Essential Winter Camping Gear

Essential Winter Camping Gear

Those who truly love camping love it year-round. Weathering the winter winds can be just as rewarding as sleeping under the summer stars. Of course, the keyword there is “weathering” — so if you’re going camping in the cold, make sure you pack the proper equipment!

The following items will help you stay prepared for the elements on your next winter camping adventure. Read on to discover what you’ll need, and how it will keep you and your party protected.

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What Makes Winter Camping Different?

Camping in the winter will be colder than going during other seasons — but that’s not all that makes it different. In addition to planning for extreme temperatures, you’ll also need gear built for environmental conditions such as ice and snow. Winter campers in backcountry regions will also need protection from howling winds, freezing rain, and avalanches — you know, all the fun stuff!

Finally, make sure you carefully study the area you plan to camp in before leaving home. That’s common sense for campers at any time of year, but in winter, it’s especially crucial since emergency help will likely be harder to reach and will take longer to arrive if you need it.

The Winter Camping Gear You Can’t Go Without

This gear can be useful on any camping trip — in fact, we don’t even recommend that you go camping in the summer without it. However, winter camping trips usually require specific versions of the items listed below, or additional knowledge on using them. Read carefully, so that you’ll know the difference between a sleeping bag that will save your life and one that will just turn you into a frozen burrito for bears.

Warm Clothes

Layers are the law when it comes to camping — but in winter, you’ll need to choose them extra carefully. Just throwing a sweater and some wool socks over generic long underwear won’t necessarily be enough to stop a chill from seeping in through the fabric. We recommend the following three-layered approach:

  • An inner layer of thermal underwear made from moisture-wicking merino wool or synthetics
  • A mid-layer made from either flannel or fleece
  • A top layer that offers strong protection against wind and moisture (such as a ski jacket with a GORE-TEX membrane)

As a general rule of thumb, winter campers should avoid clothing made from cotton. Cotton fabrics can absorb as much as 27 times their weight in water, and don’t hold body heat nearly as well as synthetic or merino wool products.

Extra Food

As we’ve mentioned in other posts, high-calorie food is your friend when you go camping in the wintertime. The more energy you consume, the more heat your body can produce while burning it, making fat- and protein-rich foods ideal. Stock up on bacon, pre-cook a pot of chilli, and pack a few frozen beef burritos — you’ll need to eat roughly double your regular daily caloric intake to keep your energy up. Yum!

Clean Water

What, did you think you could just melt snow to make water? Well, you can — but only if you have a way to purify that water before you drink it. Bringing water purification tablets and a portable stove will allow you to top up your supply if you’re camping in a snowy region. That said, it’s still a good idea to fill your canteens and hot water bottles before embarking.

Shelter

Pay special attention to your tent and sleeping bag while packing for a winter campout. It’s vital to take a tent that is rated appropriately for the conditions you expect to face.

We strongly recommend taking a 4-season tent, as they are made from stiff materials and generally designed to be more compact. These qualities make them sturdier in high winds, less likely to collapse under snowfall, and better at insulating heat.

Mummy bags are generally better for cold-weather camping than standard rectangular sleeping bags. The extra room in a rectangular bag may seem more comfortable at first, but your body will have to produce more heat to warm the excess air between you and the bag as you sleep. Mummy bags are much more snug, meaning you’ll lose less heat at night.

Finally, make sure to carry an emergency shelter on your person to use if you get separated from your campsite and can’t find your way back. Tarps and spare blankets can serve this purpose in the spring or summer, but it’s a safer bet to carry a bivy sack in winter.

Firestarter

You always need a way to start a fire when you’re camping, but winter campers can’t always rely on finding firewood at their campsite. Snowy tinder will most likely be too wet to burn, so you’ll need to bring your supply or pack an artificial heat source. Portable stoves will also help you melt snow into water, as mentioned above.

A Knife

There’s no such thing as a knife just for winter, but you’ll want any utility knife you bring on a winter camping trip to satisfy a few criteria. Firstly, you might want to bring a knife with a brightly-coloured handle so that it won’t get lost if you drop it in the snow. Secondly, consider bringing a knife with a padded grip so that you’ll be able to use it comfortably in the cold.

