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The Best Winter Camping Gear for Sleeping in the Snow

Winter backpacking requires an entirely different strategy than hiking in the summer. Get ready for it with these five expert picks, including a tent, a stove, a sleeping bag, and more.

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Take the dive into winter camping and you’ll discover uncrowded trails, easily attainable campsites, and a snowy serenity you can only get in the fourth season. These rewards require a hard look at your gear to keep you warm and thriving, though. Here are our picks for a beginner winter camping setup.

Ultrawarm Bag: Marmot Wind River -10°F

marmot sleeping bag
Marmot Wind River -10F Sleeping Bag (Photo: Courtesy)
  • Price: $359
  • Weight: 3 lbs. 14 oz. (regular)
  • Sizes: regular, long
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The 650-fill Wind River hits the sweet spot for a warm, packable sleeping bag that won’t crater your bank account. Its mummy shape is slightly narrower than other winter bags, but that just means you’ll have fewer cold spots to combat. “There’s still enough room to toss and turn, and the taffeta lining is a comfy surface to bed down in,” says one tester who stayed cozy in the Wind River on a -5°F night in Yellowstone National Park. (He wore a fleece and heavy baselayer bottoms and slept on a pad with an R-value of 5.) The hood and draft collar are especially cushy, and the DWR-treated down maintains loft even when soaked with tent condensation.

Insulating Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm

thermarest pad
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm (Photo: Courtesy)
  • Price: $220
  • Weight: 1 lb. 1 oz. (regular)
  • Sizes: regular, long
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Most winter campers will want a sleeping pad with an R-value of at least 5, and the NeoAir XTherm clocks in at 6.9. This pad is 2.5 inches thick, and its interior buttresses provide ample cushion from the ground—great news for side sleepers. The interior also has a coating that radiates heat back to the user without adding bulk, helping this pad roll down to the size of a Nalgene. A wide valve means easy inflation: Our tester got the job done in 10 breaths. When paired with a 0°F sleeping bag, this pad kept our tester fully insulated from the ground in -5°F weather in northern Maine. 

Sturdy Tent: MSR Access 2

MSR Access 2 tent - best winter camping gear
MSR Access 2 (Photo: Courtesy)
  • Price: $600
  • Weight: 3 lbs. 10 oz.
  • Size: 2-person
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Do you really need another tent just for winter? If you get out enough, the answer is yes. A four-season tent is built to withstand snow loads and high winds, accommodate more gear, and keep you warmer than a typical three-season tent. The Access 2 does all that, and has a high strength-to-weight ratio at less than 4 pounds. Its central pole hub is stable, and its Easton Syclone poles are made from a strong, flexible carbon composite that’s resistant to breaking in cold weather. Steep walls prevent snow loading and make the 29-square-foot interior feel larger than it is, and the fly has a waterproof polyurethane coating for extra weather resistance. Two 8.8-square-foot vestibules each provide enough space to cook and stash gear. The Access 2 is prone to some moisture buildup, but that’s the tradeoff for trapping heat. 

Efficient Stove: MSR WhisperLite Universal

MSR WhisperLite Universal - best winter camping gear
MSR WhisperLite Universal (Photo: Courtesy)
  • Price: $150
  • Weight: 11.2 oz.
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While you can use a variety of fuels during winter, white gas performs better down to sub-zero temps, as it maintains consistent pressure within a fuel bottle once it’s pumped and pressurized. Many stoves aren’t compatible with this type of fuel, but the WhisperLite—a true winter gear classic—can use either canister fuel for warm conditions or white gas for winter weather. It boils one liter of water in just under seven minutes in winter conditions, and is designed for on-snow use: Since the fuel is connected by a hose instead of stacked under the stove, it’s less likely to tip as the snow melts underneath the cooking area. At 11.2 ounces, the WhisperLite is heavier than canister-fuel stoves, but it can’t be beat in terms of winter performance.

Hydration Aid: Nalgene Insulated Water Bottle Sleeve

Nalgene Insulated Water Bottle Sleeve - best winter camping gear
Nalgene Insulated Water Bottle Sleeve (Photo: Courtesy)
  • Price: $20
  • Weight: 4.8 oz.
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In winter, keeping your water thawed can be even harder than staying hydrated. This insulated neoprene sleeve fits a 32-ounce Nalgene-style bottle, and will keep your water in liquid form longer, saving time and fuel at camp. It’s a bit bulky, but it can prevent your water from freezing for up to 12 hours. (Starting your trip with hot water can extend this even more.) We opt for this sleeve over insulated metal bottles for weight savings, along with the fact that you can fill a plastic bottle with hot water before bed to warm up your sleeping bag. Bonus: You can slide energy bars into the sleeve next to the bottle to keep them thawed and avoid cracking your teeth.