10 Cold-Weather Backpacking and Camping Tips to Keep You Warm While You Sleep

There is nothing like the scent of pine amidst the quiet of an alpine lake or a clear sky speckled with stars against snow-capped mountains. But even the most spectacular sights won’t make up for a miserable night camping in cold weather or freezing temperatures. Whether you’re cross-country skiing or backpacking by snowshoe, don’t be ill-prepared. Get the gear you need to stay warm and endure those subzero winter extremes. Here’s how to make your adventure more about comfort and less about battling the cold.

Essential Cold-Weather Camping Gear Checklist

  • Closed-cell foam sleeping pad
  • Coupler strap (and a buddy)
  • Sleeping bag with an appropriate lower-limit temperature rating
  • Synthetic or wool base layers
  • Socks, gloves, and a technical cold-weather hat
  • Grooved wind-resistant tent stakes
  • Nutrient-dense snacks
  • Reusable straw
  • Tent brush
  • Urination device (FUD) for the ladies
  • Bottle insulator
  • Stainless steel water bottle

1. Always Check Weather Conditions and Hazards

Know before you go. This is the golden rule for any outdoor activity: check the conditions. Besides knowing the extreme temperatures you may be up against (think cold-weather desert fluctuations), stay on top of approaching weather systems and weather trends for the season and region, and research recent changes in terrain, trail closures, or similar hazards. Consider contacting the closest ranger station to stay current. Always establish a trip plan and inform appropriate parties of your whereabouts and anticipated return.

2. Secure Your Campsite and Flatten Your Sleeping Surface

Once you’ve secured a location that’s reasonably dry, flat, and protected from the elements, set up your tent. If conditions allow, clear away any snow to expose the dirt and flatten the site with your tools or boots. Climb into your tent, and use your knees to smooth out the ground area were you’ll be sleeping. “Don’t wait until later to do this,” says polar explorer and all-around cold expert Eric Larsen.

“Once the snow melts and refreezes, it’s hard to manipulate. I also create a shallow trough for myself so I don’t roll around.” This shaping technique helps to reduce ambient space and potential heat loss from cold exposure, which could make for a miserable night or subject an individual to the early stages of hypothermia or frostbite.

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