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 for being a Vice World Champion Snowboarder and Mountain Athlete. When he isn’t traveling from adventure to adventure, he likes to spend a few nights away from home in the snow covered mountains where he currently resides. We were stoked to catch back up with him and grateful that he shared some of his pro-tips for comfortable winter camping.
Winter camping can be an intimidating venture. However, with preparation, proper gear, and a few tips and tricks anyone can enjoy the solace of a starry night in the snow. Read up, gear up, and escape the summer crowds while enjoying your favorite places with a new perspective.
First Things First: Setting up camp
Finding the perfect spot isn’t easy. The ideal site location has limited exposure to the elements and a lot of visibility. Once you find a great spot, pack down the snow where your tent will be and the area surrounding it, so you won’t be post-holing while moving around your tent. The end result should be a very firm surface to ensure the bottom of the tent doesn’t get damaged. The more time you take to establish the camp site, the more enjoyable your experience will be. Next, utilize all that snow you just worked so hard to remove and build a wall around your tent, or at the very least on the windward side of your tent. This will act as a barrier from the wind if the weather gets intense. Also, a well-staked-out tent is a happy tent, so don’t be afraid to utilize dead man’s anchors and always use all of your guy lines to ensure sure your tent doesn’t budge during any freak windstorms. Setting up camp is hard work, so be sure to pay close attention to your body temperature and layer appropriately.
Pro Tip: To keep your hands warm while working, bring a pair of rubber dish-washing gloves to use over your outer gloves to make sure they stay dry.
Start Comfortable, Stay Comfortable: 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, make sure to keep the vestibule open and the tent well-ventilated to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. When boiling water, pour a few ounces of water in the bottom of the pot, then slowly add more snow allowing it to melt 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 drink or coffee. Store the water bottles upside-down and off of the snow.
Pro Tip: The hanging harness also works great as a makeshift candle-lantern to increase the warmth in your tent and limit condensation. Before you embark on your camping adventure, build a vessel out of glass or metal for your candles to hang in your Jetboil hanger, and bring long-lasting emergency candles to burn while you sleep.
Counting Sheep Comfortably: Sleeping
Once your tent is pitched, it’s time to make your uber-warm-and-cozy sleeping nest. To prevent cold air from sneaking into your sleeping bag, it’s best to use two sleeping pads. On the bottom, a closed-cell foam pad will provide a barrier against the cold frozen ground. On top, you will want to place your Big Agnes sleep system; an insulated pad and a cold-weather sleeping bag that is rated appropriately for the conditions you’ll be in. Always bring a warmer bag than you think you will need, since it is much easier to cool down than add warmth. Also, dry sleeping clothes are essential. Pack an extra pair of long underwear, socks, and a hat that you can put on before heading to bed. If your boot liners are removable, place them in the bottom of your sleeping bag while you sleep to keep them out of the elements. You’ll thank me in the morning when they are dry-ish and warm.
Pro Tip: 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. The bigger the opening, the better; no need for midnight target practice. No one wants to leave the comfort of a warm tent to pee, only to get cold again and spend even more energy warming yourself back up in your tent.
Winter camping truly allows you to connect with your environment and experience it with a different perspective. Though it demands more preparation and gear, the reward and satisfaction is well worth it. The views are grander and the trails are lonelier and much quieter. Sure, It will require more effort from you, but as a result it will teach you more about yourself. The intimacy in nature lies not in the fact that we venture into it but that it ventures into us.
Justin Reiter is a Big Agnes Ambassador and an accomplished world-class snowboarder. While he has since retired from competition, Justin now travels the world sharing his passion for snowboarding as a coach and exploring and recreating in new hard-to-reach places. Whether it’s on overland-mobile, motorcycle, bicycle, or his own two feet, Justin is always searching for the next adventure.