There’s an increasing amount of research suggesting the more time people spend outside, the happier and healthier they are. But when the temperature drops and the snow flies, it’s tempting to pack away the outdoor gear and hole up indoors until spring. This winter, instead of hibernating, consider having an adventure instead: go winter camping. Intimidated by the thought of setting up camp during the colder, darker season? We have 15 winter camping hacks to help you out.
1. Use a yoga mat for extra insulation under a sleeping pad.
If you use a self-inflating sleeping pad under your sleeping bag, it’s necessary to have an extra layer of insulation between the pad and the cold ground. (Otherwise your sleeping pad—and ultimately you—will get cold.) Rather than buy another piece of gear, use a yoga mat as the insulating layer on the ground.
2. Make your own hot water bottle.
Before you zip in for the night, fill a Nalgene (or other BPA-free plastic water bottle) with hot water. Screw the lid on tight and stash it in the bottom of your sleeping bag. It’ll start warming up your bed before you go to sleep and keep you warm as you drift off.
3. Store clothes in your sleeping bag.
Waking up on a cold morning is even harder when you have to wear cold clothing. My favorite stay warm winter camping tip is to store the next day’s clothes in your sleeping bag with you. You’ll have warm clothes to wear the next day, plus they’ll act as extra insulation.
4. Reuse plastic grocery bags in place of tent stakes.
When the ground freezes, traditional tent stakes are no longer an option. Instead, reuse plastic grocery bags and some snow. Fill a plastic bag with snow and tie the handles closed. Then tie the handles of the plastic bag to the stake loops on your tent and bury the bag in snow. Repeat for each corner of the tent and vestibule.
5. Wrap fuel bottles with duct tape.
Fuel bottles that are used for camp stoves get extremely cold in winter weather and can cause frostbite. To avoid this, wrap your fuel bottles with duct tape to give them an insulating layer.
6. Choose lithium batteries instead of alkaline.
Alkaline batteries perform poorly in cold weather. To make sure you have power when you need it most, swap out the alkaline batteries in your headlamps and lanterns for lithium batteries. (But make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your gear.)
7. Pack homemade fire starters.
The cold, windy, or wet conditions you encounter in winter camping can make it difficult (or impossible) to start a fire. Make it easier on yourself by bringing along some homemade fire starters. We shared some ideas here. Or, another easy option is to fill an egg container with a few pieces of Match Light charcoal.
8. Vent your tent.
When you’re tent camping in the winter, it’s tempting to want to block all potential drafts. But don’t make this mistake! Be sure your tent has vents and don’t block them. Otherwise, condensation (water and ice) will build up inside your tent. The last thing you want on a winter camping trip is to get wet.
9. De-ice your tent.
In the morning, make sure to brush off any snow or frozen condensation that built up on the outside of your tent overnight.
10. Insulate your drinking water.
It’s easier to get dehydrated in the winter so it’s important to have access to good drinking water. Be sure to use an insulated water bottle for your drinking water so it won’t freeze.
11. Pack your clothing in dry bags.
No matter what time of year you camp, it’s important to keep clothing and gear dry. In the winter, this becomes a greater challenge. Instead of packing clothing in backpacks or duffel bags, use dry bags. Favored by boaters and paddlers, these bags are designed to keep their contents dry.
12. Make your pack water-resistant.
If you don’t have dry bags to protect your clothing, you can try a DIY option. Line your pack or bag with a heavy-duty plastic garbage bag and put your clothing inside. It won’t be waterproof but it will offer some protection from wet conditions.
13. Dry out your boots.
It’s inevitable that at some point, your boots or shoes will get wet. Try this simple trick for drying them out. Stuff your boots with wadded up newspaper and let them sit overnight. By morning, the newspaper should’ve absorbed extra moisture.
14. Bring frozen meals.
Rather than risking frostbite during meal prep, bring some heat-and-serve freezer meals created for stovetop cooking. You’ll have a hot meal with minimal time and effort.
15. Use hand warmers to warm up your phone.
Phone batteries (and other electronics) don’t respond well to being in the cold. If your phone gets too cold and shuts off, warm it up again using a hand warmer. Or, keep a hand warmer in your pocket next to your phone to keep it at an optimal temperature.