Matt Johnson

How To Camp in Cold Weather

Author: Matt JohnsonPhotos/Graphics: Mike HawthornePublished: Jan 26, 2021Updated: Dec 13, 2023

Winter weather typically deters most campers, but probably leaves you wanting to know exactly how to camp in cold weather. Well, we’re here to help you with that.

We’ve glamped when it was cold out.

In fact, we have camped multiple times in sub-zero temperatures; keep in mind though that we camped in an all-season RV with a warm place to retreat from the freezing temperatures.

However, we absolutely loved it, and definitely recommend it to anyone looking to get out and enjoy the beautiful outdoors in the midst of winter.

Keep in mind that we’re talking about camping and not just surviving. However it is worthwhile to know that camping and harsh, cold conditions can be dangerous and even deadly if you are not adequately prepared. Mother nature can be brutal and you must be well equipped to survive if it comes down to that.

Why Would you Ever Want to Camp When it’s Cold?

It goes without saying that anytime is good time for camping, and that even goes for the colder months of the year as well.

When you’re camping in the winter there is so much beauty to see and activities to do that you just cannot enjoy during the summer.

The scenery on a snow covered backdrop is absolutely amazing and beautiful. To wake up and come crawling out of your camper with snow up to your knees is an experience you have to take in at least once in your life. The air is crisp and cold and the sound is serene.

Cold Weather Activities such as Cross Country Skiing
Cross Country Skiing is just One of the Many Activities to do While Cold Weather Camping

Additionally, there are numerous activities that you can only enjoy in the freezing temperatures opposed to a warm sunny day in the summer.

Whether snowshoeing, tubing, skiing, or ice fishing is your thing, there is a whole new world of activities for you to take part in. Sure it’s more equipment, but well worth it for the experience.

Plenty of activities for you and your family when you camp in cold weather, but where can you find such gems?

Where You Might Camp in the Deep Cold?

We’ll keep this in the US, but there are countless places you can glamp or camp to get your fix in the wintertime.

In the northern latitudes such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, or even Maine, you can find all sorts of yearround campgrounds and glampsites. One of our favorite glampsites is the Terramor Outdoor Resort in Bar Harbor, Maine. Simply beautiful and amazing – and cold (their average low in January is 12°)!

There are plenty of other places in the lower latitudes if driving that far north is out of the question.

For example, the mountains in Colorado or New Mexico get their own fair share of snow.

Keep in mind that travel to and from these locations can be treacherous and dangerous with the snow-packed roads. Make sure you’re adequately prepared to drive in these conditions and take it slow.

You may end up unintentionally camping wherever you get stuck, but it’s not quite as magical.

What to Wear When you Camp in Cold Weather

It can be treacherous in any extreme temperatures, let alone extreme cold temperatures, so be sure to bundle up and wear the right clothes to keep you warm.

Layers of clothing is key to staying warm when you camp in cold weather. Not tight-fitting as you want some space to keep warm air between the layers.

Layering for Cold Weather Camping
Layering for Cold Weather Camping. Photo from AntHill Adventures.

You’re going to want to wear a base, middle, and outer layer of clothing as each serve a purpose.

Base Layer

This layer needs to wick the moisture from your body. The best materials for the job are silk and polyester. If you use a cotton it will absorb the moisture but the moisture will not evaporate.

Middle Layer

This layer, sometimes called the insulating layer, is what keeps you warm and toasty. Thicker materials such as fleece or flannel are perfect candidates for your middle layer.

Outer Layer

Lastly, this layer keeps the wind and precipitation from getting through, like a shell. Gore-Tex jackets are great for this role as they provide superior protection from the wind and rain while also being breathable.

Top it all off with a thick hat to keep heat from escaping your body, gloves to keep your hands warm, and thick moisture-wicking socks to keep your feet warm while wicking the sweat.

In addition to bundling and layering, try to keep dry. One bad step and you dip your foot into a creek you’re going to spend hours in front of a fire to dry out and warm up.

Where do you Sleep in the Cold?

At some point you’re going to need to lay your head down to rest. However, it’s difficult getting to sleep when you’re freezing cold, so be sure to keep warm throughout the night.

When snoozing in the cold weather you really have two options: have an RV or tent.

Cold Weather Sleeping Pad for Camping
The Therm-a-Rest is an Amazing Sleeping Mat for the Cold. Photo from Therm-a-Rest.

If you’re fortunate enough to have an RV, you’re good to go. You have shelter and heat. Most RVs have either a gas or electric heat system. Make sure you have plenty of fuel to get you through your trip if it’s a gas heater.

Tents, that’s a different story. You’ll be protected from the elements but it’s not going to do much in the way of keeping you warm. This is where a few layers of sleeping bags come into play. Because you lose a lot of heat from the ground alone, make sure you bring something to put on the ground, such as a sleeping mat, to insulate you from the cold, frozen surface.

Other Considerations to Ponder

Up to this point we’ve discussed your most pressing concerns, but there are a few others you shoould be aware of.

Be Prepared and Be Armed

Not many people camp in the freezing cold. It’s not comfortable and they’re probably not prepared for it. Therefore you’ll most likely be in the wilderness on your own – or at least with few people around. That means the cold-weather animals will be out and about.

I highly recommend you’re armed when you camp. Whether a pistol or rifle, you’ll want to be able to defend yourself from mountain lions or other large game foraging for food. Most of the time they’ll stay away, but it’s better to be prepared.

Notify Someone

As mentioned, there’s not a lot of people out there in the cold. This also applies to camping anytime, actually, but make sure you let someone know where you’re camping. There are countless scenarios where you could find yourself in a bad spot and hoping someone knows generally where to find you.

Campground Closures

Keep in mind that there are many places that shut down for the winter. Before you head out on your trip, be sure to check to see if where your going is even open. Whether a private campground or a state park, give them a call to get the latest scoop on the happenings in the area.

Sure it’s cold and often times misery is associated with freezing temperatures. However, there is so much fun to be had in the winter.

Hopefully you’re convinced to give cold weather camping a shot. If you are, you’re at least familiar with how to camp in cold weather.

Ever camped in the freezing cold? We’d love to hear about your experience and tips/tricks for enjoying the great outdoors in the middle of winter. Just drop a comment below!


Matt Johnson

Senior Content Writer

Matt is an experienced camper and glamping enthusiast with a Master's degree in Wildlife Science from Texas A&M University. Authoring posts for GlamperGear, he shares his wealth of knowledge on picturesque campsites, luxurious accommodations, and the best gear for outdoor adventures. His passion for nature and knack for comfort in the wilderness make him an expert guide for your next camping endeavor.

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