Summer might be over, but camping season doesn’t have to be! With the right winter camping essentials (gear and attitude), there’s no reason you can’t camp in colder seasons. Sure, there’s something special about long sunlit days and falling asleep to the sound of crickets and campfires, but nature doesn’t close up shop for the winter. No matter where you live, there’s always something outdoors to explore and experience.
Both Swedes and the Norwegians lay claim to the snappy one-liner—”There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”—and regardless of its origin, it offers some wisdom that applies to camping too. As long as you’re prepared for the elements, camping in the fall and winter months can be an adventure.
Here are 18 of the best cold-weather/winter camping gear essentials that will help you opt outside even when the snow flies.
1. Flytop Tent
For true cold-weather camping (think freezing temps and a chance of snow), you’ll need an extended cold weather winter camping season tent. Most tents that are designed for summer camping have a surplus of mesh panels to allow for adequate ventilation. And while ventilation is important in winter camping too (to prevent a build-up of condensation), you also need a tent that retains heat and blocks the wind. This model from Flytop is a 3-4 season tent that’s designed with winter weather in mind. With sealed waterproof seams, sturdy material, and a snow skirt, it’s a great option for the colder months. (Then again, for the ultimate in winter camping comfort, you could always use an RV instead!)
When the ground is cold (or frozen!), it’s important to have adequate insulation underneath you while you sleep. Place this Therm-a-Rest closed-cell foam pad between the ground and a self-inflating sleeping pad. (Otherwise, the ground will cool the air inside the self-inflating sleeping pad.)
During the fall and winter, a standard sleeping bag might not cut it. Before you head outdoors for the weekend, check your sleeping bag’s temperature rating. A sleeping bag’s temperature rating indicates the temperature at which the average camper can expect to stay warm. Select a bag that has a rating at least 10 degrees colder than the lowest temp you expect to experience.This mummy-style sleeping bag from Teton Sports is rated to 0 degrees.
Even inside the tent, it’s nice to have a way to keep your feet toasty. These insulated slippers from Baffin have slip-free soles and drawstring enclosures to keep out drafts.
Sometimes when you’re trying to get warm beside a campfire, you need a little extra help. This insulated camping blanket from Kelty is a cozy addition to a fireside camp chair. When you need to pack it up, simply use its convenient stuff sack.
6. Base Layers
You’ve probably heard it before, but staying warm in winter is all about layers. Start with a lightweight base layer (aka long underwear) that’s made from synthetic breathable fabric. It’s important that this layer of clothing—since it’s right next to your skin—is able to wick away moisture so you don’t get cold. Consider this fleece-lined set for men and this fleece-lined set for women.
7. Wool Socks
If your feet stay warm and dry, it’s more likely the rest of you will stay warm too. When it comes to winter footwear, you can’t beat a classic pair of wool socks for warmth. Try Carhartt’s wool boot socks for both men and women.
8. Snow Boots
Of course, having warm socks doesn’t matter if you don’t also have a sturdy pair of waterproof boots. Even if you’re not camping in the snow, boots can help keep you warm. Columbia's Bugaboot Plus III for men is a sturdy waterproof style that still has a flexible rubber sole for comfort. The women's Bugaboot Plus III is a similar style with an equally rugged design.
With shorter days and less sunlight, it can be easy to overlook the need for sunglasses. But even in the winter, UV rays can be damaging to your eyes (plus if it’s snowy, it can be really bright outside). A pair of polarized sunglasses should be included on your packing list.
The same goes for sunscreen. Even in the winter, it’s important to use sunscreen on areas that will be exposed to the sun such as your face and ears. This mini bottle is likely all you’ll need.
Considering that a winter campsite might come with snow, ice, or frozen ground, it’ll be helpful to have a shovel on hand. This easy-to-pack model can transform into a pickaxe and also comes with a carrying case.
12. Insulated Bottle
Whether you want to keep water from freezing or keep your coffee hot, an insulated bottle will do the job. Look for one that’s vacuum-sealed like this insulated bottle from Buzio.
On a cold morning, there’s nothing better than waking up to piping hot coffee. One way to make sure your morning brew stays at optimal drinking temperature is to make it using an insulated French press. Again, like the insulated mug, choose a French press that’s vacuum-sealed like this model from Stanley. This important design element will help the coffee retain its heat much longer.
14. Camp Stove
While popular, canister stoves don’t typically work well in cold weather. For winter camping, it’s best to use a liquid-fuel stove like MSR’s WhisperLite Backpacking Stove. (You’ll appreciate the hot food and drinks once you’re out in the cold!) And note, the fuel canisters are sold separately.
15. Weatherproof Matches
Being able to start a fire becomes even more important in cold or wet weather. In addition to some dry kindling and firewood, be sure pack weatherproof matches in a protective case.
A sled isn’t a must-have for winter camping, but it can make toting gear a lot easier if there’s snow on the ground. Consider bringing along an inexpensive plastic sled or this durable model from Shappell that’s designed specifically for hunting and fishing.
Since most of our body heat is lost through our heads, it’s best to cover up when the temperature drops. This wool beanie is made from 100% merino wool and comes in 13 colors.
Whether you’re hanging out at camp or burrowing into your sleeping bag at night, hand and foot warmers can help give you an extra boost of warmth. Try classic hand warmers or an Stay warm out there!