Winter Camping for Beginners

By joanne lemna | February 2, 2017

Camping doesn’t have to be just a summer activity. The winter means no bugs less people savings on camping fees a beautiful and serene environment and being able to easily enjoy your favourite cold-weather activities. The reward is definitely worth the challenges! Before you head out into the cold we have some advice to ensure you stay safe warm and have fun while winter camping.

Trip Planning

You’ll need to do some additional research because weather road and trail conditions will impact your plans. Don’t forget to take into account the shorter daylight hours and the fact that everything takes longer in the winter.

  • What do you want to do?
  • Group characteristics – size of the group and each person’s skill and fitness levels
  • Snow level and conditions
  • Elevation
  • Trails and their condition
  • Route to the campsite (and how you’re packing everything)
  • Campsite – is winter camping allowed? What facilities are available?

While winter camping is allowed at many campsites and even some backcountry spots are open although these places may have reduced facilities and services. Make sure you know what will be available ahead of time and plan accordingly. Also be sure you’ll be able to reach the campsite via road or trail with your RV or by packing your tent and equipment in.

What You’ll Need

Be prepared for weather changes and delays. Make sure all of your equipment is rated for winter use and you’re prepared with extra food clothing and batteries should you have to wait out a storm. Check out our full winter packing checklist to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything!


gtKeeping yourself warm and dry is the goal. Layers are the best way to do this as you can add and remove as needed based on your activity level and the weather. Generally you’ll begin the day with the most layers. Remove them as you get moving until you’re cool but not chilled. If you stop for a few minutes add a layer. You’ll also want to add layers at the end of the day as your activity level decreases and the temperature drops. Don’t forget to brush snow off of yourself and change your clothes if you get wet. Velcro and zippers are also the easiest to manage in cold weather!

Here’s how to dress:

  • Base Layer — The layer next to your skin sometimes you will wear two base layers: a lightweight or medium-weight layer and a heavy-weight layer. The best materials are synthetics and wool. This layer is imperative for wicking away moisture so the fabric really does matter.
  • Middle Layer — This is the insulating layer where the purpose is to retain body heat. Fleece micro-fleece and goose down are the best materials. The best choice will depend on your activity level the temperature and how much room you have to store extra layers.
  • Out Layer/Shell — This layer needs to be waterproof and windproof while providing ventilation. Some jackets also have a radiant or reflective barrier for added warmth and visibility. There are a variety of types and materials your choice will depend on your activities and the weather.
  • Socks — Generally you wear a thin snug layer next to the skin and another pair over that. The best socks are wool or synthetic. Always bring extra socks and make sure the thickness of the second sock doesn’t interfere with your boots’ fit – you don’t want it too tight as your feet will hurt and will actually be less warm.
  • Boots — Proper boots are absolutely imperative. The boots must be waterproof insulated and rated for very cold temperatures. Mukluks are also an option.
  • Overboots — To put over your ski boots or snowshoes for added warmth and to keep the snow out.
  • Hat — They hide bad hair days and keep you warm. Bring a toque and facemask combo or try the most popular option a balaclava.
  • Gloves and Mittens — Mittens are warmer but bring gloves as you may need them for dexterous tasks. Have two layers of mittens – a snug inner pair and an outer shell layer – and don’t forget your idiot strings! Losing your mittens in the snow isn’t fun.
  • Gaiters — These are a must for deep snow. Make sure they’re waterproof and breathable and designed for winter use. They’ll keep the moisture out and provide some warmth.
  • Goggles/Glasses — These provide protection from sun and wind. You can get them tinted for more sun protection.

Don’t forget the fun stuff — your skis and snowshoes! Sleds are also fun and have the bonus of helping you haul everything around.