First-Aid Supplies

Winter first-aid kits should come with a few items not found amongst typical medical supplies. Most of these are for preventing hypothermia by raising a person’s body temperature. You’ll want:

  • Hand warmers
  • A mylar blanket
  • Waterproof matches
  • An instruction manual for dealing with hypothermia and frostbite

Finally, make sure you take along a safety whistle and a pack of flares. You’ll need them if you become separated from your party or need to be found by a search and rescue team.

Navigation Tools

Don’t count on electronic navigation tools when you’re camping in sub-zero temperatures. Battery-powered devices are notoriously unpredictable in the cold, so take a map and compass along — and make sure you know how to read both of them. Pace counting beads can also help you determine how far away you are from your campsite if a blizzard obscures your tracks or covers up landmarks.

A Headlamp

Flashlights are great for lighting your way in the dark, but they’re not as good for helping you work in dim conditions — since you need an entire hand just to hold them. Lanterns are a great alternative when you can rest them on solid ground, but they’re more likely to sink or tip over when you put them in snow.

Headlamps provide reliable and controllable illumination while leaving your hands free. Just remember to take an external battery pack if you’re camping in the cold since these devices can be just as susceptible to battery problems as an electronic GPS.

Sun Protection

We know — now that summer’s over, you’ve already stowed away the sunscreen. Well, you’d better dig it out of the closet and pack it into your winter camping supplies, because the sun still shines in the wintertime.

What’s more, snow and ice can reflect up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays into your eyes and skin from unexpected angles, causing damage and obscuring your vision during potentially dangerous activities. Besides sunscreen, always bring a pair of polarized sunglasses on a retainer leash, plus a sun-hat and SPF-rated lip balm.

With Winter Camping Gear, Details Make the Difference

While you might enjoy camping in any season, not all of your gear will serve you year-round. Learning how to augment your regular loadout will ensure that you stay protected from bad weather and ready for action — even in the harshest environments.

Essential Wet Weather Gear for Camping in the Rain

Essential Wet Weather Gear for Camping in the Rain

Ah, the great outdoors — a world of endless potential. Every year, we help thousands campers book campsites online, flock to campgrounds across the nation to find recreation, relaxation, and sometimes… rain.

Unfortunately, inclement weather is a strong possibility in most of Canada’s gorgeous campgrounds, no matter where you go or what time of year you visit. Fortunately, though, a little rain doesn’t have to put a damper on your entire outing. With the right wet weather gear, you’ll be able to protect your sensitive items and shrug off all but the strongest storms.

Of course, choosing the right camping gear for wet conditions isn’t always easy. There’s no shortage of products being marketed to would-be campers as essential items, and trying to sort through them all unassisted can create major decision fatigue.

Picking out the correct products is just part of the work, too — you’ll also have to know how to set up your camp to make the most of them. That’s why we’ve come up with this list of wet weather camping items every intrepid explorer should take along when they venture into the wilderness.

What Do You Need for Wet Weather Camping?

There are three important categories you’ll want to consider when shopping for rain-ready camping gear:

  • Firstly, you’ll want to think about items that offer general protection for you and your goods.
  • Secondly, you’ll want to think about the clothing you and the others in your party wear to keep yourselves warm and dry.
  • Finally, make sure to consider specialty pieces of gear that will allow you to perform specific tasks (like eating and sleeping) without discomfort.

