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tent pitched up in the snow

Winter Camping Tips: A Basic Understanding

The main aspect of finding cold weather camping easier is all about what clothes we're wearing, what sleeping bag and shelter we're in and finaly what food we're eating. Here's a few basic winter camping tips to help you along!

Getting out in the winter will mean quieter campsites, reduced out of season prices and possibly beautiful snow landscapes with frozen lakes. However, its also going to have its disadvantages if a person lacks preparation.

The tips provided here are based on a person expecting snow or just cold weather conditions and possibly backpacking as well as camping.

Preparation

I would suggest its best to research a little about the area and the conditions that are expected before setting out. We would expect the weather to be cold and possibly snow, however, when the temperature at night goes below 25F/-4 C it's only serious enthusiasts with the right gear that are usually prepared.

A safe temperature: This boils down to the individuals experience, preparation and cold threshold. Going below freezing with the wrong or wet gear can cause hypothermia. Signs of Hypothermia can set in once the body reaches below 35C which could start with the body shaking.

Alcohol: On this camp out leave out the booze. Alcohol increases the risk of hypothermia.

You can always go home: When winter camping it might be a good idea to have an exit plan. Too cold just go home.

Campfires: A campfire will be your life saver when the sun sets early. Even campsites that don't allow fires in the high season will allow them if you call the site and ask. Just be polite and explain how you will build a safe fire and protect the grounds. To be honest I would never winter camp unless I had a campfire otherwise when dusk sets in I would be inside the tent all night pretty bored. Collecting wood for the fire helps the body keep its self warm, which is added bonus.

Food

If we think of food we put in our bodies similar to having fuel for an engine it helps us to understand that nothings going to function very well unless we use the correct fuel for our human engine. Clothing and gear will retain heat but the body is what gets the heat going to begin with.

Stick with the simple foods: Winter camping meals are best kept simple. Sitting waiting for meals to cook is going to have you sitting still too long and possibly doing too much preparation. I would stick to the simple rice and pasta meals.

Campfire cooking: If you can get a campfire going and can cook some meats then great. The colder temperatures are going to keep foods cold and fresh for cooking so meats become a good option in the winter, ask hunters.

Snacks: Plenty of energy boosting snacks are a good idea to take. Energy bars and plenty of nuts, seeds and dried fruit will do the trick.

Drinks: Plenty of hot drinks are needed in the winter, however, water still needs to be drank to prevent dehydration.

Outdoor Clothing Winter Camping Tips

Hats: A known fact is we lose much of our body heat through the top of out head so retaining that heat means wearing a hat. A hat that covers the ears and back of the neck is useful. I wear a wool hat with my north face jacket hood on top that keeps a heck of a lot of heat inside.

Layering: My grandma taught me about layering clothes before I ever went camping. She had no heating system or hot water in the winter at home and knew how to keep warm. The layers needed are a base, mid and outer layer. Here's more about layering clothes for winter camping.

Breathable: While we need clothing that can retain heat we also need clothes that can breathe to prevent sweating too much. These garments are going to cost the buyer more but will perform much better.

Socks: Many of us suffer with freezing feet when we're cold weather camping and hiking. Popular materials used for hiking in the winter are woolen types like merino wool or a mixture of wool and another fabric. Other fabrics are also used or a mixture of them but try not use cotton because it retains moisture and does not insulate very well. We want moisture to wick, not retain!

Like other clothing socks need to retain heat (not moisture) and breath well. Its best to have a couple of pairs spare for changing especially if they get wet. If you suffer just as bad as me with cold feet try using a quality pair of merino socks and liners.

Buying: I always buy my gear from a decent outdoor store and purchase the better brands. I have a few stores I trust and use their advice. This saves doing lots of research and searching for cheaper gear although I understand its hard for some to afford many of the top brands. Look out for sales and closeouts to get some quality gear you'll be surprised at the bargains that can be picked up.

Shelter

The most basic of shelters is what's called a four season tent. Most tents people use are 3 season that will not suffice when it comes to very cold conditions and snow.

A 4 season tent is built with stronger materials making it possible to retain more heat inside, have a stronger structure and they're made to shed snow. An issue that arises is condensation with these tents from the warm air a person breaths.

The other two issues are the increased cost of a four season and the extra weight if a person is backpacking.

Sleep System

We're going to need good sleep system for winter camping that will include a down sleeping bag (not synthetic) and a sleeping pad that offers good insulation.

Sleeping bag: A down sleeping bag will offer more warmth although a user will need to bring some warmth with them when they get inside because down has that kind of damp feeling at first. The main issue with Down is if it gets wet it wont keep the user warm and will take forever to dry if it gets damp from condensation inside the tent.

Sleeping Pad: I would suggest a sleeping pad rather than the large sized air mattresses that are comfortable and fine for summer camping because they don't offer adequate insulation and warmth between a user and the floor. For comfort certain types of air pads are great while using a closed cell foam pad underneath as well or just using a quality air pad if your backpacking will suffice.

Pads with a high R-Value like the Therm-a-rest Neoair or even better the Exped mats are great winter pads but they're bit pricey.

Various Winter Camping Tips

Toilet needs: I drink a lot of coffee and tea which leads me to need to go to the toilet just as I get inside my bag. I have a spare plastic bottle to pee in to prevent leaving the tent until the morning.

Firewood: Dry firewood can be hard to find when its cold, damp or when its snowed. If you have a small tool then cut/chop out the outer part of a log to remove the damp then this can be used for kindling and the main fuel. Tinder is likely to be the hardest to find so have some with you even if its just some paper.

Keep moving: Most of us know that moving generates heat within our bodies. Its advisable to keep moving as much as possible even before bed. If your body has generated heat before you get in your tent and bag its going to create warmth inside much quicker.

Hot Water bottle: Many cold weather enthusiast's will create a hot water bottle to put inside the sleeping bag before climbing in helps. Something like a Nalgene bottle will do.

More Advice Needed And Related Topics

Above you'll find some basic winter camping tips and an idea of what you need to do, however, research each section of advice here in more depth.

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