How to winter camp: Seven tips to prepare to winter camp

How to camp in the winter: Part 2, Preparation

Thinking about trying out winter camping but not sure where to start? In part 1, we went through the top ten gear items you need to winter camp.  Now, below seven tips will help you prepare and understand how to plan before you get there.


1.  Choose your spot with care

If you’re just trying out winter camping for the first time, pick a spot that’s not too far or ambitious to get to.  Pick a scenic and/or at least sheltered destination that’s not far in case things go wrong and you need to bail. It will make it less overwhelming.

For example, think of a backcountry campground thats very busy in the summer and is not far, or even a front country (car camping) campground that’s a little ways from the road and not used in the winter. This will give you a good introduction to winter camping if you know you can get out fast in case you need to. Of course, don’t camp at a closed campground.

Choose a spot that you know has available firewood. A fire is always great, and this is especially true on long, dark, winter nights.

winter camping

2.  Water

If possible, make sure there is a water source so you don’t have to melt snow for water. Melting snow for water is time consuming and uses a lot of fuel.  If there is a frozen lake or stream with running water underneath and you are not far from your car, consider taking an axe to chop the ice.

In addition, snow doesn’t have any minerals in it and tastes really bad, so you have to add electrolyte powder or drink mixes like Gatorade to improve the taste.  Spend a few days drinking only snowmelt and you will feel like you’re missing something; it’s the minerals and electrolytes.  Stream and alpine water tastes the best, but depending on where you are may need to be treated.

3.  Use snow to wash up

In the summer it’s easy to clean with river water, but in the winter without running water, washing up is a little more complicated. Snow works well for washing up: it’s slightly abrasive so it works great getting pots clean.

4.  Pack down your tent pad

Pack down the snow  Before you set your tent down, make sure to firmly stomp out a proper platform.  When you sleep, your body heat will naturally melt the snow beneath you and if you don’t have a proper level hard surface to sleep on, your sleeping platform will be lumpy and uncomfortable.

Winter camping near mt. baker

Here we are winter camping and skiing near Mt. Baker

5.  Stash your food

If you’ve left food out and you’re in the forest, you can be sure that clover little critters will sniff out your offerings and you’ll be left with a bag full of teeth and claw marks!  Since the big animals, like bears are in torpur over the winter, you need to keep little rodents away from your food.  Burying it in the snow in a stuff sack is the best option.  You can also hang it on a tree away from your camp.

6.  Good food

Make your first winter camping experience memorable by bringing yourself a good dinner with appetizers and desert including protein rich foods like cheese and chocolate. You burn a lot of calories when it’s cold so it’s important not to go to bed hungry.

winter camping food

Eating fresh sausages at 14,000 feet on Denali

7.  Bring a book

The nights are long and it’s hard to hang out outside on cold nights, you simply can’t get warm enough just standing around and you’ll want to dive in your sleeping bag early.  Make sure to bring a book, music or a game you can play with your tent mate to pass the time before you’re tired enough to sleep.

If you’re wondering what gear to take, read our blog about top ten things you should take with you when winter camping.

Do you have any more advice on 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