Cold Weather Camping

Winter Camping Tips III

This winter has been pretty mild in Colorado, even though we had a blast of cold weather yesterday that dumped up to 4 feet of snow in some places in the mountains.  It can be quite tempting to plan a trip and get out on a nice day when it’s 50 degrees, but it will still get cold at night.  Always keep a close eye on the weather forecast when camping in the winter and spring.

Even with a lot of snow, camping can still be enjoyable in the winter time.  In my last post on this topic I talked about a few different things about winter camping, like what meals are good, how to dress, and a few other tips.  Today I am going to focus on the coldest part of the night; sleeping.

For shelter, a roomy dome tent is your best choice.  The tent’s shape helps to prevent snow build up on the roof.  You will need plenty of space inside for all of your camping gear.  A rainfly will help prevent condensation in the tent that could make your supplies damp and cold.

Before setting up your tent stomp around with snowshoes or boots to trample down the areas your tent will sit on.  Once your tent is up, have a friend sit inside and push the walls out while you pack snow against the bottoms outside to provide extra insulation.  Each night before entering your tent, brush all of the snow off carefully to avoid getting the inside of your tent wet.

You should never use a propane stove for heat inside of a tent, that can be a fire hazard as well as cause fumes that can be fatal during the night.  If you must have heat in your tent, one of my favorite tricks is to lay down some boughs in a 2’x2′ section of the tent, then lay some 2″x2′ branches on top.  Using leather gloves, you can carry in some rocks from the campfire and set these on the branches.  The larger the rocks, the better, and these rocks will actually stay warm for quite some time.


Tips for Cold Weather Camping

Never sleep directly on the ground, always add some insulation like dried leaves or grass, then put a closed cell foam mattress on top of them, then your sleeping bag.  Cardboard is a good insulator on the ground too if you have the room to bring it.

There are a lot of very expensive winter sleeping bags you can get, up to $600, and they will keep you warm.  But that is not very practical for most of us.  If you know a few things, you can be just as comfortable in a $100 bag, or even less.  Here are some tips:

  • Use a sleeping bag that is appropriate for the conditions. Two +20ºF sleeping bags, one inside the other will work to lower the rating of both bags.
  • Use a bivvy sack to wrap around your sleeping bag. You can make a cheap version of this by getting an inexpensive fleece sleeping bag.  It isn’t much more than a blanket with a zipper but it helps lower the rating by as much as 10 degrees.
  • Use a sleeping bag liner.  There are silk and fleece liners that go inside the sleeping bag.  They will lower your sleeping bag’s rating by up to 10 degrees.
  • Or buy an inexpensive fleece throw or blanket and wrap yourself in it inside the sleeping bag.
  • Most cold weather bags are designed to trap heat.  The proper way to do this is to pull the drawstrings until the sleeping bag is around your face, not around your neck.  If the bag also has a draft harness make sure to use it above the shoulders and it snugs up to your neck to keep cold air from coming in and warm air from going out.
  • Don’t burrow in – keep your mouth and nose outside the bag.  Moisture from your breath collecting in your bag is a quick way to get real cold.  Keep the inside of the bag dry.
  • Put a trash bag over the bottom half of your sleeping bag to help hold in the heat.
  • A zipped up coat pulled over the foot of a sleeping bag makes an extra layer of insulation.

As always, remember your suvival gear.  Happy winter camping!