Winter Camping Safety Tips

Dec 21, 2022

Outdoor enthusiasts will be the first to tell you that camping isn’t exclusively a summer activity. However, if you do want to try camping in winter, you’ll need to take additional precautions. Because cold-weather outdoor recreation poses increased risks, even experienced campers can benefit from winter camping tips. Here’s how to stay safe, energized, and warm on your winter camping trip.

Staying Warm

In the winter, staying warm is easily the most important of all camping safety tips. A weather-appropriate shelter, mindfully-chosen clothing, and efficient sleeping and heating gear are essential for this. 

Camp Stove Safety, Heater Safety, and Camp Fire Safety

Campfires may be harder to light in wet winter weather, so bring a lightweight, energy-efficient propane camp stove for cooking. Read all instructions carefully. Never use it in or near a tent or cabin, leave it unattended, or put it in a container to block the wind. Keep propane canisters away from heat and be sure the stove is completely cool before opening it, changing canisters, or storing it.

If you do plan to have a campfire, check with the fire department in your camping area first and follow all guidelines. Even in winter, campfire accidents can happen, so take the same precautions you would in summer. You can find more information on campfire safety here.

Winter Tent Camping: Important Equipment

If you plan on tent camping, it’s best to check your tent before leaving to ensure it’s functional, has no holes or damage, and that all parts of it are accounted for. Use a strong four-season tent with a rainfly and a roof designed to shed snow to avoid collapse. Be sure it’s large enough for both campers and equipment and bring extra poles and a ground sheet, such as a space blanket or tarp.

It’s also important to bring a closed-cell sleeping pad to keep your sleeping bag off the (potentially frozen) ground, since a cold ground will drain away body heat.

Layered Clothing

Keep these tips in mind when you’re packing clothing:

  • Avoid cotton. Cotton is light and breathable, which is great for staying cool in the summer, but terrible for retaining heat in winter. It also doesn’t wick away moisture, so if it gets wet, you’ll be even colder. Instead, opt for wool and synthetic fabrics like fleece, polypropylene, and other hydrophobic and wicking materials.
  • Layer up. Pack close-fitting base layers as well as middle insulating layers and warm top layers that can easily be removed, put back on, or added to as needed. Choose a windproof, waterproof, and ideally tear-resistant coat with a sturdy synthetic outer shell fabric, such as Gore-Tex. Pack plenty of socks; you’ll need to layer them too. About 70% of your body heat escapes through your head, so pack a warm hat as well.
  • Overpack; don’t underpack. In the winter, you’ll not only need more layers, but more changes of clothes because of the increased likelihood of getting wet. Wet clothes in the cold can quickly lead to hypothermia, so pack plenty of changes of clothing.
  • Choose insulated boots. Choose waterproof rubber or leather boots with a wool or felt lining in a slightly larger size than your regular shoes are. This will allow room for layered socks and help to create a warm space of dead air between your feet and your boots.

Food and Meals

Hypothermia can also be caused by eating insufficiently calorie-dense foods or by not eating enough or frequently enough. Some considerations for packing food include: 

Avoiding produce. Because fresh produce will weigh down your already-heavy bags, when you’re planning meals, it’s best to pack primarily light or non-perishable items like grains, pasta, oatmeal, or baked goods. You can make exceptions for high-protein and high-fat items like cheese, butter, and meats. 

Snacks. Bring high-energy portable foods like nuts, raisins, chocolate, candy, and cookies or brownies. Be sure to bring a water bottle with a wide mouth (to avoid a frozen opening) and a shoulder-strap container (so your body heat can keep the rest of the bottle from freezing).

Keeping warm while you’re cooking. It’s ideal to bring soup mix or a hot beverage that can be made in a personal mug so that campers can stay warm while they wait for the main course. 

Bringing food with you to bed. Plan to thaw frozen food for the next day by placing it in or near your sleeping bag. If you get hungry in the middle of the night, it’s best to eat proteins, which help you to stay warm over a longer period of time.

There are many other winter camping guidelines to consider; you can find extensive safety tips here.

Camping Safety for Kids

It’s useful to learn camping safety from a young age. If you live in the western parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, or West Virginia, enrolling your child in the Scouting America Laurel Highlands Council is a great way for them to do this. Explore information about Cub Scout Camping and Cub Scout Winter Weekends.

Scouting’s programs and outdoor adventures give young people the opportunity to try new things, provide service to others, build self-confidence, and develop leadership skills. These experiences not only help Scouts while they are young, but help them grow into exceptional men and women that respect their family, community, religion, country and themselves.

The Scouting America Laurel Highlands Council serves youth members and volunteer adult leaders throughout Western Pennsylvania, Western Maryland, and parts of West Virginia. We aim to beneficially involve every eligible child and their family in the fun and adventure of our programs. We provide extraordinary youth development programs that develop and strengthen the values of the Scout Oath and Law. 

So what are you waiting for? Join now!


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