5 Must Have Essentials For Winter Camping
Despite the difficulties brought about by the cold and the snow, winter can be one of the best times to go camping. The quiet of winter offers solitude and peace that cannot be found during other times of the year. Everything is muffled with snow on the ground, and few are brave enough to get out in the cold, meaning you’ll be able to pick any campsite you want. Short days and frigid nights also require that you rise with the sun and cuddle into your tent as soon as it get dark, which is a soothing experience that attunes you to nature.
However, being prepared with the right gear makes or breaks the winter camping experience. It is also important for safety, as staying warm when temperatures dip into the single digits or below prevents dangerous outcomes such as frostbite and hypothermia. If you are going to be winter camping make sure you have the following five essential items.
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The Right Sleeping Bag
A high-quality sleeping bag is the most important item you have for keeping warm during cold winter nights. All sleeping bags are rated for certain temperatures. Generally, sleeping bags appropriate for winter camping should be rated for comfort at 0° F or lower. Think about the lowest temperatures that you will encounter while you are camping and make sure the bag you buy is designed to keep you cozy within that range.
Every sleeping bag is rated by the EN 13537 Standard, which provides a number for the comfort range, transition range, and extreme or risk range. The comfort range is the temperature rating we have already discussed, while the transition range is the temperature at which a normal man will begin feeling cold but is not shivering and the extreme range is the temperature at which you are in danger of contracting hypothermia. Look at these numbers closely and make sure a sleeping bag will keep you safe in the temperatures you will be experiencing before purchasing it.
The type of insulation that your sleeping bag is made with also has an impact on how warm it will keep you. Down sleeping bags are better at holding heat in than those lined with synthetic insulation, and are therefore a superior choice for cold weather camping. However, down insulation is also more expensive. A great compromise are bags made with both types of insulation, strategically placed to maximize warmth, breathability, and your wallet.
Sleeping pads do more than provide cushion while you sleep. By lifting you off the ground, they also insulate, ensuring you won’t lose heat from contact with the cold earth. While all sleeping pads perform this function to some degree, comfortable sleep in frigid temperatures requires a sleeping pad with extra insulation. The rating that you want to look at is R-value, which refers to the thermal resistance of a sleeping pad. R-values of 3.5 or higher are appropriate for winter camping.
Tent With The Proper Climate Rating
For cold weather camping you will want a four-season tent. Designed specifically for winter camping, the name four-season tent is a bit misleading as these tents are typically too hot to use during any other time of the year. Unlike most three-season tents that have ample ventilation, often with walls completely made of mesh, four-season tents are completely sealed off, preventing wind, snow, and any other kind of weather from penetrating its walls. Some ventilation is still important though, as this will stop frost from building up inside the tent and then melting as your body heat warms the interior. It may seem counter intuitive, but keeping vents open will stop your tent from becoming wet, and is important to keeping it warm. Large vestibules, where you can move around easily, also help to keep your tent dry since they provide an area where you can remove all wet clothing before entering the tent.
Rigid poles and steep roofs are other features of four-season tents that help them stand up against heavy snow and rough weather. The extra tough material that these tents are made from means that rain flies are not necessary. In fact, single walled four-season tents are often more desirable since they are lighter weight and more compact. However, if you plan to set up camp for a long period of time, a fly can add structural integrity to your tent, and make it even warmer.
A Good STove
A stove that works well in the cold is integral for successful winter camping. Liquid-fuel, also known as white gas, stoves work as well in sub-zero temperatures as they do on balmy days. Investing in a white gas stove is crucial for winter camping, as snow will often be your only source of water and must be fully melted before it can be used. A little over 8 ounces of fuel per person per day will be enough to melt water for everyone and cook your food.
The Right Layers
Layering your clothes is key to staying warm in the winter. Although wool is incredibly cozy, it won’t dry quickly and is not a good choice if you sweat easily or know that you will be experiencing wet conditions. Moisture wicking materials are your best bet for a combination of breathability and warmth. A standard combination of layers has a t-shirt or tank top at the bottom, a light long sleeve shirt as a base-layer with a fleece or insulated puffy jacket as a mid-layer above that, and finally a softshell or hardshell jacket to keep out the wind and the cold. Which kind of shell you choose depends on preference, but generally softshells are more breathable while hardshells are more waterproof.
Layering your bottom half is also important on cold days. A tight pair of long johns under your snow pants will keep your legs cozy, while a good pair of wool socks will warm your toes. Only wear one pair of socks at a time, since wearing multiple pairs doesn’t increase warmth and can cut off circulation.
When layering, always make sure there is some space between layers. This allows your garments to breath, releasing any cool air that might get trapped when you first put them on and extra heat that would otherwise cause you to sweat once you get moving. It also makes layers less restrictive, and good circulation is important to staying warm. Finally, bring extra layers if you know it will be wet, since nothing cools you faster than wet clothes in freezing temperatures.