Camping in Cold Weather

Even during the late summer, you can suddenly experience a chilly evening/night or run into a ‘cold snap’, so it’s handy to take along an extra fleece or sweater just in case.

However, this article focuses more on those who choose to go camping whatever the weather and how to be prepared for the sharp drop in temperature which makes camping in cold weather markedly different than a summer trip.

Winter or anytime cold weather is forecast is not the time to go camping solo. You should always camp with others and should leave an itinerary with a friend or family member, telling them where you’re heading and when you expect to return.


You’ll need to take extra layers of clothing with you. For the best insulation, wear wool and synthetic materials rather than cotton. Cotton won’t keep you warm once it gets wet and takes longer to dry out. Dark colours also help as they will attract warmth from the sun and remember to pack plenty of socks so that you always have a dry pair. Wearing a hat and scarf in bed will also keep you warm as the head and neck area allow body heat to escape. Also, take some fleece gloves or mittens with you. It’s often a good idea to sew these into the inner lining of the arms of your jacket or clip them onto it. You’ll soon come to regret it if you lose one or both of your gloves. In that eventuality, you can always use warm socks as a makeshift pair of mittens.

Inside your tent

The ground on which you pitch your tent will be far colder in winter so, if you have room to carry them, take two sleeping bag pads, a self-inflating one and a lightweight closed cell pad for additional insulation when camping in cold climates. Before you get into your sleeping bag for the night, fill your water bottle with hot water and put it in your sleeping bag where it will act as a hot water bottle. It’s best to place this near your feet. Even though you may want to curl up in a ball and get right inside your sleeping bag to go to sleep, it’s better to keep warm by wearing a hat and scarf instead. If your head’s inside your sleeping bag, moisture from your breath will make your sleeping bag wet and will reduce its insulating ability. Also, if you are an avid all year round camper, its well worth investing in 2 sleeping bags as there are bags which are thicker and warmer and specially designed for winter camping. Before you go to bed, warm yourself up by eating something, having a hot drink and standing by the fire. Remember, your sleeping bag will keep you warm but it won’t make you warm.

Food and water

When packing your water bottle, make sure you store it deep inside your backpack so that it doesn’t freeze. A couple of useful tips – if you store it upside-down the mouth of the bottle remains free of ice. You can also buy water bottle insulators which will help to keep it from freezing. Also, if it’s extremely cold and you don’t need to use some of your bottles for a while, fill them with hot water.

Eat often and carry plenty of food. You can burn up to 8000 calories a day when camping in the winter. Have plenty of hot beverages and hot soup and supplement these with fruit flavoured drinks, water and instant breakfast drinks. Caffeinated drinks are not recommended as they cause you to lose fluids. If you’re camping at altitude, remember that food takes longer to cook so try to plan meals that don’t take a lot of boiling. Consider taking an extra stove if you’re camping extremely high up as it takes a lot of fuel to melt snow for drinking water.

Health issues

Watch out for signs of hypothermia among your camping group. Uncontrolled shivering, poor co-ordination, mental confusion and mumbling are all symptoms. If you suspect someone might be suffering with hypothermia, get them into dry clothes and/or a sleeping bag. Have them huddle up close to a warm, dry person and give them a hot drink. Check for signs of frostbite and pay close attention to cold feet. Whilst fingers and toes and all other exposed skin areas are most at risk from frostbite, protected skin can still be vulnerable. You can spot signs of frostbite if you see white patches on the skin’s surface. If the skin does not return to its normal colour after applying gentle pressure, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Camping in the winter is not for the faint-hearted so if you choose to go camping over the winter months, it’s extremely important to be well-prepared.

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