Sleep In The Dirt

Winter Camping Like a Pro

Essays From the Field

Winter camping isn’t as treacherous as you might imagine. If you pack the right gear and sustenance, and understand the basics of staking out a tent in the snow, you’ll be solid. Our best advice is to go with someone who’s done it before to really get your bearings within this new terrain. Test out your first night close to home, camp in your own backyard to gauge your tolerance for cold weather camping, you can always bail and warm up inside, but we don’t think you will.

So, you’re ready to give winter camping a go? Excellent.

Here are a few pro tips for winter camping, from a pro Jasper Gibson

Photo: by Jasper Gibson. Setting up a Copper Spur Expedition in the snow covered backcountry.

Setting up Camp

Pro Tip – If your tent has vestibules, dig down into the snow so you can store gear, cook food, put on your boots, and stand in there

Favorite Winter Camping Tent – Copper Spur Expedition

  • If you have skis it’s best to keep your skis on and stomp down a flat area, using a shovel will work too. DO NOT STEP IN YOUR TENT AREA WITHOUT SKIS ON. It will make depressions that you will fall into in your sleep!
  • Pull out your vestibule, and mark its imprint with your shovel or with footprints.
  • Fold the vestibule back onto the tent and start digging down 2-3 feet into area that the vestibule will cover.
  • Build in some steps to get into the vestibule, if you want, you can leave a little shelf (inside the vestibule) near your tent fly for a cooking or whatever you might want a shelf for.
Photo: by Jasper Gibson. Après in the backcountry, relaxing in the snow with gear spread out all around.

Layers & Sleep System

Pro Tip – Bring a lot of down

Favorite Gear – Star Fire UL 0°, Third Degree Foam Pad, Insulated AXL Air, Wool Sleeping Bag Liner, Fire Tower Belay Parka

  • Everything from your layers to your sleep system should be down – zero degree down sleeping bag, big down puffy, down puffy pants and down or synthetic booties. Down will keep you cozy! I always bring a mid weight and heavy weight down jacket for winter camping missions.
  • Bring a foam sleeping pad as well as an air mattress, bringing one or the other will not suffice. Having two layers of insulation from the snow will keep you warm and comfortable while camping. Look for high R-value ratings on your pads.
  • Sleep with anything that you want to dry out, including boot liners, gloves, jackets, socks, whatever. Sleeping with your gear is the best way to dry your gear.
  • Stash a hot water bottle at the bottom of your bag. If you tend to sleep cold and need extra warmth, heat up some water, put it in a nalgene and stick it into your sleeping bag. Boiling water will be too hot! Cool it down with snow or don’t bring it to a full boil. Also remove from sleeping bag once heat has dissipated or the water will suck out all of your heat.
Photo: by Jasper Gibson. Pouring out morning coffee in the Copper Spur Expedition Tent.

Food & Water

Pro Tip – Bring lots of hot drink/soup fixings

  • When it is cold out, you won’t want to drink regular ol’ water but it’s still important to stay hydrated. One of the best ways to do so is to drink hot liquids or eat liquidly soups.
  • I swear by Starbucks Via packets, tea, miso soup dried packets, ramen and bouillon cubes (bring extra, they’re light and really help with morale).
  • Bouillon cubes are a lifesaver. It sounds weird, I know, but add a bouillon cube to 10-16 ounces of hot water and it seriously feels like you’ve drinking a meal and it warms up your insides quickly! Not to mention they’re super light!
  • I always pack an extra pack or ramen or two. They’re light, they have lots of sodium, and can be a great appetizer for your bigger meal if you are needing something more.
  • Make sure you have adequate water, water management is huge while winter camping. It’s important to constantly have enough water which is usually accomplished by melting snow, unless you have an open stream or lake nearby.
  • When melting and heating snow for water, put a little bit of water in the bottom. If you put snow into a stove without it, the snow will burn and make your water taste bad and you’ll use up way more fuel than necessary.
  • Pee before bed! One of the worst things to have to do while winter camping is to get out of bed in the middle of the night. Not only does it suck to get out of your bag, layer up and put on your booties, it sucks to you wake up your tent mate. Also it takes energy to keep your urine warm so get it out of your body.

Starting to feel like a pro? As the weather cools down, get in some practice. You can start by getting the right gear in order and taking it out before the snow the starts to fly. Camping in the open air may be the best way to socialize this winter, time to add cold weather camping to your repertoire.

About the Author: Jasper Gibson is an outdoor adventure and lifestyle photographer based out of Salt Lake City and the Teton mountains of Wyoming. The isolated environments and harsh, inhospitable weather of the mountains in northern Idaho were Jasper’s playground while growing up and bred penchant type two adventures. If Jasper isn’t shooting commercially he can be found chasing athletes up remote rock faces or skiing unnamed lines in the forgotten ranges of the west.

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