How to Camp in the Snow


Bundle up and enjoy nature's snowy majesty.
Bundle up and enjoy nature's snowy majesty.
Heath Korvola/Digital Vision/Getty Images

There is something eternally calming about wintertime. While summer brings everyone to any and all available green spaces, the outdoor enthusiast that ventures out in the winter tends to find things a lot calmer and a lot less crowded. It may seem doubly so with snow, as it blankets the earth and quiets everything down to a hushed crunch as you walk through the woods, the tree branches heavy with a powdery layer.

So, if you're looking for a chance to get away from it all and reconnect with nature, then winter is a perfect time to escape for a camping trip. You'll find that the trails are pretty much empty, that your favorite campsites are open, and that magnificent view you're so in love with has taken on a completely different look in snow-covered form. Yes, there's nothing quite like a camping trip in the snow.

But if you're thinking of venturing into the snowy wild, you'll want to make sure you're prepared for what you'll be dealing with. It goes without saying that camping in the winter is going to be totally different than a summertime excursion. Camping in the bitter cold of a winter's night is certainly something you'll need to plan well to be as safe as possible..

Before you get started, you'll want to double check some vital facts. These include your route and whether you'll be on an established trail or not. Knowing those pertinent details will help you decide what you'll need to bring along with you. Also, what sort of snow levels and qualities should you expect? Are you going to be dealing with shallow and packed snow, or will the trail be covered in deep powder? Again, knowing what you're getting into before heading out will allow you to prepare properly [source Outdoor Action]. Really, as long as you aren't expecting extreme weather, such as massive storms, any sort of snowy conditions will be ripe for camping as long as you're prepared.

So, you've checked the trail and know what snow to expect, and you're already packed up and ready to go. The only thing left is for us to get our warm socks, slip on our hiking boots and trek on over to the next page, where we'll take a look at your essential checklist for snow camping.

Snow Camping Checklist

When beginning your snow camping adventure, you'll want to make sure that you have all the proper gear. A major difference between snow camping and summer camping is that the cold can truly ruin your trip if you're not careful. By gearing up properly, you'll ensure that you spend your time enjoying yourself instead of desperately trying to stay warm.

The first thing you want to make sure you have is the right clothing. The first step when packing what to wear is to make sure that you bring lots of layers. Doing so will ensure that you stay warm when temperatures are at their lowest, but you'll also be able to shed some clothes when you start to get a bit warm. Keeping a moderate body temperature is key, since overheating in the snow can be just as bad as being too cold. Some great fabrics for winter camping include wool, fleece and some sort of breathable base layer.

After you have your clothing sorted, it's time to begin thinking about how you're going to get all of your stuff to and from the campsite. When picking out your pack, you want one that's large enough to carry all of your stuff, but light enough to lug through the snow. Remember, hiking through snow is going to be much more difficult than hiking across summer trails, so you'll want to keep things as light as possible. Pack more fuel for cooking than you think you'll need, and take along one-pot meals, since trying to fix various portions of a meal wastes heat and fuel in the winter [source: Washington Trails Association].

Finally, you'll want to decide how you're getting to and from your campsite. Are you going to be hiking? If so, will you need snowshoes? Or perhaps you're going to cross-country ski to your destination? Having already figured out the type and quantity of snow you'll be dealing with, deciding between tramping or shredding should be pretty straightforward. No matter what you chose, make sure to check your equipment before you get going so that when you arrive at your campsite, you'll be ready to go.

And what to do once you arrive? Read on to find out some great snow camping tips.

Snow Camping Tips

Camping in the snow offers a different set of fun activities.
Camping in the snow offers a different set of fun activities.
Stockbyte/Getty Images

One of the first tips when snow camping is to be aware that you aren't either too cold or too hot. While it might seem silly to be concerned about overheating in the winter, wearing too many layers can cause you to sweat, which, over time, will actually cool you down. Wearing layers -- and being able to add and subtract those layers as you hike -- will help keep your overall temperature at a moderate level [source: BackPacking.net]. So, don't be afraid to peel a layer or two off with reckless abandon if you feel yourself getting overheated. Just remember to layer up once at camp so you can contain the heat and energy you've built up from your hike.

Once you've arrived at camp, the first step is going to be setting up your tent. First, you'll want to build a platform in the snow; then pack up a snow wall around the flattened area. Doing so will make a smooth, flat surface to sleep on while keeping some of the wind off your tent. After you've done this, you can go ahead and pitch your tent, unpack your sleeping bags and move on to what is possibly the best part of camping: the food.

Much like the camp, you'll want to hollow out a portion of the snow for your kitchen. You'll want to cook outside of the tent, no matter how cold it gets, since cooking inside a tent can leave you open carbon monoxide poisoning [source: Washington Trails Association].

While you're camping in the snow, eating well is going to be one of the most important things you can do. Having a good base of carbohydrates will ensure that your body is getting the energy it needs. And if your body is working, it's also keeping itself warm. Also, right before bed, it's a good idea to run around or do some jumping jacks in order to get the blood flowing through your body. That way you'll go to bed already warmed up [source: Washington Trails Association]. No matter the method, get some movement in before you bed down.

Finally, some odds and ends: You'll want to avoid eating snow in lieu of water. The energy it takes your body to turn the snow into a useful liquid isn't worth the amount of water you'll actually get. Also, make sure to have a good map and compass, since a lot of the trails you'll be using will probably be covered in snow. Much like life in general, knowing where you are is vitally important. Lastly, like most camping, you'll want to practice "leaving no trace." That basically means that everything you pack in with you, you pack back out. This practice will ensure a clean campsite all year long, even after the snow melts [source: Outdoor Action].

Finally, be safe, stay warm and enjoy the world in the winter.

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Sources

  • Clayton, Mark; Childrey, Don; Raichle, Brian; Sowers, Andy. "Winter Camping Tips." BackPacking.net. 1994. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.backpacking.net/wintertips.html
  • Curtis, Rick. "Outdoor Action Guide to Winter Camping." Outdoor Action. 2010. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.princeton.edu/~oa/winter/wintcamp.shtml
  • Howe, Steve. "Beginners Guide to Winter Camping." BackPacker. 2011. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.backpacker.com/blogs/634
  • O'Brien, Pat. "Snow Camping." Washington Trails Association. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.wta.org/hiking-info/basics/snow-camping