How to camp in the winter: top ten gear items

A beginners guide to winter camping: Part 1 – Gear

It’s true, with a little bit of preparation and planning, you can be comfortable camping outdoors in the winter. Solitude, beauty and even comfort await for those who do it right.

For some, winter camping means staying in a cabin or hut in front of a warm fire in the evenings. While this is awesome and amazing, and very comfortable, sharing a packed hut with a bunch of smelly hikers or skiers is the drawback. When you sleep in your own tent, you have your own privacy and silence.  No need to wake up at 5 am just because other people are.

The two main things you need to address are preparation and gear. Let’s start with the proper gear you’ll need. Here is a list of ten things you should not go without.


1.  Lots of Layers

The main rule of winter camping is to stay dry and warm. This is the season when layering is the most important, as there are quick consequences to being cold, especially damp and cold. If you want to learn about layering, read our article on how to layer here.  Dress warm, and bring extra clothes for over-dressing.

winter camping

2.  Three season tent

Most three-season tents will do just fine in the winter unless you expect heavy snowfall and strong winds.

mountain hardwear 3 season tent

Most 3-season tents will work perfectly fine unless you are in a huge snow storm. Here we are using our mountain hardwear 3 season tent on Columbia Icefield.

3.  Stove

Bring a white-gas stove such as the MSR Whisperlite, which work best in the winter. Canister (propane) and alcohol stoves work well too, but you usually have to stick them in your jacket or sleeping bag to warm them up before they’ll work properly. Or, you can try the BioLite stove if there are enough sticks around to use for fuel. As an added bonus you can have a little campfire contained in the stove that you can use for warmth (or roasting marshmallows).

msr whisperlite stove - winter use

My avalanche shovel blade made an ideal platform for my msr whisperlite stove while camping on columbia ice field.


4.  Headlamp

Bring a good headlamp with fresh batteries. Check out our headlamp buyers guide to help know what to look for when buying one.

northern lights tent

Sometimes the night sky will be bright, but you still need a headlamp! Image from

5. Removable Liners

If there is less than a foot of snow, you can hike in your waterproof hiking boots and not worry about using skis or snowshoes to get in.  Choose boots with removable liners; since boots won’t dry outside, removable liners can be taken out, dried and warmed up in your sleeping bag. I always sleep with my ski boot liners in my sleeping bag, it’s the only way to go.

hiking in the snow

6. Wear a fire proof shell

Having a fire is one of the most enjoyable parts about camping. For some it’s hard to imagine camping without a campfire.  If you’re building a fire in the winter for cooking, warmth or just to improve morale, make sure to wear a fireproof shell.  We all know how stray embers can damage clothing, and damaging our expensive jackets is frustrating. We’ve all been there!  Wool is one of the best, and very fire resistant natural materials out there. Down is the worst, and once your down jacket is punctured, you can easily loose a lot of feathers very fast.

7.  Roomy sleeping bag

Having a bag that’s warm and roomy enough is very important. You won’t be able to sleep if you’re cold.  It helps a lot if you have room in your bag to wear extra clothing and to stick your boot liners inside to dry them and keep them warm. You’d be surprised how effective your body heat is in drying these liners.

8. Sleeping Pad

You will either need a special winter sleeping pad that’s rated to negative temperatures, like the Exped Downmat, or to layer your regular sleeping pad with a closed cell foam pad.  These insulate your from the snow and keep your body heat away from it which causes the snow to sink and melt.

thermarest ridge rest

The Thermarest Ridge Rest is great to couple with a regular inflatable mat if you don’t have a winter mat.

9. Bring a thermos and an insulating sleeve for your water bottle

Cold water is tough to drink, you won’t feel like it, and in the winter your body uses a lot of water to keep your body warm. It’s important to stay hydrated, and warm liquids are the way to go. We also recommend sleeping with your waterbottle tucked in your sleeping bag. When you wake up thirsty, you can quench your thirst without freezing your mouth.  It’s also a good idea to go to bed with a hot water bottle. All Nalgene bottles are safe to use with hot boiled water, so stick one of these in your sleeping bag to warm it up.

10. Extra hat and gloves

In case you spill liquid on your gloves or loose one, it’s always a good idea because it’s something that you cannot do without.

Now that you’ve got the gear, read Part 2: preparation and advice on winter camping.

Do you have any other items you take with you when winter camping? Share them with us here.



Alicja is an economist, enjoys climbing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing, cycling and gets out into the backcountry as much as possible. See all of Alicja's Blog Posts