eye protection all the time!

8. Insulated Boots With Good Tread

Why You Need Them: Cold feet are not only a miserable feeling, they can be downright dangerous in cold temperatures, since frostbite often affects toes first. Insulated, waterproof boots will keep your feet warm and dry should you happen to step through the ice into a flowing creek.

You will also need solid footing in wintery conditions, and a good tread on the bottom of the boots will keep you from slipping on ice. If your boots are warm and water-resistant, you can improve their grip on snow and ice with some after-market traction cleats.

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Essential Gear

The type of gear that you need for winter camping differs from what you might use in warmer weather, because it is all designed to withstand much colder temperatures. This means that cold-weather camping gear tends to be bulkier and heavier than warm-weather gear, just like the clothes you will need for winter camping.

Gear that you definitely need for a winter camping trip includes:

❒ Four-Season Tent

❒ Four-Season Sleeping Bag

❒ Insulated Sleeping Pad

❒ Four-Season Stove

❒ Water Bottle

❒ Folding Shovel

❒ Multiple Fire-Starting Methods

❒ First Aid Kit

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1. Four-Season Tent

Why You Need It: A four-season tent is made to stand up to high winds and heavy snow, and unlike its three-season, lighter-weight cousin, they usually do not have much mesh screening. Because winter gear takes up more space than warm-weather gear, they are also typically roomier inside and often include a gear vestibule to help keep your boots dry. Many four-season tents are also brightly-colored to make their visibility better in heavy snow.

2. Four-Season Sleeping Bag

Why You Need It: A sleeping bag becomes an important piece of safety equipment in very cold temperatures. Hypothermia sets in when your body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, so make sure that your sleeping bag is rated for at least ten degrees colder than the colder temperature you are expecting. Winter-weight sleeping bags tend to be bulkier, so be prepared for your sleeping bag to take up more room in your pack.

3. Insulated Sleeping Pad

Why You Need It: While your sleeping bag can help to keep you warm, it will work much more effectively to keep you warm if it is not working against the very cold ground. A layer of insulation between the sleeping bag and the freezing-cold ground will keep your bag from leaching heat, which in turn will keep you warmer.

Look for a sleeping pad with an R-value of 4 or greater to give you the best insulation from the cold floor of the tent.

4. Four-Season Stove

Why You Need It: Not all camping stoves perform well in very cold temperatures, so before you take your stove with you on a winter camping trip, make sure that it can handle the weather. Generally, canister stoves with a regulator perform well in the cold, as long as the canister can be inverted (used upside down). Likewise, biofuel stoves do well in cold weather, but finding fuel can be a challenge when everything is covered with snow.

Bonus: A windscreen helps keep the flame on your stove from being blown out by the wind while helping to reflect heat back toward your pot, which reduces the amount of fuel you need to use.

5. Water Bottle

Why You Need It: You will absolutely need to drink a lot of water when you are exerting yourself outside, because the colder air is, the less moisture it holds, and the more quickly you can become dehydrated. Since cold weather might make you feel less thirsty, make sure you are drinking at least 32 ounces of water every day, but ideally aiming for 64 ounces, and more if you are exerting yourself.

6. Folding Shovel

Why You Need It: A lightweight folding shovel allows you to move snow efficiently. You might want to dig out an area for your tent, pile snow to create a wind block, or remove snow from your tent in the event of a storm. If you wake up to a big snow drift covering the door of your tent, you will be very glad to have it!

7. Multiple Fire Starting Methods

Why You Need It: The ability to light your stove or light a fire can be the difference between life and death in the winter. It is important to carry multiple ways to start a fire, just in case one of your methods fails or gets dropped into a snowbank. Pocket lighters are useful, but carrying waterproof matches as a backup is always a good idea. This firestarter works even when it is soaking wet, so carrying it along with a flint and steel or ferro rod ensures you can start a fire in any conditions.

8. First Aid Kit

Why You Need It: A good first aid kit is always important whenever you head out into the backcountry, but there are few items that you will want to make sure are included for winter camping. Sunscreen is an addition that would be easy to overlook in the winter, but remember that the sun reflecting off the snow can burn exposed skin. Chapstick is also a very helpful addition, since cold temperatures lead to dry air, and this can easily chap your lips.

Additionally, make sure you know the early warning signs of hypothermia and frostbite, as well as what to do to treat them.

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Optional-But-Nice-to-Have-Gear

There are some gear items that can make winter camping easier. Though these items are not strictly necessary, they can be a great addition to your camping adventure, since they make things that much happier for everyone!

Gear that can make your winter camping trip easier and more comfortable includes:

❒ Pulk Sled

❒ Thermos

❒ Snowshoes or Cross-Country Skis

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1. Pulk Sled

WhyYou Might Want It: You will not have to carry heavy gear on your back! Camping in winter might have fewer comforts due to the cold, but it has one big advantage – if the snow is deep enough, you can harness a pulk sled to your waist and place all your gear in it. This is especially helpful, since winter camping gear tends to be bulkier than its summer-weight cousins.

Bonus: In the summer, you can use a pulk sled to pull your cooler, umbrella, and chairs across the sand on the beach!

2. Thermos

Why You Might Want It: Staying hydrated in cold weather can be a challenge, especially if you are hiking, snowshoeing, or skiing in very cold temperatures. Drinking a hot beverage may be more appealing than ice-cold water, and it can help you feel warmer, too. If you fill a thermos with hot water in the morning, you can use it to mix hot chocolate, instant soup, or tea throughout the day.

3. Snowshoes or Cross-Country Skis

Why You Might Want Them: Deep snow can be exhausting to hike through, but gliding along on a pair of well-waxed skis or swishing by with snowshoes is much easier. Remember that skis and snowshoes are fitted according to your height and weight, so make sure you read up on proper sizing before you make an investment.

Additionally, cross-country skis require their own type of boot, so if you plan to hike in addition to skiing you will need to bring a separate pair of insulated boots.

Safe and Warm All the Time

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Winter camping presents unique challenges but it also brings great rewards – the beauty and quiet of a winter morning are unbeatable. Keeping yourself warm and dry, being able to boil water with the right stove, and having the best gear for sleeping will ensure that you are healthy and comfortable, even in bitter cold.

From the backcountry to your own backyard, winter camping can be a lot of fun. With a little planning and the right gear, you can enjoy all the benefits of the outdoors no matter the weather!

You can also check our full camping checklist here.

Would you rather be too hot or too cold? Have you ever slept outside in the winter? Let us know!

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