Being outdoors in winter brings its own special pleasures. The quiet and solitude of the backcountry is palpable. The natural environment is more personal. Writer Alan Kesselhelm captured it in his description of the experience of skiing across his native Montana countryside.
I ski toward the mountains in the gray distance. The trees stand sentinel in the forest: silent, ancient witnesses. A moose grazes in the willows by the streambed, flicking his ears, surviving another winter, this one easier than most. I strive for that in-the-now mantra. Glide, kick, pole. Glide, kick, pole. Let the mind drift, feel the flakes of snow melt against the warmth of my face, smell the pines, tune to the fathomless hum of silence. Be in this day.
If you’re lucky enough to be camping in winter, you have the luxury of picking the place to pitch your tent, even if you’re in a national park campground. No crowds, no bugs, no (hibernating) bears. But winter camping is different. It requires special thought and preparation that may not be as important in other seasons of the year. Of course, you’ll have the absolute necessities, especially clothing prior to embarking. Other than that, here’s 4 other necessities you’ll need:
- sleeping bag
- sleeping pad
- camping stove
- camping tent
Your Winter Camping Sleeping Bag
You’ve got two choices of insulation in your winter camping sleeping bag, down or synthetic.
Down Filled Sleeping Bags
Down weighs less, last longer, compresses smaller, and cost more. A down bag for winter should have 800-fill power rating or better. The fill number is a universally accepted rating for goose and duck down. As you can judge from the accompanying illustration, a 550 fill power would be medium and a 900 fill power rating would be very high. Look for a bag with a waterproof shell and back that up with a waterproof stuff sack. The bag is going to weigh two and a half pounds. Opened up it can serve perfectly well for summer backpacking or car camping. Buy a longer bag that provides storage space at the bottom for things like socks or batteries that you need to keep warm overnight.
Some suggested down sleeping bags in the same category
NOTE: Progress is continuing to be made in the process of waterproofing down with a water-resistant coating at a molecular level. This coating is applied at such a micro scale that it doesn’t add weight and doesn’t impact the ability of the down feathers to loft. Stay tuned on this one
Synthetic Insulation Sleeping Bags
Dries faster (in about 20% of the time compared to a wet down bag). Provides better insulation when wet and cost less. Make sure your sleeping bag is rated at least 10? lower than the coldest temperature you are expected to encounter. You can vent the bag if you get too warm.
A Suggested Synthetic Winter Sleeping Bag: Kelty Tuck EX 0 Degree ThermaPro RH Sleeping Bag
Your Winter Camping Sleeping Pad
R-value. R value refers to a pad’s thermal resistance and offers a way to compare the insulating efficiency of different pads. A pad that is warm enough for winter camping should have a minimum R-value of 3.5.
Recommended Winter Camping Sleeping Pad: The Exped Mega Mat 10
What seems like it would be obvious idea to anyone designing air mattresses is nevertheless a feature of the Exped Mega Mat 10 that is not shared by other air mattresses. That is, the air channels circulating air through the mattress are cut horizontally – side-to-side – rather than vertically or on an angle like most other mattresses. This keeps warm air inside the mattress rather than allowing it to escape top and bottom and results in the very high R rating of 9.5. The walls of the mattress are 3.9 inches high and vertical – also different from most other mattresses – making for a roomy, firm, smooth sleeping surface.
Other Winter Camping Sleeping Pad with Good R-Value: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm (5.7 R-Value)
Your Winter Camping Stove
Liquid fuel stoves (white gas) stoves tend to work better than butane canister stoves in winter. White gas works as well in sub-zero temperatures as it does in the middle of summer so you can count on it in any conditions. Compared to the per-ounce cost of canister fuel it is considerably less expensive.
A Suggested Liquid Fuel Stove for Winter Camping: MSR Whisperlite Universal
Your Winter Camping Tent
Winter tents, or “four season tents” have more rigid framework and steeper sides to withstand heavy snowfall. They are constructed to withstand heavy winds. The Geodesic design with its steep walls is an effective design that sheds snow and maximizes interior space. Good venting and a vestibule are important qualities of a winter tent.
A Suggested Tent for Winter Camping: Hilleberg Jannu
Your winter camping sleeping bag, your winter camping sleeping pad, your winter camping stove and your winter camping tent. If you pay attention to these four key pieces of gear and use other gear that meets the rigorous requirements of winter camping, you’ll turn the season into an opportunity for multiple “in the moment” outdoor experiences.
See more Savage Camper articles on Winter Gear for Camping and Hiking
- Wearing Gaiters in Winter Activity
- Layering Basics for Winter Hiking
- Rain Protection for Backpacking
- Dog Boots for Winter Hiking