Are you going winter camping? Don’t let the cold weather stop you from getting out and hitting the trails to see the white winter wonderland and all that it has to offer. But how to dress for winter camping?
Camping in the winter can be a great way to experience the outdoors during the colder months, but it can also be tricky to dress for correctly.
Warm clothing for camping will protect you from hypothermia and frostbite so don’t go out without the ones you need.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a novice camper, my tips will help you stay safe and comfortable on the winter camping trip.
Your secret to success in this season will be a good four-season tent and some appropriate cold weather camping clothes. Here’s your essential guide on what to buy, bring, and wear.
What should you wear for winter camping?
Dressing in layers is crucial when the temperatures are low and the wind is strong.
However, the type of material that you wear also plays an important part. Do you know which type of cold weather clothing will you put on?
How to layer for cold weather camping?
Cold weather is all about having multiple layers of clothes on you. If they get wet you can still take them off and put dry ones on.
You need to preserve the body temperature all the time so make sure you will have enough garments to change in.
These are the three winter camping clothing layers that you will need to wear and some other useful tips to stay warm in low temperatures.
Inner (base) layer
The innermost layer would be the clothing that you take off the last – your long underwear.
If you get cold easily but you don’t sweat that much, you’ll want to start with wool underclothes such as merino wool. But if you tend to sweat a lot, you’ll want polyester clothing.
The idea is that the fabric wicks the moisture away from your skin as this will cause you to quickly become over-chilled. Being wet and cold is a hypothermia risk that you must avoid.
Don’t wear cotton when you tent camp in the rain or snow as it doesn’t have the wicking properties like other fibers (but feel free to have it on while sleeping).
There are always some interesting new synthetic materials on the market, don’t be afraid to look at those either.
Middle insulating layer
The middle layer of clothing wears between your inner base layer and your outer clothing layer (jacket).
It’s made of thicker, warmer, or puffier material. Fleece, polyester, and down tend to be the main players here.
When it comes to the middle layer, you really can’t judge by the material and thickness alone, you need to try it on. Jackets are nice but don’t forget about the rest of your body such as fleece or insulated pants.
Winter camping pants
Winter camping pants or snow pants are one of the most important pieces of clothing that you will be thankful for having on.
As you will be active on your trip, the lower part of the pants can easily get wet. The moisture can penetrate your socks if you don’t wear waterproof pants.
Make sure you get pants that will be waterproof and warm enough to have active camping without being cold due to the moisture.
I am a fan of fleece-lined pants that are warm and won’t let the moisture close to your skin.
What is the meaning of a down jacket?
A down jacket is a winter jacket that you must consider having to warm your upper body. It is a type of warm garment that is filled with the soft plumage under feathers found on ducks and geese.
Manufacturers use either duck down or goose down, which has smaller diameter fibers to provide greater loft for trapping more warm air to insulate better.
A typical modern down jacket consists of two layers: a “shell” that provides wind protection and a “lining” that adds heat-trapping loft.
Down jackets are part of the equipment of mountain climbers, skiers, snowboarders, and other winter sports enthusiasts. In cold weather or at high altitudes they provide insulation against the cold.
Down is a lot warmer for the weight compared to other garment items, and can be rolled and pressed very tightly. It’ll last for a very long time if it’s taken care of correctly.
However, down loses all of its warmth if it gets wet, and tends to take a long time to dry. Cleaning a down jacket requires special knowledge, care, and materials.
Lastly, some people tend to be allergic to it.
Outer shell layer
Your outer layer is like the winterizing agent that makes you winter-proof against the wind, chill, rain, sleet, and snow.
The outer shell layer is the layer that keeps you dry. It also acts as insulation, so it should provide at least a minimum amount of warmth when saturated with water to prevent hypothermia in case of extreme weather.
Outer shell material should be breathable so it doesn’t trap too much moisture, which can lead to hypothermia.
The outer shell layer is the essential gear for winter campers that should also have a hood or a hat to protect your head from rain and snow.
This way you can add warmth by wearing only one fleece hat instead of two – the one that is already protecting your head from cold and wind.
Sometimes it is called rainwear, but you want everything that you pick to be actually waterproof and not just water-resistant.
Rainwear is on the winter camping clothes list that will stop the moisture from penetrating the rest of the clothing.
What does water-resistant mean?
