9 Tips for Staying Warm While Winter Camping

There’s no escaping it, cold temperatures come with winter camping. But don’t let thoughts of frigid fingers and toes stop you from pursuing that overnight ski tour or snowshoe adventure. With the right tips and tricks, you can stay warm while winter camping, and get the rest you need to charge hard on the next day’s mission.

Camping on snow, of course, requires extra calculation of your gear as well as the environment through which you’ll be traveling. In our quest to make you a more capable winter adventurer, we’ve covered a range of winter topics so far:

Give those articles a read to boost your knowledge. Then, dive into the advice below for the one thing every winter adventurer seeks to know:

How to Stay Warm While Winter Camping

If you want to have a good time and feel rested for the next day, staying warm at night is a critical component of winter camping.

Dress in layers

First things first, dress to impress for cold-weather camping. Dressing in multiple layers—including base layers, mid layers, puffies and shells—gives you greater control over regulating your body temperature. As you move through the activities of the day, you’ll work up body heat. As you do so, it’s important to avoid sweating, because as it dries, sweat cools, wrapping you in a cold cocoon. Managing your body heat by constantly adding and subtracting layers helps you prevent sweating as much as possible—a key component of staying warm on winter adventures.

Get out of sweaty clothes (pack an extra baselayer)

Once camp is constructed and you’re ready to settle down for the evening, remove your sweaty layers ASAP. While it may be hard to strip down in harsh conditions, you’ll be grateful you did. Throwing on dry clothing revives your warmth. This includes your socks. Then, layer up with as many pieces as you need to feel comfortable. Top them all off with a parka-grade puffy.

On the coldest nights, tossing on a hardshell jacket over your giant puffy can be a solid move, because shell jackets trap heat exceptionally well. There’s no shame in sleeping in a hard shell if it means a good night’s rest.

Two sleeping pads are better than one

Your camping mattress insulates you from the cold ground and snow. And two pads add up to greater insulation and warmth than one. A pad’s warmth (technically, its thermal resistance) is measured by its R-Value and the good news is, the R-Values of two pads add together to offer combined insulating power.

From pros to recreationalists, the tried and true two-pad combination is a winter-grade air sleeping pad with reflective fabric, layered on top of a closed-cell foam pad with reflective fabric. It’s hard to get warmer than this setup in a light, packable sleep system.

Utilizing at least one warm sleeping pad and potentially layering a sleeping bag with a quilt are excellent components of a sleep system designed to make staying warm while winter camping easier.

Layer up a sleeping bag + quilt

Finding gear that offers winter warmth yet remains light and compact in your overnight pack is tough. That’s where layering your winter sleeping bag with a featherweight quilt can be a game-changer. These days, advanced materials make sleeping bags and quilts lighter and more efficient than ever. For hardly a weight penalty, a featherweight quilt provides insurance against the coldest of nights, delivering that extra layer of ultralight warmth that can make all the difference.

Put a hot water bottle in your core region (not at your toes)

Rather than filling a Nalgene® bottle with hot water and placing it at your toes (the typical advice), place it instead in your groin. From that core position, it’ll heat the blood that travels throughout your body, reaching all of your extremities and warming your whole body up faster. The difference is noticeable and this little trick might just be the first one you pass along to the next camper. Just remember—use caution when dealing with hot water, as it’s easy to burn yourself.

Wear a balaclava to bed

You lose a significant amount of heat through your head. In fact, covering your dome is one of the fastest ways increase your body heat. But, beanies and jacket hoods tend to slip off during the night. A balaclava, on the other hand, stays put, trapping that hard-earned heat. In addition, it provides a breathing hole for ventilation. Layer it under a beanie or hood for maximum warmth as you drift off to sleep.

Vent your tent

While it may seem counter intuitive, airflow in your tent is important during the winter. As you breathe, you release hot vapor inside the tent. When those water droplets hit the cold tent fabric, they collect as condensation, which freezes. Opening the vents on your tent, even partially, helps prevent you from waking up entombed in an icebox of frost.

Remember, when it's cold, you're body needs extra calories to keep warm. Consider calorically dense foods that are high in protein to help keep your internal furnace burning.

Eat & drink—a lot

Your body burns calories to stay warm, so snacking constantly keeps your internal furnace cranking. At night, high-fat and high-protein foods burn slower than high-carb meals, and keep you sustained (and warmer) longer.

Hydration is also a key factor in how well your body functions in the cold. Allowing yourself to become dehydrated only strains your ability to stay warm. Drinking plenty of water reduces fatigue. If all that water causes the need to go in the middle of the night, do so. Your body spends energy to heat the liquid in your bladder, so the trip outside is worth it.

Hand warmers, heated gloves, heated boots

A little extra help from technology goes a long way toward confronting the cold with confidence. While you can’t bring a space heater, can you bring compact solutions to keep your fingers and toes warm, well functioning and ready to handle the tasks before you. In the end, the more comfortable you are, the more rest and energy you’ll have to tackle your winter endeavors and enjoy the solitude of camping in the snow.