General-Purpose All-Weather Camping Gear

  • Your tent. If you plan on camping in rainy weather, you should know that there are such things as waterproof tents. They normally come with a waterproof rating (measured in millimetres) that ranges from 1000-10,000mm (anything below 1000mm is not considered a waterproof tent). However, don’t expect waterproof tents to repel rain forever. Most of them simply have a water-repellant coating, which will eventually come off and must be refreshed with the use of a tent-reproofing spray.
  • Your tarps. Hanging a tarp so that it is suspended flat in the air above your tent is an excellent way to add a layer of protection between it and falling rain. However, not just any piece of cloth will do when it comes to keeping away the rain. We recommend using a tarp made from Tyvek, which is traditionally wrapped around new houses to waterproof them. New Tyvek tarps can be stiff though, so throwing yours in the washing machine once or twice before you pack it will also make it easier to fold and store for the trip.
  • Your bags. All kinds of waterproof backpacks are available, but they tend to be fairly expensive. If you don’t want to break the bank, consider using trash compactor bags to hold items you want to keep dry. Make sure to avoid regular garbage bags though, since they’re not as durable as trash compactor bags and can tear easily, letting in water and defeating the entire purpose.
  • Duct tape. Not only can duct tape be an excellent tool for temporarily sealing cracks, but it can serve as kindling too! If you’re having trouble starting a fire during a drizzle, try burning small strips of duct tape instead of twigs to get the fire going. Just don’t burn it in large quantities or inhale the fumes.
  • Water-repellant sprays. We’ve mentioned tent-reproofing sprays already, but some sprays claim to have other capabilities as well. A few manufacturers state that their sprays can also block UV rays, which could help protect the skin of users camping on sunnier days.

Outdoor-Appropriate Clothing

  • Appropriate base layers. Lots of novice campers ignore layering because they feel that it’s too much of an effort to put on all that clothing. However, taking the time to layer up will make you much more comfortable in a broad range of conditions — including wet ones. Merino wool and high-quality synthetic garments are both strong choices, but they offer different advantages. Merino wool feels comfortable on the skin, has natural anti-microbial properties that prevent odour, and can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water before it actually feels wet. Synthetics, on the other hand, will often wick moisture, use the wearer’s body heat to help them dry, and may offer protection from UVA and/or UVB rays. You may also be able to find base layers that blend merino wool and synthetic fabrics.
  • A good-quality raincoat. Once you’ve chosen a base layer, make sure to cover it with a good raincoat. Take care to note the difference between a jacket that is actually waterproof and one that is merely water-resistant. A windbreaker might help you keep off a few droplets, but it will probably become saturated in a heavy downpour and leave you soaked. Try looking for jackets made from waterproof material that is still breathable enough to facilitate comfortable movement (such as GORE-TEX).
  • Waterproof hiking boots. When choosing footwear for rainy conditions, the most important thing to remember is to make function a priority over fashion. It might be tempting to purchase “hiking” boots made from stylish suede or nubuck, but these materials offer dubious durability and will more than likely be ruined by rain. If you must have leather footwear, opt for full-grain instead. For wet weather camping though, we recommend eschewing leather entirely and choosing boots made from synthetics like polyester, nylon, and polyurethane.

Specialty Items

  • Sleeping bags. Nobody really likes to sleep wet, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. Your best bet when choosing sleeping bags for wet weather is to avoid down and look for synthetic insulation — which dries out faster than down, even when it has been treated.
  • Hot plates. If you can’t start a fire and don’t want to use duct tape, consider portable cooking appliances. Waterproof hot plates do exist, but you can also set up a propane stove with a windscreen if the rain isn’t coming down directly in large quantities.
  • Waterproof electronics. For those of you who can’t read an analogue compass or didn’t think to pack laminated maps of the area, you’ll want to make sure your smartphones, GPS units, and other devices are protected with waterproof covers.

Setting Up Camp

You’ll be tempted to pitch your tent first when you reach your campsite, but if rain is on the way it’s a better idea to rig up the tarp first. Tie each corner of the tarp to a nearby tree (or a stake if you have one) and raise it off the ground until it hangs flat over the area where you’re planning to sleep. Once you do, you’ll be able to stay dry while putting up the tent (and you’ll have a dry spot you can always come back to between other tasks).

If you brought a hot plate or gas stove, you might be tempted to use it inside the tent so that food doesn’t get wet — but please, for the love of all that is good in this world, don’t do that. Cooking in an enclosed space made of fabric is literally a recipe for disaster, so make sure to do it in the open air. If there’s no more room under the tarp, look for an area with natural cover from trees and rocks.

Stay Wet-Weather Ready

Predicting the weather isn’t an exact science, and there’s always a chance that you could find yourself caught in a cloudburst during your next camping trip. Just remember: carrying the right gear and knowing how to use it can help you come through even the wettest conditions without sacrificing your comfort. Prepare yourself properly, and even a total deluge won’t be able to spoil your fun. In the end, life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass — it’s about learning how to camp in the rain.