Water-resistant means that it can withstand some rain for a while, but eventually, you will end up as soaked as if you weren’t wearing one at all.
Durable Water Repellent (DWR) or just Water Repellent is a new technology that causes water to bead on the hydrophobic material’s surface and eventually slide right off.
Moisture vapor transmission
You also need your outer layer to be breathable so that you can expel the perspiration that your inner layer wicked from your skin. Sometimes this is called Moisture Vapor Transfer.
Generally, softshells should be highly breathable by default. It should also have windchill protection by default of being waterproof.
You definitely want the full windproof label, and not simply wind-resistant, which means that it can hold up to mild breezes, but not fully-fledged storms.
Best cold weather camping clothes
Here you have two types of winter jackets that you can choose from when staying in winter conditions.
Bring 3-in-1 jacket
Another idea is a 3-in-1 jacket that acts as a windproof, waterproof, and breathable jacket typically made of fleece.
They tend to come with a second inner component so that you can just stash that in your pocket in case you don’t need it.
A 3-in-1 jacket is designed for transitional weather like that found at winter campgrounds where temperatures range between 35 & 65 degrees Fahrenheit (measured in Celsius, add about 10 degrees).
Many 3-in-1 jackets can be fully unzipped into a vest or completely removed to reveal the insulation layer below.
These winter jackets are designed for comfort, not warmth. These are the type of garments you’ll typically find in camping supply catalogs or big box sporting goods stores.
They offer great flexibility but will leave you cold if the mercury drops below 45 degrees F (7 C).
A hybrid shell jacket
You can opt for a hybrid shell jacket. A hybrid shell jacket is usually a combination of two or more different shell jackets and is specifically designed to fit and be worn properly, under a hard-shell “snow” jacket.
A hybrid shell jacket is a winter camping gear that is usually made out of either nylon/polyester, Goretex (or similar) fabric, or leather with Goretex (or similar) lining.
The main purpose of a hybrid shell jacket is to be worn as an outer layer (to protect the clothes underneath from rain or snow) and a secondary purpose is to provide insulation.
Leather is a good choice for a hybrid shell because it provides both physical protection, along with having Goretex lining, which makes it highly water-resistant and windproof.
Exactly how they are hybrid varies from product to product, so you need to read the label and have an idea of the kind of weather you will experience on your winter camping trip.
Must-have winter accessories
Now that we have taken care of the body, it’s time to protect the other body parts. This winter camping gear will protect you from the cold, elements, and moisture.
Have winter gloves on
Pack gloves or mittens to protect your hands from the cold. Not losing fingers to frostbite is always worth the reduction in dexterity.
Wear a ski mask
It’s clever to have a ski mask or face mask just in case the wind is blistering cold, a winter hat or beanie to cover your head and shade your eyes, and sunglasses for when the sun is right in your path.
Wear shoe gaiters
Make sure that the top of your shoes or winter boots is covered by your pants. If they aren’t, bring gaiters to keep your feet warm and dry.
Having shoe gaiters on while winter camping will keep the snow and water out of your winter boots and prevent wet socks.
Particularly in winter, where you are camping or hiking at higher altitudes, there is a much greater chance that you will have to cross rivers or streams with flowing water.
The last thing you want is to hike in wet shoes so get your shoe gaiters for protection.
Have the right sunglasses on
Wearing sunglasses in the snow and inclement weather is a smart idea to protect your eyes. Make sure that they are UV blocking.
To protect your eyes from the snow and light reflecting into your eyes, you want to wear sunglasses that are polarized.
These will reduce glare that could harm your eyes. You can also buy sunglasses with colored lenses which will help for the same reasons mentioned above.
Glasses with colored lenses yellow through red or with a Visible Light Transmission (VLT) of 20-40% are very good in cloudy, low-light conditions.
Polarized lenses and anti-reflective coating cut down on glare. Mirror-coating, like metallic lenses, reduces the amount of light that passes through.
UV-blocking sunglasses are important winter camping gear that you shouldn’t leave at home.
What do you wear for extreme cold?
If you intend to camp in extremely cold weather you should be prepared well. Choose clothes that provide both insulation and weather protection.
They are certainly not cheap, but if you have serious intentions that go beyond using a warm sleeping bag in the back of the car during winter, then your equipment should reflect your commitment to winter camping.
