Winter Camping Basics

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See also: Gear lists

In winter it is a little more critical to pay attention to yourself than in summer, but it's not rocket science. Here's some of the basics.

Bring the correct gear and clothes

Many things you can learn on the fly during the trip, but only if you have the right stuff with you. The VOC trip you're about to embark on probably provided you with a list for a reason. Check it twice.

Notice how the list says no cotton? That's because cotton is very cold when wet, takes forever to dry, and has basically the worst warmth/weight ratio going. There is no reason to bring cotton clothes into the backcountry in winter. Jeans, flannel, sweat pants, sweat shirts - these are all generally made of cotton. Check the tag if you're not sure.

Boots are another thing which may have a tendency to cause misery. If you're not sure about your boots, consider borrowing some real mountaineering boots (preferably double-plastic, like ski boots) from the VOC. If your boots suck, an extra pair of socks or two and some plastic bags might help. But sometimes it's nice to have boots which don't suck. Nothing is more waterproof than plastic.

During the day

Use layering to keep your body at the right temperature - don't let yourself get too hot and start sweating, and don't let yourself get too cold. As a general rule, strip down before you're too hot and layer up before you're too cold.

Don't forget to eat and drink! You'll need that energy to keep moving and stay warm.

At night

The trick is to go to bed warm. If you go to bed warm and get cold during the night you'll wake up (and hopefully do something about it). If you go to bed cold and get colder you may not wake up, and that would be bad.


Since you're not moving around your metabolism will slow down - don't go to bed cold, it will only get worse. Consider running around a bit before you go to bed to get your inner furnace going (but not so much that you start sweating). Eating fatty foods for dinner will help, since your body needs to spend some energy (which creates heat) to digest them.

The sleeping bag

If you're cold wear all your clothes in your sleeping bag. Those people who told you that it interferes with the bag keeping you warm when you were a kid were lying or crazy (maybe both). Insulation is insulation - the more you have around your body, the warmer you'll be (of course, don't wear anything which is so tight it restricts blood circulation). A good trick is to prepare a nalgene full of boiling water to toss in there with you, it will pump out heat for hours.


Booze doesn't help you stay warm, it just prevents you from noticing how cold you are (although it can increase blood flow to extremities, which can make you feel warmer at the expense of your core temperature). It's not a good long-term strategy. If you're going to consume some alcohol be sure and stay sober - drunkenness is for the city.