What to Bring Winter Camping: An Essentials Checklist
Before heading out, you’ll need a gear checklist to ensure you have the equipment and high-quality clothing that will keep you dry, comfortable, and well insulated during your winter camping experience.
So we reached out to winter camping expert Meghan Young, cofounder of PNW Outdoor Women, to ask which items she believes are the most important to put on your winter camper packing list and compiled them all here.
Winter camping essentials
A solid tent
“Your shelter is very important in the winter, and while you do not need a four-season tent under the right conditions, you will want a reliable, sturdy tent that’s waterproof,” Young says.
Be sure to use a tent footprint. It will help keep you warm by providing insulation between your tent and the cold ground, and prevent moisture from dampening the tent floor.
A shovel has many other useful purposes as well: digging a fire pit, collecting fresh snow to boil for drinking water, moving the embers around in a campfire, building a rain trench around your tent, leveling the ground where you pitch your tent, and more.
“You will burn more than you think in the winter, and it’s important that you keep your body fueled up for whatever you ask it to do,” says Young.
Make sure your navigation skills are up to speed and that you’re familiar with how to use all of your devices so you’re not fumbling with them in the cold during a stressful situation. Also try to keep your extra batteries inside pockets or close to your body to keep them warm to prevent draining in the cold.
PLB or satellite communication device
As Young states, “Anyone traveling through or below avalanche terrain should bring avalanche gear and should also have the appropriate training required to deploy it.”
Taking a class on avalanche safety is recommended any time you plan on being in the backcountry in the wintertime.
“You need warm baselayers that wick sweat and moisture away from your skin. These are the often unsung heroes of your winter gear kit—including socks,” says Young.
Waterproof layers, including boots
Your body heat is also strongly influenced by how warm your feet and toes are. A solid pair of waterproof boots are vital for winter camping and trekking, and wearing thick, insulated socks is just as crucial.
A warm hat and neck gaiter
Choose a hat made of high-performance synthetic materials, preferably with technology like Omni-Heat Infinity for added warmth, and wear it to bed to prevent body heat from escaping during the night.
A high R-value sleeping pad
It’s also a good idea to have an emergency foil blanket with you, often called a “space blanket.” Similar to jacket technologies like Omni-Heat™ Infinity, these thermal blankets keep you warm by reflecting your body heat back to you. They also provide a water-resistant covering.
The 10 backcountry essentials
It's a good habit to bring these 10 essentials with you any time you venture into the wilderness, but especially during winter treks. While you might only utilize a handful of them or perhaps none at all on a typical trip, it’s easy to understand the importance of keeping these items on hand if something goes wrong.
- Food/nutrition – Have enough food not only for your planned excursion, but pack extra should you be out longer than expected.
- Water – Use a water bottle or hydration pack and bring a water filtration system. In winter, have a way to boil snow into drinkable water.
- Headlamp/illumination – Bring a good headlamp or flashlight and double-check that the batteries are working.
- Fire starters – Keep fire starters such as matches, a lighter, and tinder in a dry place in your pack.
- Knife/repair kit – Bring a sharp knife or multi-tool.
- Sun protection – Wear sunglasses, sunscreen, or clothes with sun protection. (Recent studies show that UV-protective clothing can work even better than sunscreen.)
- First aid – Bring a kit with the standard essentials you’ll need for any emergency. Be sure to stock extra of any medications you take. )
- Insulation/extra clothes -– Carry an extra set of warm clothes, including a puffer jacket and fleece midlayers, for additional insulation or in case you get wet. Opt for extra-warm technologies like Omni-Heat Infinity and Omni-Heat Helix.
- Shelter – Bring a quality tent and make sure it is with you at all times—this will be especially important if you have to camp in a snowstorm.
- Navigation – Before heading out, be sure you have proper navigation skills and tools and know how to use them.