Winter camping is not for the faint-hearted, yet sometimes you’ll find it required for longer backcountry excursions. It is also crucial to those who frequently find themselves in the mountains and lack the budget for the comforts of a warm hotel room bed every outing. Here are a few tips to keep you comfortable on those chilly winter nights.
1.) Flatten your sleeping surface.
Just like in the summer, you want to locate a flat sleeping surface, however another step must be taken when there is snow on the ground. If the snow under your tent is not flattened prior to curling up for the night, it will be hard to remove the lumps after your body heat makes them into ice.
2.) Get off the ground.
A sleeping pad with a high R-value (the insulating power of a material) is essential for staying warm while winter camping. It is often said that one layer beneath you is as good as three layers on top.
3.) Don’t tunnel down into your sleeping bag.
Exhaling into your sleeping bag will trap moisture in your bag. Cinch the hood down around your mouth so you can breathe outside of your bag, staying warm and dry.
4.) Prepare for the morning frost.
Moisture condenses and then freezes on the outer walls of your tent during the night (plus your sleeping bag and other gear). In the morning, all of this will melt and make everything wet. Some tents have built in vents that can be unzipped to reduce this during the night. Make sure to cover your gear with plastic bags or dry bags to keep everything dry for the day ahead.
5.) Go to the bathroom.
You’re nice and warm in your sleeping bag and nature calls. The last thing you want to do is emerge from your fortress of warmth into and into the wind and cold, so you procrastinate. Get it over with! The longer you hold it, the longer your body has to spend its energy on heating urine. It is a good idea to make a pit-stop before bed to try and avoid this situation if you can.
6.) Try the hot water bottle trick.
Fill your water bottle with boiling water and toss it in your sleeping bag before you go to bed. This is as close as it gets to an electric blanket in the backcountry. Not all water bottles can withstand boiling water, so make sure yours can do this before trying (Nalgene is usually the bottle of choice).
7.) Increase your body heat with calisthenics.
Do some jumping jacks before crawling into your sleeping bag to warm up your bag. If you wake up cold in the middle of the night, do some crunches.
8.) Fuel the fire.
Your body heats itself by burning calories. Make sure you stay well fed before bed and keep a snack within reach if you wake up during the night.
9.) Don’t sleep in thick clothes.
Your sleeping bag works by trapping in your body heat. If you sleep in lots of clothes, it insulates the bag from your body and keeps the bag from warming up.
10.) Bring a friend and cuddle.
We’re all friends here right? Huddle together for warmth. Use a coupling strap to keep your sleeping pads from sliding apart and one of you waking up on the ground.