Authored by Tadej Kožar
Camping out in the cold weather can be quite the adventure; whether you’re sleeping under the stars in Antarctica, or surrounded by snow, ice, and sleet in the Arctic, the quiet of this sleepy season can be peaceful for the soul.
That said, it’s absolutely essential that you make sure you have the proper gear and equipment for camping in cold weather, and that you’ve packed based off a reliable camping checklist.
Camping in the cold requires more planning and gear than camping during summer does, and forgetting to pack certain things can not only make a trip mighty miserable, it’s also a health and safety thing (you want to return home with all your fingers and toes!)
So, with that in mind, you’ll find a complete checklist as follows; everything you need for cold weather camping.
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Essentials You’ll Need For Cold Weather Camping (Checklist)
Shelter From the Elements
When it’s cold out, taking refuge from the elements is an important thing to prepare for. Even clear, sunny weather can unexpectedly turn into rain, sleet, or snow.
When setting up camp, you’ll want to find a location that is especially good for establishing a heat source, ie a clearing that is surrounded by wood so you have ample supplies for a campfire (though also check out these best tent heaters).
You should think about things like whether there are any structures or natural resources which might block the wind (like an old hut, or a treeline), though if it is incredibly windy you’ll want to make sure you’re out of range of anything that could fall on your campsite.
If you start to get cold, don’t suffer it out, as it will only get worse. Instead, try putting a hot water bottle into your camping bag, or get up and do some exercises to raise your blood pressure, heart rate, and bodily heat generation.
Pack the following to help with shelter from the elements:
Cold weather camping checklist
➤ Tent: a 4-season tent, so it can handle winter. This post has a good guide to backpacking tents if you’re on a budget.
➤ Tent footprint (this is a ground cloth you place under your tent, which prevents wear and tear of your tent against the earth, but also adds an extra layer between yourself and the cold ground.)
➤ Tarp: comes in handy for almost everything (wind block, rain block, tent footprint etc)
➤ Tent necessities: extra rope, extra stakes, tent repair kit
➤ A 4-season sleeping bag; one that can handle winter
➤ Optional vapor barrier liner for your sleeping bag in extreme temperatures
➤ Extra clothing layers: you can take them off or put them on as needed
➤ Extra clothes: extra changes of clothes in case the other ones get wet
➤ Hot water bottle heaters
Clothing To Protect Against Cold Weather
When you’re camping in cold weather you’ll want to dress appropriately, even if this means bringing extra luggage. And it’s important to remember not to stay in wet clothing.
You’ll want to change wet clothes as soon as possible and let them dry. Wet clothing is a common factor in cases of hypothermia when camping; with an air temperature of 5 C (41 F) and wet clothes, your heat loss may be double the rate it would be if they were dry.
If it’s extremely cold, place the clothing you’ll wear the next day inside your sleeping bag with you. This is a great trick, as the sleeping bag acts as insulation that keeps both you, and your fresh clothes warm. When you get up, those clothes will be nice and warm for you to change into.
In a similar vein, you’ll want to make sure that all of your clothes are inside your tent so that you don’t wake up and find them frozen in the morning – especially shoes (it happens!)
When you dress, don’t over-layer to the point where you feel like your clothing is tight; you want to make sure that you’re are not restricting your blood flow.
It’s a common mistake among novice campers to wear too many layers of socks and then wear their boots, but this often means there’s not enough circulation to your feet. Here are some of the clothes you should have with you:
Clothing checklist for cold weather camping
➤ Long sleeved shirt
➤ Long-legged pants made of fleece or wool
➤ Sweater made of fleece or wool
➤ Long underwear made of fleece, wool, or polypropylene
➤ Hiking boots or waterproof shoes suitable to the terrain
➤ Socks made of wool, fleece, or synthetic material
➤ A shell jacket, insulated jacket, or parka made of a puffy material or down
➤ A warm hat, such as a stocking hat made of fleece or wool
➤ Gloves or mittens made of fleece or wool, optionally water resistant
➤ A warm scarf, such as wool
➤ An optional face-cover like a ski-mask if it gets extremely cold
➤ A raincoat, rain boots or rain boot covers like gators
➤ Sunglasses and hat
➤ Chemical or electronic hand warmers
First Aid Kit
Lowered or elevated body temperatures can be dangerous, especially when you’re exposed to the elements and you can’t get yourself to a temperature-controlled environment quickly. Therefore, you need to have a first aid kit handy, and you need to know how to treat hypothermia.
Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 F (37 C), but hypothermia occurs when your body temperature falls below 95 F (35 C).
To treat hypothermia, try to figure out the cause of the drop in temperature. Remove wet clothing items, and replace them with dry clothes. Drink warm broth or liquids to raise the body temperature, and be ready to leave the campsite for the nearest medical centre if conditions don’t improve.
This is one of the most crucial things to know about wilderness first aid. The thermometer you packed in your first aid kit (checklist of what to pack in your first aid kit below) will come especially handy in these emergency situations.
First aid checklist for cold weather camping
➤ A good first aid book
➤ Personal medications
➤ Thermometer; digital thermometers are more accurate and often easier to read
➤ Water filtration device
➤ Adhesive dressings like band aids for minor cuts or skin injuries. Having bandages of various sizes is always useful
➤ Sunscreen – yes, even in winter! (read this post about getting sunburned in Antarctica)
➤ Aloe vera for cold weather burns
➤ Insect repellant with DEET
➤ Hand sanitizer gel or hand sanitizing wipes
➤ Windburn and frostbite preventative such as Vaseline
➤ Safety pins; helps when securing large bandages or holding slings in place
➤ Scissors; small but sharp, used for cutting bandages or dead skin
➤ Tape (microfiber); used to hold dressings in place or to protect small cuts or bruises
➤ Tweezers; useful for removing splinters and other foreign objects from your skin;
Read this post on everything you should have in your travel first aid kit, or buy one of these already assembled kits from Amazon:
Beyond clothing, shelter, and first aid, you should also bring the following things no matter what kind of camping trip you are going on. These are camp necessities regardless of weather.
Camping necessities checklist
➤ Map of your area
➤ A torch (with extra batteries); remember that winter means fewer daylight hours
➤ Swiss army knife or other multi-tool
➤ Pen and paper; in an emergency situation, you may need to write down the signs, symptoms and details of the accident. Also keep a note of any life-threatening allergies and blood types of all family members in case of an emergency.
Every cold weather camping checklist should include food and proper cooking tools, as you’re likely to need to cook, eat, deal with leftovers, and dispose of waste.
Remember to bring extra ice to put in your watercooler if you’re bringing cold items. This will help keep your food preserved and protected from spoiling, though that said, if the weather is below freezing, you should be fine without it.
Cooking equipment checklist
➤ Water cooler to fill with ice
➤ Cooking tools: pots, pans, spoons, tongs, spatulas
➤ Eating tools: knives, forks, spoons, paper plates, plastic cups, disposable bowls
➤ Food safety and cooking: aluminum foil and plastic wrap
➤ Salt, pepper, other seasonings
➤ Cookers: portable camping stove and its propane fuel
➤ Fire starters: matches or a lighter
➤ Trash bags (leave nothing behind)
Food for Cold Weather Camping
Because you’re going to be out in cold weather, it’s important to bring along the right kind of food, and because you burn more energy in cold weather (your body works overtime to keep you warm), you’ll need to bring more food that you otherwise would for summer camping.
Buying whatever’s available from the nearest store might make you full in the short term, but it won’t suit you well in the long run. You’ll want food that is low in sodium, low in sulfur, and low in processed chemicals.
It also helps if your meals are warm. Aim for ready to eat dehydrated meals, snacks like granola bars, one pot / one skillet meals, and vaccum sealed meals.
End of Checklist
That’s the end of our cold weather camping checklist – let us know in the comments if you have anything to add.
Remember to stay warm, know your area, stay on the trail, and don’t be afraid to reach out to others for help if you need it. Keep drinking water throughout the trip even if you don’t feel thirsty so that you won’t get dehydrated.