Sleep In The Dirt

Campfire Chronicles: Justin Reiter’s Pro Tips for Winter Camping

The Campfire Chronicles

We caught up with Big Agnes Ambassador Justin Reiter, who has a slew of hobbies including mountain biking, road biking, golfing, yoga, camping, and most notably known for being a Vice World Champion Snowboarder and Mountain Athlete. We were stoked to get the time with him. When he isn’t traveling from adventure to adventure, he likes to call his Big Agnes tent home for days at a time in the snow-covered mountains where he currently resides.  Here is a little advice from Justin on the dos and don’ts of winter camping:

Winter camping can be an intimidating venture. However with prior preparation, proper gear and a few tips, anyone can enjoy the solace of a starry night in the snow. Read up, gear up, escape the summer crowds, and enjoy your favorite places having them all to yourself.Setting up your site:Once you’ve picked the ideal camp location–maximizing your view and minimizing your exposure–pack down the snow where your tent will be. A three or four-season tent will provide a bit more insulation for a frigid night. Your tent needs to be on a firm surface to avoid damaging the bottom. Also, pack down a large area surrounding your tent so walking around isn’t hindered by constant post-holing. The more time you take to establish the campsite the more enjoyable your experience will be. If the snow isn’t too deep you can also shovel down to the dry ground. Utilize the snow you remove to build a wall on the windward side of your tent. This will act as a barrier should the wind pick up. A well-staked tent is a happy tent. Using dead man’s anchors and ALL of your guy lines will ensure your tent is solid. Setting up camp is hard work, so be sure to regulate your temperature as you go. Layer appropriately to avoid sweating.*Keep your hands warm while working. Bring rubber dishwashing gloves that will fit over your outer gloves to keep them dry.


Once your tent is pitched it’s time to make your comfy warm sleeping nest. Utilize two sleeping pads. On the bottom, a closed-cell pad will provide a lightweight additional barrier against the cold. Above that, place your Big Agnes sleep system: an Insulated Air Core pad and the correct temperature-rated bag for the conditions, like a Storm King 0. Always bring a warmer bag than you think you will need. Dry sleeping clothes are essential. Keep extra long underwear, socks, and a hat that are designated to be slept in. If the liners of your boots are removable place them in your sleeping bag while you sleep at night. You’ll thank me in the morning when they are dry-ish and warm.

*Staying hydrated will help your body maintain warmth, but also make you have to pee often. Bring a designated “Pee Bottle” for late night tinkle times. No one wants to leave a comfy warm tent to venture outside for a wee. The bigger the opening, the better; no need for midnight target practice.

Water and Warmth:

Exposure and dehydration are your two biggest enemies while winter camping. I love using a Jetboil for its simplicity and speed. A hanging Jetboil harness works great to cook and boil water/snow for water in your tent. When cooking, keep the vestibule open and the tent well ventilated to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. When boiling water make sure you pour a few ounces of water in the bottom of the pot then add snow slowly allowing it to melt and collect gradually. This will avoid melting the bottom of the pot due to the intense heat. Make sure your water bottles are full before bed so you are ready in the morning to whip up some hot coffee, tea or cocoa. Store the water bottles upside down and off of the snow. The hanging harness also works as a makeshift candle holder through the night to increase the warmth in your tent and limit condensation. Bring slow burning emergency candles to light while you sleep. Before you embark on your camping adventure build a vessel for your candles to hang in your Jetboil hanger.

Winter camping truly allows you to connect with your environment. Though it demands more preparation and gear, the reward is greater. The views are grander and the trails are lonelier. It will require more of you and as a result it will give you more. The intimacy in nature lies not in the fact that we venture into it but that it ventures into us.

-Justin Reiter

Comments (3)

3 responses

  1. Reinhart Bigl

    Hi there, thanks for the tips for winter camping. I would like to point out that in my experience it’s a good idea NOT to try and use the tent as insulation…a wind break, yes, but if the tent is sealed up, the condensation from our breath would accumulate on the ceiling of the tent in the form of snow…so for instance in the morning if/when we touch the side of the tent, we would get a gentle (but not welcome) snowfall onto our sleeping bags. To counter this, we leave the tent doors partially open (including the screening) to allow for a free flow of air through the tent and preventing said indoor snowfall!
    Also, the advice to keep a sleeping layer is very good, but going outside for that 3am pee break eliminates the risk of missing the bottle…and the sky looks awesome that time of night!!!


    Reinhart Bigl
    Ontario, Canada

  2. Greg Borchert

    I enjoy winter camping as well, though think it is a lot of work. I hadn’t tried a candle overnight before so appreciate that tip. It makes sense that in a good four season tent a candle might warm things up a couple degrees, and would help with hoar frost. I’m curious what your hanging candle vessel looks like. Are we talking cardboard and aluminum foil?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.