25 Winter Camping and Cold Weather Tips

Winter Tent Camp Gear
         Winter tent camping in the snow with campfire

Cold Weather and Winter Camping Tips

• Cold Weather Clothing and Sleeping Tips
• Winter Camping gear Tips

Planning and Preparing for a Cold-Weather Winter Camping Trip

These winter weather tips and tidbits for camping or backpacking in snow and frigid temperatures are presented in a brief “listed” format, but where more detailed information is needed – a link to related sources is provided.

This information is based on extreme cold and snow camping and hiking conditions but is easily adjusted for more moderate camping weather.

  1. Know the weather and ground conditions before you go.
    Just knowing there is snow on the ground is not enough. How much snow, and what kind of snow – powder, hard-packed, or crusty is important too. Know the weather forecast. Check local area travel conditions for your camping destination before you leave home.

    This planning step is listed as #1 because it can affect everything else involved in a camping trip.

    • Don’t assume anything – make sure every camper knows the trip’s agenda and expectations. and – what gear they will need.
      • Here is a winter camping clothes and gear checklist to give you some ideas.
    • Planned activities will take more time than they do in warm weather camping – especially camp set-up and cooking. Allow almost twice much time as you think is needed.
    • Pack your gear in the right order – both personal and camp gear
      • Winter camping even affects the order in which you pack your gear. Pack your camp gear so that the pieces you want first are packed last, then you won’t have to dig through the whole load to get to your tents first.
        • Unpack coolers first. Then you can set things you don’t want in the snow on top of them while you set up camp.
        • Next should be any folding tables or chairs, then your tents, ground covers, tarps/poles, and camp tools like axes and shovels

        Pack your personal gear the same way.

        • Extra socks, gloves, hats, carb snacks, and hot beverage mixes on top
        • Next should be the clothes you plan to change into before climbing into your sleeping bag for the night

        Here are some Get Ready for a Camping Trip Tips

    • Make sure you know, and can recognize, the signs of hypothermia and frostbite.
    • Always have a Weather Channel Radio in your gear, preferably one that has an automatic weather alert alarm.
Here is a good example available on Amazon now:
NBOAA and PEAS Weather Alert Emergency Radio


Cold Weather and Camping Gear

Winter tent Camp Gear
         Winter camping gear in the snow
  1. Camping gear performs differently in cold weather
    • Propane stove performance degrades as temperatures drop (especially colder than 15°F),- everything will take longer to cook. Cold weather propane cooking could use as much as three times more fuel, and liquid fuel stoves twice as much.
    • In cold weather; liquid fuel stoves work better than propane, and propane works better than butane. (How to pick the right camp stove for you)
    • Cold weather also reduces battery performance. Take your flashlight and/or extra batteries to bed with you.
      *Lithium batteries last longer and are least affected by cold temperatures.


    • Take a propane canister into your tent at night – it will work better than one left out in the cold all night (which may just barely work – if at all)
      • Butane pocket or BBQ lighters are practically useless if left out overnight – be sure to have some matches.
    • Use black trash/lawn & leaf bags to cover equipment when not in use. Overnight – they make snow clearing a snap. During the day – they will absorb whatever solar heat is available to keep the equipment warmer than uncovered equipment.
      • *this works especially well to help keep bulk water containers from becoming blocks of ice during very cold days, and a black-wrapped propane cylinder will perform better – if there is any sunlight that is…
    • Turn personal water bottles and canteens upside down, overnight, so the part that freezes first is the bottom.
    • Fill a coffee or cooking pot with water before you go to bed. It’s hard to pour frozen water, but if it’s already in a pot it is ready to easily melt for use.
    • For base camp-type set-ups, a “Welcome” mat or carpet sample mat will make standing at the stove more comfortable than standing on snow or frozen ground.
    • An extra inexpensive 5’x7′ or 6’x9′ coated poly tarp, ($3 at Dollar Stores, $8 at Amazon), can be used to make a windscreen “wall” around your cooking table.

Tent Camping in Cold Weather and Snow

Winter tent Camp Gear
         Winter camping gear in the snow
  1. Tents and Cold Weather Sleeping:
    Tamp down, (compress), the snow that will be under your tent before setting it up – this will prevent creating “ruts” under your sleeping bag and gear.

    Be prepared for frozen ground that you can’t drive “typical” tent stakes into. Use heavy-duty or flanged stakes, or even “dead-man” anchors for the tent and tarp guy-lines.

    External-frame tents – ones where the tent clips to the tent frame/poles – are easier to set up in extreme conditions than ones where you have to slide the tent poles through loops or sleeves.

    A sleeping pad, (not an air mattress), is a must. If using inexpensive closed-cell pads – two are better than one. Many winter campers use one closed-cell pad topped with a self-inflating pad, then the sleeping bag. An open-cell self-inflating sleeping pad offers the best insulation layer – cots and air mattresses offer the worst.

