How To Start Winter Camping

Where does one start if you have discovered that you enjoy overnight camping in the summer but now want to try winter camping?  This list assumes you have some camping gear (backpack and sleeping bag) and at least some summer time camping experience.

  • Making the trip enjoyable should be your primary goal – not how many miles you cover or how fast you get to your destination.  Some of our most enjoyable trips involved falling short of our intended destination.  Frame the trip as winter camping, not winter hiking.
  • Be prepared.  Research books, internet web sites, discussion boards and blogs devoted to winter camping for tips and recommendations.
  • Borrow, rent or improvise gear for your initial trips.  Winter camping can be gear intensive. Snowshoes, sleeping bags, down booties, extra clothing can be expensive – especially if they are only used once.  If you can’t borrow gear improvise; use two summer sleeping bags instead of an expensive down winter bag.  Quality gear tends to last years so you can be stuck with something for a very long time.
  • Start by extending your camping season.  Try winter camping in late March or early April when there is still snow, but temperatures are moderate and there is more daylight.
  • Take extended day hikes and prepare a meal.  This is a great way to introduce kids and novices to the winter camping skills without worrying about sleeping over-night in cold temperatures.  An extension of this would be to try a hut-to-hut excursion.
  • Join experienced friends and/or hiking organizations to learn the ropes.  You can also use these contacts as a source to borrow your initial gear.
  • Keep it close.  You only need to be outside in the woods, you don’t need to go very far in the winter to escape civilization.  The closeness of your home or vehicle gives you a bail-out option if things go badly.
  • Consider a sled.  If the trip is short and level you can bring additional gear by towing a sled.  This lets you start with heavy gear and transition to lighter gear as you get more serious.  For example, if you don’t have lightweight down booties for the initial trip you can add your Sorel Pacboots to the sled and ensure warm feet in camp.

Do you have suggestions for a beginner?

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5 comments to How To Start Winter Camping

  • Rick Brown

    Nice website. I wanted to start winter camping this year but it’s not something my friends and family are jumping at. Did it a couple of times when I was a teenager (Sudbury area) and would like to do it again.

    From April to October I summer camp (almost every weekend)


  • Eric

    I am very interested in going winter camping with a few of my friends. How do I find some places that will allow us to go winter camping?

  • easton locke

    well this is my first year of winter camping i hav camping from out west in cold condisions to out east in wet warm condishions i no some what to exspect my friends hav done for the last 3 years we r going to algonqin on the north side i think that i am pretty much prepared i hav all my gear just need to vbuy food the most important part

  • Bob Lewis

    thanks this was helpful. I just learned I will be camping in Co. this october. I know nothing about it and have determined not to leave it to other novices or fate. I want to learn and the tips you left are the beginning of my trip. I have boots,clothing \, tents, and all camp gear to learn about .

  • I think the motto for winter camping is learning how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. These are harsh environments — cold air, slicing wind, winter storms, ice, sleet — and I love being out in the winter. But it’s no easy stroll, so I often remind myself to accept the challenge. Dealing with the cold is what you have to do to see some astounding sites like frozen waterfalls or snowy vistas.