Just because summer is long over doesn’t mean camping season has to be. With the right gear and a little preparation, your winter camping excursions can be as much fun, if not more, than those summer nights under the stars.
Winter trips do have a few more challenges than summer camping and do require extra planning steps, but the payoff is amazing. Warm night skies have nothing on the quiet beauty that you can see now, where a whole different set of constellations are scattered like diamonds above us and the earth is soft and quiet under a blanket of snow.
One of the first things you’ll want to do while planning a winter escape is to make sure the area you want to camp at is open and accessible. I love the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but that access point closes on October 15 every year due to its normal 6 feet or more of snowfall. I also suggest that you go with someone who has experience winter camping, and share your travel plans with responsible friends who will call out the Search and Rescue team if you’re not back at a pre-designated time. If you stop for coffee and pie, just make to check in and tell them you’re OK, and so is the service.
Clothing wise, make sure to dress up in many layers, such as a base layer (also known as long underwear, preferably wool or synthetic — not cotton, or you’ll find yourself wet and miserable), followed by a mid-layer of fleece or down, and an outer layer of something that is waterproof, windproof and breathable. Don’t forget to pair with good gloves and a hat. Pro tip: Always pack an extra set of gloves because the one time you don’t, you’ll rip or lose one, or regrettably both.
When it comes to footwear, thick socks and reliable boots are a huge key to success — cold, wet feet make for dismal camping trips. GORE-TEX™ will be your best friend, and there are a variety of styles and brands available.
Moreover, you’re also going to need some specific gear. As a starting reference point, I have pulled together 10 essentials to help winterize you for cold-weather camping. These categories are: navigation, sun protection, insulation, illumination, first aid, fire, repair kit and tools, nutrition, hydration and emergency shelter.
First things first — you’re going to need a good four-season tent. This tent, made by Marmot, has a removable vestibule and snow flaps, as well as adjustable guylines that can be tightened from the inside. A good sleeping bag is also a must, and this one by Kelty has 800 fill DriDown to keep you warm and dry.
If you’re going where there’s snow, why not plan on enjoying it with some snowshoeing? Remember that sizing is based on your weight, including the weight of the gear you’re carrying, so plan accordingly. You’ll also want a larger and more adaptable pack for transporting bulkier gear, and this Osprey pack not only has the hip-pack conversion, it has lashing points for ice picks or snowshoes.
When you’ve made camp, a good chair and lighting can make it seem a little more like home as you hang out by a roaring campfire. Packability and durability pushes this gear to the head of the class. Black Diamond lights survive everything my Cub Scouts put them through; they won’t let you down, and a headlamp leaves both hands free when the sun goes down fast.
Not feeling up to making a roaring fire, but still need coffee and hot food to survive? The MSR Superfly with Autostart is an easy-to-use and compact gas canister camp stove that will have your water boiling in three minutes. And the Quick 2 pot set can be used for everything from scrambled eggs to spaghetti while still being extremely packable.
So this year, instead of spending New Year’s Eve in another bar or uninspiring house party, how about counting down to midnight with the stars in the sky, not those who appear on television?