    Self-inflating sleeping pads are not a luxury
    camping sleeping pads

    *Check out this All About Self-inflating Sleeping Pads article to see how to pick the best pad for your needs.


    • Inexpensive handwarmer packs< have 1001 utility uses – other than just as hand warmers: Toss one, (or two), in your sleeping bag 30 minutes before getting in. Put one in each boot before you fall asleep – to keep them from feeling like ice blocks in the morning.

    • A tent ground cloth, (tarp), provides an important moisture and insulation barrier between the snow and your tent floor.
    • If you don’t have a winter or 4-season tent you can “winterize” your tent by covering it with a tarp – just make sure the tarp has grommet holes for tie-down lines.
    • Sleeping bag tips: If the temperature is lower than you bag rating
      • A bivy sack, (Bivy Bivouac Bag) or sleeping bag liner can each add about 5 – 10 degrees of warmth to your bag.
      • A zippered outer coat/jacket, (or even a plastic trash bag), pulled over the bottom end of a sleeping bag will help keep your feet warmer – if needed.
    • Always change into clean undergarments before going to bed. Your day clothes will contain body moisture whether you think you sweated or not. For extreme temperatures, sleep in your planned next day’s outfit.
    • Drink something warm, and eat something like an energy bar before going to bed. It will help your body generate more heat – helping you stay warmer – while you are sleeping.

For a really cozy warm tent, you can step up to the next level with a safe catalytic tent heater. They don’t use a flame for heat so there are no dangerous carbon monoxide fumes to worry about, and they come in sizes for large and small tents.

You can see our review of the two best fume-free catalytic heaters below:


Dress for Cold Weather Camping

tent in snow and Camp Gear         Winter Cold weather Camping Clothes
  1. Cold Weather Clothing:
    Most people know to dress in layers for cold weather – but do they know why, and what type is best?
     ★ Cotton is the worst material for winter and cold weather clothing! It not only absorbs and retains moisture, (body perspiration), but it also compresses when wet – losing all of its “dead-air,” (space between fabric fibers), heat retention capabilities.

    • Dressing in layers also makes it easy to add or subtract layers to compensate for different levels of activity
    • Baggy clothing, (at least not-too-tight clothing), will keep you warmer because it allows more “dead-air” insulation
      See detailed ‘How to Dress for Cold Weather’ camping information


    • Pre-pack inner and middle-layer clothes as complete changes in separate bags, (plastic grocery bags work well), and have the clothes you’ll be changing into after arriving at the campsite immediately available.
    • Make sure your socks are properly sized. Too tight socks will constrict blood flow and lead to cold feet sooner.
    • It is very important that your outer layer of clothing is moisture and wind-resistant – even if you won’t be in snow or anticipate getting wet. Wind will cut through even the heaviest clothing and coats quicker than you think, and your clothes will soak up air moisture you didn’t even know was there.

  2. Cold Weather Head and Neck Gear
    • A hat is a must – but a warm winter hat or toboggan, not a ball cap
    • a heavy-weight or wool neck gaiter is better than a neck scarf, and a balaclava will quickly be appreciated. (neck gaiter and balaclava examples)
  3. Cold Weather Footwear, Socks, and Boots
    Proper footwear is extremely important. This means your feet dress in layers too. And your boots must be roomy enough to allow for two pairs of socks, and a moisture-barrier layer if the boots are not water-proof.

    • The first sock layer should be a thin pair of synthetic socks that will wick moisture, (sweat), away from the feet. Followed by a thicker wool insulating sock.
       ★ two pair of cotton crew or athletic socks will not keep your feet warm!
    • If the camping or hiking boots are not water-proof, (not just water-resistant), a third water-barrier layer should be worn over the wool socks. (the old plastic “grocery bag” trick does not work very well.
      *Your footwear is the last place you want to scrimp – get good foot gear, (like these warm thick Merino wool camping socks), and cut-corners somewhere else – if you must.

    ★★★ Emergency tip: Always carry an extra pair of socks wrapped in two plastic grocery or bread bags. If your feet accidentally get soaked – you can immediately put on dry socks, and a plastic bag over them, to keep your feet insulated from the wet boots until you get back to camp.

  4. Cold weather gloves, mittens, and handwear
    Mittens will keep hands warmer than gloves, and mitten-gloves, (like these), are the “best of both worlds,” and the best choice for warmth, but a second choice would be a pair of wool or microfiber liner gloves, covered by an outer pair of water-resistant gloves.
    A single pair of thick ski gloves are the “least-best” choice.
    Always have “backup” gloves in case your primary gloves get wet.

Here is a winter camping checklist you can use for ideas for what you may need.

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Winter and Cold Weather Camping Gear
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