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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Winterize Your Camping Habits

Tips to take with you when the winter snow flies in camp.

by: Steve Howe


  • Consider using sled to drag extra-heavy winter pack
  • Bring a shovel to build wind barriers or snow shelters; compress entire camp area with boots for smooth sleeping and cooking
  • Bring repair kit for ripped packs or tents: Wrap duct tape around ski poles for storage; bring heavy thread and needles; spare pole basket; wire and pliers to fix snowshoes

Setting up camp

  • Face tent toward morning sun but only if away from blowing wind and snow
  • Anchor tent guy lines with snowshoes, buried tent stakes, sticks, or a loop around a packed mound of snow (bollard)
  • When snowing, even over night, tap on tent walls; dig out tent sides to prevent collapse


  • Keep water bottles thawed in bottom of sleeping bag overnight
  • Consider a vapor barrier liner (vbl) for your sleeping bag (keeps in heat with your body moisture). Lowers bag rating by 10 degrees, but must wear long johns to wick moisture from skin
  • Use extra foam sleeping pad under your regular pad at night
  • Go on a mini-hike before bed to raise body temperature


  • Keep batteries in inner pocket to prevent freezing.
  • Change to dry underlayers if sweating upon arrival in camp
  • Rehydrate often to stay warm; evaporation of sweat lets you forget you need water

Adapted from Making Camp, by Steve Howe et al., Backpacker Magazine, (The Mountaineers, 800-553-4453,, $16.95)

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Sep 10, 2008

Here are a few of my favorite snow camping tips:

• Use snow anchors for tent (and\or tie guy lines to stuff sacks filled with rocks or snow)
• Eat something before heading to bed; your digestive system creates heat (don’t take food to bed with you in bear country; eat a energy bar and stow the garbage along with the bear bag\canister away from camp…yes bears will come out during winter months)
• Dig a cold well next to the tent. We typically dig out low entries in the vestibules area in front of the doors where the gear can be stashed, dogs crash and where the cold air will sit.
• Use trekking poles and snowshoes to stretch out the vestibule ends to create a larger vestibule space; often we’ll convert a poncho into a tarp and extend the area around the tent so we can sit in our snow chairs under it (dogs also hang out there)
• During snow camping we bring medium sized inflatable dog beds for them; but sit on them while we’re up so our bums don’t’ get chilled. Sleeping pads, packs or other gear not being used items work well too.
• Pack a duralog or two with a turkey pan and bingo you have a nice warm fire. Turkey pans make outstanding fire bases in the snow.
• Pitch camp where the temperature will stay below freezing. When snow camping you want it cold else you’ll end up camping in a very large slurpee.
• Don’t pitch the tent under trees that have snow on them; inevitably that snow will come crashing down at 3am.
• Sleeping bag sheets are nice if you need to a few degrees of warmth to the bag. We don’t mess with vapor barriers or bother with an extra sleeping pad; on occasion I shove my empty pack under the pad if I need more padding from the ground.
• Pack a small thermos, boil water at night before going to sleep…nothing beats having hot water\coffee in the morning while you melt snow for breakfast.
• If you have sweat during the day; take a nice snow bath to clean up before hitting the sack…you’ll stay warmer if you don’t sleep in your dirty salty skin.
• Keep a wool\knit hat handy. Feet cold…put on a hat.
• An hour or so before getting out of your bag…pull your clothes (if dry) into the sleeping bag with you to warm them up before putting them on.
• Lay your gaiters over your boots under the vestibule area so they stay nice and dry.
• Some say if you’re really cold; have your dog in the tent or even in your sleeping bag. Our dogs never come in the tent anymore..ever….they are usually wet and dirty…they have their own pads and hang out under the vestibule.
• Leave water bottle partially filled so there is air and leave them upside down so the mouth part doesn’t freeze. If it’s really, really cold…mix the water with some vitamix or electrolytes as they have a lower freezing temperature.
• Bring and rig a tarp at the camp site (has become a standard practice for us) as it provides a nice haven when it’s snowing or raining.

Jim Muller
Mar 25, 2008

I am not a big fan of using Vapor Barriers as you still have to deal with the trapped moisture at some point.
The problem with using gear as stake points for your tent lines is that then it is not available for your use.
I believe there are good winter camping suggestions at


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