Six (More) Winter Camping and Backpacking Tips

Though it's technically still autumn, winter is just around the corner, and I can't wait. Winter brings tiny, sparkly snowflakes, beautiful frozen waterfalls, and after a storm, the world is so purely quiet.

It's also an amazing time to be outdoors! Familiar trails will look completely different, and it’s a chance to observe places you've been and sights you've seen in completely new light. Though camping and backpacking is more of a challenge when the snow starts falling, there are hundreds of tips for making your cold weather adventures more enjoyable. I shared eight of them here a while ago, and here are a few more of my favorites!

Can you see the trail here? I certainly had trouble! Wayfinding skills are super important in winter. (PC: D. Herscovitch)

Know your trails, and take a map. This should go without saying, you never want to start a trip without having a good understanding of the trails you're heading out on. But it's absolutely essential to know and pay close attention to wayfinding preparation in winter. The Appalachian Trail, for example, is blazed white, which can make blazes tough to find in winter. In the Adirondacks, above treeline, some trail markers are on the ground and get covered by snow, so large cairns are built to help you stay on the trail. Know what trail markers you're looking for, and know landmarks on your route so you can stay on track.

Take a Nalgene bottle full of warm liquid to bed with you. It snowed unexpectedly on one of my first backpacking trips, and though I had plenty of clothes, I just couldn't get warm. Who knew I'd need to worry about something like that in Central Virginia in March? My now fiance made me a Nalgene full of hot cocoa to snuggle with. The bottle didn’t hold heat for long, which is exactly what I needed to warm up my sleeping bag. But the best part? Every time I woke up, I had a water bottle full of hot cocoa to sip on.

Sometimes no matter how many layers you're wearing, it's not quite enough. (PC: D. Herscovitch)

Keep your water from freezing. If you’re in really, really cold weather, it’s amazing how fast even a full water bottle can freeze. Plan ahead and add electrolyte mixes like Gatorade or Nuun to your water; it'll ensure your water freezes more slowly. You can also turn your water bottle upside down if you know it's going to be sitting around for a while. This ensures ice forms on the bottom and not on the mouth of the bottle.

Bring something to sit on in camp. One of the keys to staying warm is to keep moving, but eventually, you're going to need to sit down, especially if you're planning on a nice fire in camp! Our bodies lose a ton of heat to the ground incredibly quickly, so any time you're planning on sitting or lying down, the more barriers between you and Mother Earth, the better. A Therm-a-rest Z-Lite mattress is a frequently packed item on my cold weather trips, just to sit on, and it's also a perfect barrier between a sleeping pad an the ground for extra warmth.

When all the water around you is frozen, there's a good chance the water in your bottle will be too - be prepared!

Pack a pillow. I generally only pack the clothes I need and nothing more, which means I don't usually have extra clothes to turn into a pillow at night. My Therm-a-rest compressible pillow comes with me on all backpacking trips to cushion my noggin, and to prevent heat loss. If you’re car camping, take pillows from your bed.

Pack extra fuel. Even if you’re car camping, it never hurts to have a little extra fuel when it’s chilly out. Even if you're an obsessive planner and know exactly how much you need to make warm drinks and cook, things take a lot longer to boil when it's cold, and having warm food or liquids available whenever you need or want them makes a huge difference. With that in mind…

Staying in a shelter or hut certainly helps with warmth, but you'll still want that hot food and drink! (PC: D. Herscovitch)

Quadruple check that your stove is in working order. Finding out your stove is busted in the summer is a bummer, especially if all of your meals are dehydrated. But in winter, a broken stove is a disaster, and extremely dangerous if you have no other way to heat food and water. Make sure it’s clean and in working order before you leave.

What are your favorite tips for cold weather camping? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

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