Winter Camping Tips
Sources: Winter camping tips and tricks to help you enjoy the fourth season, Eight essentials for staying warm while cold-weather camping, Outdoor Smarts: How to Keep Warm in Camping's Fourth Season; How to Stay Warm With the Right Winter Gear
Dressing for the cold. When dressing for cold weather, focus on a layering system including the three Ws: wicking, warmth and wind. Your base layer should be wicking (like an athletic shirt), an insulating layer should be warming (like fleece or wool) and an exterior layer should block the wind. Use clothing you have, focusing on the right combination of fabrics.
• Wicking Layer or Base. Also commonly known as long underwear, the base layer is worn closest to your skin. Its main job is to wick away sweat and moisture so your skin stays dry. Wear it relatively tight to the skin and use only wool or synthetic base layers. Never use cotton because it will not keep you warm once it’s wet, whether from sweat or precipitation. These base layers come in various weights, from heavy for frigid conditions to lightweight for warmer temps and activities that cause a lot of sweating, such as strenuous hiking and cross-country skiing. It’s a good idea to have one extra pair of base layers to change into every night at camp.
• Warmth Layer or Insulation. The insulation layer is worn atop the base layer and is designed to provide the majority of your insulation. It should be made of fleece, wool, down or synthetic insulation and can be a pullover, zip-up jacket or vest, depending on how much insulation you need.
• Windproofing Layer or Shell. The outermost layer, the shell jacket and pants protect you from wind and wet conditions. There are two types of shells: the hard shell is a lightweight layer that’s windproof and waterproof, capable of handling heavy rain and very wet conditions; a softshell is made of a more flexible, soft-faced material that’s windproof yet highly breathable, and water-resistant enough to protect you against everything except a heavy downpour.
Mittens. Mittens are warmer than gloves. If insulated mittens get wet, they stay that way. Wool mitts worn inside leather or nylon shells are removable for faster drying. Wool gloves are needed for dexterity when cooking.
Sleeping. Be sure to change into dry clothes for sleeping — moisture retained in field clothes will cause chilling. For overnight warmth, wear wool, polypropylene or polyester (never cotton!) long johns, socks and a balaclava to bed. Place a scarf across your neck to seal drafts.
Sleeping bags. Two sleeping bags — one placed inside the other — should provide enough warmth down to about zero degrees. If you don’t have a closed-cell foam pad to use as a sleeping mat, try half-inch-thick foam carpet padding.
Ground cloth. In warmer months, a plastic ground cloth should be used inside your tent to stay dry. However, in winter, use the ground cloth beneath your tent to keep it from freezing to the ground.
Toes cold? Put on a hat. Your body loses up to half of its total heat in 40-degree temperatures. So, when it’s below freezing and your head is uncovered, you could be radiating more than three-fourths of your overall body heat from your head.
Baggy clothes are back in style at least in the freezing-cold wilderness. Your body heats itself most efficiently when it’s enveloped in a layer of warm air. If your clothes are too tight, you’re strangling the cold right out of your body. Dressing in loose layers helps aid this convection layer of air. Tight clothes or too-tight boots can also restrict blood flow.
The three W’s. Every cold-weather camper needs to dress for the occasion. You’ll need a wicking layer (long underwear), a “warm” layer (fleece) and a “wind” layer (waterproof shell).
Stay hydrated. In winter, you may not be aware of how much you’re sweating. A gulp of ice-cold water is hardly appetizing, but it is important to keep drinking. Hot drinks and soup are a great way to replenish liquids, electrolytes, and heat. Keep extra tea bags on hand, as well as bouillon cubes, and hand out hot drinks liberally, especially at the end of the day when energy is low.