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Learning the Cold Way {Winter Camping}

14 Feb , 2014,
Heidi Kumm
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Remember that one time when we went winter camping with Sierra Trading Post? Turns out it was more than just a weekend in the wilderness. For us it doubled as a bit of a learning experience. Of course we expected a learning curve of some sort but we weren’t prepared for one quite as cold…

As I mentioned earlier we were a little under prepared in the gear department. We knew that going in and we knew it wouldn’t be a perfectly comfortable night. Heck, Chris and I are yet to figure out how to have a “perfectly comfortable night” while camping. We tend to be rather minimalist in our packing and I think we pay for it while attempting to sleep. This time we packed everything we owned but when you don’t have quite the right gear it doesn’t matter.

In hopes that at least one other person can survive their first winter camping trip slightly more comfortably then we did let’s talk about a few things we would have done differently and why…

Gear up for Snow

I’m a firm believer that you do not need to have the “latest and greatest” gear to survive and enjoy yourself. That being said, there are a few things that would have made a world of difference with winter camping. Some gear is about show or luxury. Other gear is more about function and necessity…that’s the gear I’m talking about!

Nalgene Bottles – I hate the way these bottles look, which is why I don’t own any. I’m superficial like that. However, after this camping weekend I may have to reconsider that. The most obvious use for Nalgene bottles is to carry in water, but it turns out they can do a lot more. The large opening greatly reduces the chances of it icing over and the plastic is strong enough to keep its shape (aka, not leak) when filled with boiling water. And why would you fill a Nalgene with boiling water? To put it close to your body for warmth or to toss into your sleeping bag and warm it up! Yea, totally versatile bottle and something we’ll be investing in soon. If you’re smart like Lynne you would also wrap duct tape around the base of your Nalgene so you’d always have it available…or make a handy dandy insulator for the bottle!

Snow Stakes – Apparently the tiny little stakes you use for camping on hard packed ground aren’t much good in the snow. We had “snow stakes” on our gear list but never got around to actually buying them. Oops. When attempting to set up our tent we realized just how important they were. We survived just fine with our improvised packed snow + trekking pole solution, but snow stakes would have been helpful!

“Egg Carton” Sleeping Pads – We both had legit seeping pads. However, we only have one inflatable pad each. Apparently with winter camping having a second sleeping pad is extremely helpful in the warmth department. Being able to raise yourself further above the ground keeps you warmer. After every single camping trip we have talked about getting ourselves some “egg carton” sleeping pads but have never gotten around to it, this will change soon! Sleeping pads are ranked by R-value and the closer you get to 10 the warmer you stay!

Feeding Your Face

Gear isn’t the only thing that will make a winter camping trip more comfortable…in my world the right food makes everything better. We had leftover backpacking meals we needed to use so we put very little creativity into our meals. We did remember to bring hot chocolate but Lynne and Alex showed us up big time with burritos and pizza! What?

Yea, they thought this winter camping thing through! The temperatures never crept far above freezing so packing in “real food” posed no risk of illness and the near non-existence of critters meant the risk of getting our tents ransacked was greatly reduced as well. This meant we were free to bring pretty much whatever we wanted.

Of course, having a stove along to heat up water for the Nalgenes we didn’t have or to make the hot chocolate we did have would still be a necessity when camping in the cold, even if we ate gourmet take out! On this trip I had my first real experience with a liquid camp stove. In the past we’ve always used a JetBoil but in the cold weather the canister fuel can freeze. Frozen fuel will be no help in warming yourself and that is where white gas or liquid fuel comes into play. There are pros and cons to both the liquid fuel and canister fuel stoves, which I do my best to explain in the following video…

…yup, that is my YouTube claim to fame! It seems like an appropriate follow-up to my last bit of online awesome with Sierra Trading Post, where I went on and on about food. If I can’t talk about food itself I’ll talk about the best ways to make your food! I also did a product review of the Black Diamond Innova pack…and yes, I found a way to mention food in that review as well! I have skillz!

The winter camping trip with Sierra Trading Post seems like the distant past but this post fits right in with my upcoming weekend plans! We are headed out into the backcountry for what is becoming an annual hut trip. It’s much more luxurious than winter camping but we’ll still be bringing along the essentials to keep warm…lots of layers, warming beverages, legitimate meals to cook and our splitboards!

You can also check out Efo’s blog for more details on what to pack when backpacking. That girl knows her way around the backcountry…maybe we’ll end up in the same state with some free time…soon!

Lynne also has some great information on how to dress right for winter camping. I tend to buy things for their color rather than function…so if you want the low down on clothes that will actually keep you warm trust Lynne, not me!

And last but not least…do not forget about the 30% discount at Sierra Trading Post! If you need to by anything for some wintry backcountry fun definitely follow any Sierra Trading Post link in this post and you’ll get hooked up with a 30% discount – which includes the Ortovox Zoom+ avalanche beacon! I dare you to find a better deal of an any beacon! This deal is good through the end of February, get shopping!


  1. Lisa February 14, 2014 at 12:05 pm Reply

    I’m still so impressed that you survived winter camping! I don’t know that I’ll ever be as brave, but now I know where to go to find tips. Right here at runaroundaroo. 🙂

    • Heidi Nicole February 19, 2014 at 9:58 am Reply

      It was…an experience. A huge perk was guaranteed soft, flat ground to sleep on!

  2. Natalie @ Free Range Human February 18, 2014 at 11:38 am Reply

    I have yet to do any backpacking in legit winter. I think John and I need to plan next year’s vacation to include this! Can’t wait to hear about the hut trip 🙂

    • Heidi Nicole February 19, 2014 at 10:00 am Reply

      You’ll have fun with it — just spend some time/money getting the right gear!

      Hut trippin’ is like staying in a 5 star hotel when compared to winter camping! You guys definitely need to work a hut trip into one of your CO adventures!

  3. steena February 19, 2014 at 7:56 am Reply

    Not that I ever plan to do this, great tips, thank you. I’ll try to carry this knowledge with me if anyone tries to convince me to go winter camping!

    • Heidi Nicole February 19, 2014 at 10:00 am Reply

      I will suffer the cold so you don’t have to! 😉

  4. John March 3, 2014 at 6:54 pm Reply

    Great tips and write up! How often do you actually plan on doing winter camping? I haven’t ever done anything like that, just regular camping in North Carolina and Michigan. Will use these tips on my first winter outing though.


    • Heidi Nicole March 5, 2014 at 2:04 pm Reply

      Thank you! I think I’ll give it another shot with the proper gear before I get too ambitious with it. But we have friends who absolutely love it - if you do it right it can be a lot of fun, I’m sure! Just the silence of a winter night + the softer/flat bed on snow was worth it for me!

  5. Lilian Jenkins T. April 1, 2014 at 7:12 am Reply

    While I am a lover of camping, one of those things that I am yet to do is to go winter camping. The thought of all the snow makes me back out, but I think this is really informative. When I do decide to go camping in the snow, I will not look too far for tips!

    • Heidi Nicole April 1, 2014 at 8:15 am Reply

      Glad this was helpful! I’m a big snow lover - winter is so beautiful - but the cold can be brutal. I’ve learned with time the correct gear/layers are a HUGE part of staying comfortable. If you ever have more questions let me know — if I don’t have the answers I’ll get you in touch with someone who does! Definitely give it a shot if you get the opportunity!

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