How to Winter Camp Like a Pro

Posted on December 17, 2020 at 3:15 PM by Tom Swegle

Cartoon image of Outdoor Joe® winter camping

Camping in the Cold is Something Everyone Should Try

As soon as the weather starts to warm up, tents get pulled out, fishing hooks are set, and hunting gear is prepared. Heading to the great outdoors during summer for a camping trip is a past-time almost everyone has experienced at least once in their life! But have you ever considered heading out to the woods during the winter season?

Wintertime certainly has its benefits. Just think about it! Cold temperatures mean fewer bugs, fewer people, and the opportunity to enjoy the quiet calmness that only a winter wonderland can provide.

However, before you get all bundled up, make sure you’re well prepared to withstand the various challenges winter camping can present. Our experts have compiled a list of a few essential tips to help get you started camping like a pro amongst all that snow.

Things to Keep in Mind

Making Camp in Snow

The biggest difference between summertime camping and winter camping is that snow is likely going to be a part of the experience (assuming the area you’re going to camp has snow during winter!). Finding the right spot for your camping site is critical, and the perfect location should include:


  • Wind protection - something like a hill or bunch of trees will protect you against those cold winter winds.
  • Water source - water is essential to any camping trip, warm or cold. Before leaving, fill water bottles and be prepared to melt snow if a water source isn’t immediately available.
  • Avalanch risk - set-up your camp away from and not on or below a slope when snow could slide.
  • Hazardous trees - if a tree looks like has damaged limbs, stay away! The weight of snow may cause branches to break, so don’t take the risk.
  • Sunrise - find a spot the sun will hit as it rises. It will warm you up faster in the mornings!

Setting Up a Tent

It would be amazing to spend a night winter camping in a snow-built hut, like a quinzhee or igloo! But more than likely, you’ll be in a good ol’ fashioned tent for the night. If your camping site has snow on the ground, you’ll need to set things up a little differently.


  • Pack the snow down - before getting the tent set up, use your snowshoes, skis, or boots to stop down the snow tightly. It will keep loose snow from melting under you overnight, due to body heat.
  • Build a wall or dig out some snow - if possible, build a wall around your tent to help keep the wind away. Otherwise, dig out the snow a few feet down. You’ll be glad you did late at night.
  • Snow stakes - before you head out, make sure you invest in the proper kinds of stakes or buff sacks for winter camping; standard tent stakes won’t do the job.

The Ultimate Snow Fort

An image of a couple building a kitchen out of snow while camping

One of the coolest parts about winter camping is the ability to use, well, all the snow! Maybe you recall as a kid doing your best to build a snow fort, just hoping mom and dad would actually let you sleep outside. Now is the chance to make all your snow construction dreams come to life!

One of the best ways to use the snow to your advantage is your camp kitchen.

With the help of a shovel and sturdy waterproof gloves, dig out a table, benches, chairs, or even a usable freezer. Throw a tarp over the top of it, and you’ve got a functional, creative kitchen ready to enjoy.

The Most Essential Gear

Now, before you get too excited to go build that snow fort, we need to talk about priority number one for cold camping: staying warm. During winter, temperatures can fluctuate between day and night, and there is a real danger of frostbite and hypothermia if not properly prepared.


  • Tent - your tent has to be able to handle winter weather. We recommend a 4-season tent that’s built with sturdier poles and heavier fabrics.
  • Backpack - winter weather means carrying extra gear and clothing that’s warmer and bulkier. Invest in a larger pack than you may normally use, with plenty of room to pack everything you need for winter conditions.
  • Sleeping bag - finding the right sleeping gear is essential! Use a bag that's rated at least 10°F lower than the coldest temperature you expect to encounter. You can also consider a sleeping bag liner; the extra layer can add about 5 – 25°F of warmth.
  • Sleeping pad - look for a pad with an R-value of 4.0 or higher - these are built for winter conditions.
  • Outerwear - this may be the most important tip yet! The real key to enjoying cold winter camping comes down to what you’re wearing. Keep the following in mind to avoid heat loss:
    • Wear layers - base layer, middle layer, the outer layer (which should also be waterproof!)
    • Winter hat
    • Gloves or mittens
    • Socks
    • Eyewear
    • Footwear - if you’re going to be in deep snow, insulated and waterproof winter or mountaineering boots are a must


An image of a woman standing outside in the snow putting on multiple layers of warm clothing.


Remember: Our post is not meant to serve as your ultimate guide; it is only supplemental information. There are risk factors to consider when winter camping. Please be sure that you have sought all necessary information and understand the proper techniques and safety requirements for winter camping before you participate in any outdoor winter activity.

Make A Few Memories

With the proper equipment and a clear understanding of safe winter camping, you can head outdoors to a marvelous winter wonderland for the experience of a lifetime! Sure, it may be cold. But truly, there is nothing like the stillness that falls on snow-covered trees or enjoying breakfast while sitting on a perfectly built snow chair. 



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