When you think about the best time of year to go camping, you probably think of spring, summer, and fall. The temperatures are warm, the days are long, and wildlife is at its peak. But winter provides a unique camping experience that’s worth giving it a shot. While the cold temperatures might seem unbearable at first, you really just need the right gear.
So I’ve rounded up all of the winter camping gear you need to help you stay warm during your cold-weather outing. From tents and sleeping bags to winter clothing and tent heaters, I’ve got you covered. I recently covered fall camping gear for Week&, and it made me want to share some winter camping tips with my readers.
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As someone who’s been camping countless times in just about all weather conditions, I’ve spent many a cold night in my tent, curled up in my sleeping bag. Over the years, I’ve tried many different items to stay warm, and at this point, I think I’ve mastered it.
But these aren’t only my recommendations. Everything you see in this article comes from either my personal use or from other camping enthusiasts who know exactly how to stay warm.
- Your tent and sleeping bag are essentials for staying warm in the winter.
- A space heater rated for indoor use can keep your entire tent warm.
- Having the right clothing makes all the difference when leaving the tent.
Winter Camping Gear Essentials
Tent and Insulated Tent Liner
No matter what time of year you’re going camping, the first piece of equipment that probably comes to mind is your tent. It’s vital for every camping trip you go on, but I think during the winter it’s even more important. Your tent is your first line of defense against the elements, protecting you from the wind and giving you a place to stay warm.
I typically use the same few tents year-round, and I’ve always been a bit partial to Coleman models. My go-to winter camping tent is the Coleman Instant Cabin, which I have ranked as one of the best pop-up tents on the market. The Instant Cabin takes less than a minute to set up, comes in different sizes, and uses WeatherTec Technology to protect you from the weather.
While your tent alone is a great place to start and is an absolute necessity, for true cold-weather camping, you need to step it up a notch with a Crua Insulated Inner Tent Liner. Crua is without a doubt the gold standard of insulated tents, and the inner tent will work with most tents you might own, including the Coleman.
All you have to do is put it inside your tent and then pump it with the Crua Pump Mini. This temperature-regulating tent liner will keep the warm in and the cold air out, and it’s by far one of the best products on the market for staying warm in the winter.
So you’ve got your tent and insulated liner, perfect. The next most important piece of winter gear is a warm sleeping bag. This is another one of those things that you probably already take camping with you year-round no matter when you go, but it’s even more essential when it’s cold out.
I’ve been using the Sleepingo Double Sleeping Bag for years now, and I swear by this thing. It’s warm and waterproof to help you beat the cold, and it’s made for two people so you can cuddle up with that special someone for a bit of extra body heat. Plus it comes with pillows and a drawstring carrying bag to make it easy to pack.
Air Mattress or Sleeping Pad
The first time I ever went camping, I just plopped my sleeping bag right on the floor of my tent and went to sleep. Never again. You should always bring an air mattress or a sleeping pad for added comfort no matter when you go camping. But in the winter, they can make a huge difference in helping you stay warm.
By adding an extra layer between yourself and the cold ground, an air mattress or sleeping bag does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to staying warm. When you’re shopping, try to look for something with a higher R-value, which means it’s a better insulator and will keep you even warmer.
Whenever I’m staying in a campground and can afford the extra weight and space while I’m packing, I always opt for an air mattress. The Coleman QuickBed Elite is available in twin and queen sizes, and it works great. The built-in pump makes it easy to use, and it’s way more comfortable than a sleeping pad.
That said, a sleeping pad is the best option if you’re limited in space or weight, or if you’re trying to save some money. Even something simple like the POWERLIX Ultralight Sleeping Pad will make a huge difference in terms of comfort and warmth.
After you have your bed and sleeping bag figured out, you should really consider a tent heater. Space heaters have a bad reputation for indoor use due to the way they used to work back in the day, creating fire hazards. But heaters rated for indoor use are perfectly safe to use inside your tent, and they can do more than anything else in terms of warming up your tent.
I’ve personally been using the Mr. Heater Buddy for a while now, and it’s been absolutely great. It’s fueled by propane so you don’t have to worry about finding a power source, and it uses radiant heat to warm you up instead of blowing hot air. This, combined with the automatic shutoff features and other tech makes it safe and easy to use.
Having a space heater in your tent is seriously one of the best things you can do to stay warm. While it is considered safe to use, you should still never leave it turned on unattended. Only use your tent heater if you’re actually in (or near) your tent.
Okay, okay. We’ve talked about keeping your tent and bed warm, so now let’s focus a bit on keeping yourself warm. One of the very first things you should consider getting is some thermal underwear, commonly referred to as Long Johns (or Long Janes for women).
You don’t have to get too fancy with these, especially since they won’t be seen. I’ve had the Thermajohn Thermal Underwear (Thermajane for the women) and they’ve been great. These long-sleeve and pant sets are made from polyester and lined with fleece to remain comfortable while also trapping your body heat.
Winter Clothing and Gear
Winter pants and coats are two of those pieces of equipment that you’ll likely get a little different answer from me than you’ll see from other people. That’s because when I go camping, I actually wear my ski pants and ski jacket rather than something like a Carhartt.