What type of pants is best for winter?
I mentioned fleece-lined pants already but you have other options too. There is a type of pants that are best to take on winter camping all of which depends on the activity that is done throughout the day.
Since some outdoor activities like snowshoeing and hiking require one to be active, it’s best to use flexible pants like tracksuit bottoms.
These are also great for layering- more layers on the lower body mean less work for your core in staying warm.
But for more sedentary activities, like sitting around a campfire, it’s best to use warmer pants.
The most practical type of pants is insulated ski/snowboarding pants. These can be easily layered in case the weather gets colder at night or when you have to go out hiking in the morning.
Is wool good for winter camping?
Wool is a good insulator to keep the body heat regulated. Wool is also naturally water-resistant so it is a good material for winter camping as it resists absorbing any moisture and helps to maintain the insulation properties of wool when wet.
Are hiking pants good for cold weather?
Hiking pants are designed to be worn in rugged, active environments where scratching and tearing are possible.
They are efficient at keeping out the elements (wind, rain, snow) but do little to hold in body heat. For cold weather camping, you will want to wear many layers of synthetic clothing (or wool).
How many clothes to pack for camping?
When going to camp in cold temperatures make sure that you pack more clothes than usual (when going camping in the summer).
Extra clothing is always a good idea because you will have a chance to change to dry clothes.
If nothing else, you can use it as extra stuffing in your pillow or extra padding inside your sleeping roll to help keep you warmer.
Be sure that your extras include warm socks. Keeping your feet dry is very important, especially on longer expeditions.
If going winter camping with your infant you should consider these tips to protect your baby and keep him safe and warm.
I recommend packing extra-long pants, socks, gloves, long sleeve shirts, and long thermal underwear.
How to wash clothes when camping?
Separate clothes that are the dirtiest and the ones that need a normal wash. You can wash them by hand, using water and washing powder, or opt for a portable washing machine to save your time and effort.
How to dry clothes while camping?
You can dry them in the tent or in the vestibule (if the tent has it) by setting up a clothesline. Make sure that you have optimum airflow inside so the moisture can get out.
A tent heater is a winter camping gear that will speed up the drying process so it is good to have one while winter camping.
You can dry clothes outside under the tarp that you set. Clothes should be stretched well and hung so they will get dry faster.
What clothes to sleep in when winter camping?
It is also important in what you sleep. Choose warm cotton clothes as they are skin-friendly, breathable, and provide warmth.
You can wear cotton or fleece pajamas. Still, don’t overwear as it might get too hot in your winter sleeping bag (if you will sleep in it).
You should take care of the right winter camping gear for sleeping because you need insulation from the cold ground. Choose one of the sleeping bags or sleeping pads that will level up your outdoor adventure.
If you will sleep on a camping cot or a sleeping pad you can cover yourself with the outdoor thermal blanket or emergency blanket that provides insulation.
How do you stay warm in a tent in the winter?
Level up your winter camping experience by warming up your tent before you go to sleep. It is not difficult, but it does take a bit of planning.
If the temperature drops below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, bring your sleeping bag inside your tent and store it in a stuff sack or compression sack so that it can be easily transportable.
Before you go to sleep at night, unpack the compressed bag and place it on top of your air mattress.
Do not unpack your sleeping bag until the sun rises and it heats up the inside of the tent to a comfortable level.
Set a campfire outside, use primitive ways to warm the tent, or use a tent heater that is the most practical way to stay warm.
How cold is too cold to camp?
There are cold weather situations when you should stay at home instead of going camping. Most of the time there is a temperature line where you should stop.
For example, if it’s below -9 degrees Fahrenheit, then you might start to get frostbite and most likely your camping trip will be cut short by bad weather.
For warmer climates, the freezing point would be 32 degrees Fahrenheit. However, there are still circumstances that can be dangerous.
If it’s windy, then you should consider staying at home because the combination of low temperatures and wind might get you hypothermia which is very dangerous.
Stay warm in winter camping
How to dress for winter camping? My comprehensive guide will help you to choose the right camping clothes to stay warm and comfortable.
With my help, you’ll be prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws your way this winter.
Bring your camping go-bag with your go-to camping gear on your winter trips, including first aid and extra water or a water filtration system.
I hope that your next trip goes swimmingly!