10 Essentials for Winter Camping

Thinking of doing a little winter camping? The solitude and access it allows are awesome, but it takes a little knowledge to keep it comfortable. Try these tips to keep things running smoothly, and stay warm and dry.

Practice first in your backyard. Practice your shelter construction close to home. Whether you plan to use a tent or some form of snow shelter, figure out your systems and test your gear before committing and tackling an overnight in the backcountry.

Plan ahead. Have your camping location picked out ahead of time as part of your trip plan. If possible, camp at tree line or below to have shelter from the wind. Make sure your camp location is far away from avalanche terrain. Running water is generally not available in the winter, but if you can find, use it. This will save you a ton of time and fuel.

Pack extra dry layers. Your clothes will get wet building your snow shelter. You will sweat and get wet from rubbing up against the snow. Make sure you have several dry layers to change into once the shelter is complete. Stuff your boot liners into the bottom of your sleeping bag so they dry out over night and are warm to put on in the morning.

Vent your home. Make sure your shelter has adequate ventilation. Poke several vent holes in the roof of your shelter with your shovel handle, and if it snows overnight make sure you monitor them to ensure they stay open.

Don’t poison yourself. Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur from cooking in your shelter. Build an outside kitchen close to your shelter to ensure proper ventilation. White gas is more reliable in the cold than canister stoves. If you’re melting snow, plan on a quarter liter of white gas per person per day.

Snuggle up with a hot water bottle. Just prior to going to bed, heat some water and fill your water bottles to tuck into your sleeping bag. Wide-mouthed Nalgene bottles are easiest to fill from a hot pot. Having someone warm to cuddle with will also do the trick!

Go to bed warm. Run on the spot, do jumping jacks or go for a quick ski. Do whatever you need to do to avoid getting into your sleeping bag cold. This will also keep you from being tempted to over dress. Don’t wear all your layers in your sleeping bag—chances are you’ll wake up in a sweat and then cool down rapidly.

Don’t burn snow. When melting snow to make water, start with a small amount of water in the pot and add snow to it gradually to avoid burning it.

Create a base for your stove. Have a base for your stove, otherwise it will keep melting down into the snow.  A shovel blade works very well.

Use a pee bottle. A pee bottle will save you a trip outside and keep you from holding it in all night, which also makes you colder.