I’ve found that ski gear not only keeps you warmer than just about anything else, but you can also be active since it’s designed for movement and full range of motion. For your legs, the Outdoor Ventures Ski Snow Pants (available for men and women) are genuinely my favorite pants I’ve ever owned. They’re waterproof, snowproof, and downright warm.
When it comes to your coat, I also recommend wearing a ski jacket for many of the same reasons as the pants. They’re super warm, allow you to retain your full range of motion and be active, and they’re completely waterproof and snowproof. The MOERDENG Mountain Ski Jacket (also available for men and women) is my go-to, and I’ve never gotten cold in it.
Lastly, make sure you bring along some sort of neck gaiter or balaclava (ski mask) when you go camping during the winter. We all know that our heads are the biggest culprits for heat loss, so it’s vital to protect them. If you opt for the ski jacket I suggested above, you won’t really need a gaiter, but you could still benefit from a balaclava if it’s really cold!
Hand and Feet Warmers
I just mentioned how your head loses the most heat, but not far behind are your hands and feet. That’s where hand and feet warmers come in, providing much more warmth than just a pair of gloves or warm socks.
I’d be willing to bet that you’ve heard of HotHands before, and for good reason. They’re affordable, they work great, and they’ve been around for years. Any time I go camping in the winter, I bring a pack with me just in case my hands get cold. But these days, you can do better.
The OCOOPA Rechargeable Hand Warmer, for example, gets far warmer than basic hand warmers and it’s small enough to fit in your pocket. It comes with a 5,200mAh battery so you can use it for hours between charges. When it runs out of juice, simply plug it in for a bit and it’ll be ready to go in no time. This is where a solar power bank comes in handy!
For your feet, your options are a bit more limited, since it can be tough to put things in your shoes or boots. That said, HotHands does make some Insole Foot Warmers that provide up to 9 hours of warmth. Combine these with a good pair of thermal socks and your feet will stay warm all day and night, which is especially important if you do any winter hiking.
Jetboil Flash Cooking System
Few things are more refreshing when it’s cold out than a warm meal or a hot cup of coffee (or hot chocolate!). To this day, I love going inside after spending some time in the cold and making some hot chocolate, and I do the same thing when I go camping. You just need a quick and easy way to get hot water, and that’s where the Jetboil Flash Cooking System comes in.
The Jetboil Flash can boil up to one liter of water in just 100 seconds, which you can then use to heat up your meals, make a fresh cup of coffee, or get some hot chocolate in no time. I’ve used many camping stoves and cooking systems over the years, and can honestly say that nothing compares to the Jetboil Flash.
It’s a little pricey compared to some other camping stoves, but it’s one of the best pieces of camping gear I’ve ever bought. I use it every time I go camping, but I really appreciate it in the winter when I can quickly have a hot meal or drink!
Cooler and Insulated Water Bottle
When you go camping in the winter, you need to make sure you have a way to prevent your food and water from freezing. People tend to think about how important water is for camping when it’s hot out, but in the winter, you’re at risk of having no water if it freezes. The same goes for your food, so it’s important to use a good cooler and water bottle.
The same insulative properties of a cooler that help keep your food cold during the summer also help keep it from freezing during the winter. I’ve already rounded up the best camping coolers on the market, so I’ll keep it short and sweet here. The Coleman 316 Series 65-Quart Portable Cooler is far and away my favorite option, and I’ve been using it for what feels like ever.
While a cooler is great for the majority of your food and drinks, a good water bottle is essential for making sure you always have something to quench your thirst. Even though I think their coolers might be a little overpriced, I do suggest going with the Yeti Rambler Water Bottle. It’s durable and well-insulated enough to keep your water from freezing in nearly any condition.
Lanterns and Headlamps
Let’s round off this list with some camping gear that won’t really help you stay warm, but that’s absolutely necessary for a winter camping trip: lanterns and headlamps. As the days get shorter during the winter, your campsite will be in the dark more than any other time of year, and having enough light is essential for setting up, cooking, and staying safe.
There are countless lanterns on the market you can choose from, but I like to use ones that double as lanterns and flashlights like these. Having a lantern is nice most of the time, but sometimes you need a directional light, and being able to quickly convert these into a flashlight makes it easy.
I also really like to bring along headlamps when I go camping. They’re the best way to not only have directional light you can point where you need it, but also to keep both your hands free. Headlamps are invaluable when you’re setting up your tent, looking for something in the cooler, or doing just about anything else around the campsite.
Beat the Cold and Stay Warm this Winter
With all of the gear above, you should have no trouble staying warm during your winter camping trip. That said, I don’t recommend camping when it’s below freezing, as you can start putting yourself at risk of things like hypothermia, frostbite, and more. But it doesn’t have to be zero degrees out for these items to come in handy.
I’ve spent many nights camping when it’s around 35°F to 40°F, and I can tell you from experience, it’s downright cold. Without the right cold-weather camping gear, you’ll feel like packing everything up as soon as the sun comes up just so you can get home to some warmth.
Trust me, I’ve been there too! On my very first winter camping trip, I didn’t bring any of this stuff. After one night, we packed everything up in the morning and went straight home. So I know the feeling, and I know what it takes to stay warm.
Happy winter camping. I hope to see you out there!