Camping in cold weather, sometimes called gray camping, is a little more difficult than camping during the summer.
Of course, one of the biggest issues for camping in cold weather is shelter and staying dry, followed up by keeping warm.
How to Tent Camp in Cold Weather
Here are the steps to take on your outdoor trip:
Find a sheltered place to set up your cold-weather camp
This should be an area that is out of the wind, but that is not in a ravine that might be subject to flooding or a location that could be affected by an avalanche.
A rock outcropping just below the top of a hill, or a grove of evergreen trees can make an ideal windbreak. A rock outcropping can reflect back heat from a campfire, but be wary of placing a campfire too close to evergreens.
If you know how to tent camp in cold weather, this can be a big help
Essentially tent camping in cold weather means to, first of all, have a cold-weather tent. Such tents are usually made from denser material than light-weight summer tents, have different ventilation, and include some form of insulation, such as double walls for trapping air.
Insulate your “living space” from the cold earth
This could mean placing a waterproof material, such as a plastic tarp, over natural fibers such as leaves or hay. This will help keep the chill from the frozen ground from percolating up into your bedroll or sleeping bag.
Pitch your tent or create a shelter on top of the ground cloth
Make this as waterproof as possible. If you do not have a tent, a tarp over a lean-to shelter made from poles and twigs will do nicely.
If you do not have any sort of tarp or waterproof material, layer leaves or grass to form a thatch over a framework of twigs.
If neither are available, place part of your ground cloth under your bedroll or sleeping bag, leaving part of it to pull over the top of your sleeping bag. Be sure to have at least half your insulative coverings under you to prevent losing body heat to the cold ground.
Avoid using air mattresses as the cold air will act like a refrigeration unit beneath you. Hammocks, unless you have an insulated hammock/tent, will behave in a similar fashion.
Position your campfire or camp heater in front of your sleeping area
If you can create a three-sided lean-to shelter with your tent or other materials, this is almost ideal because it will reflect back the heat from the fire, helping to avoid the “freezing on one side, and toasting on the other” syndrome.
Avoid eating snow or sucking on ice, if at all possible. If you must resort to this sort of “wild water” heat it over your campfire or heat source before drinking.
Avoid caffeinated beverages since they will increase dehydration. Also, avoid alcoholic beverages. A thermos filled with warm water or with water flavored with lemon peel might be ideal.
Dress in layers
Layered warmth allows you to peel off a layer if you are too warm, and to put it back on as the day or evening becomes cooler.
Moreover, being able to remove a layer without exposing skin to the biting cold helps prevent perspiration which can cause cold, wet clothing.
Keep your bedding rolled up until you are ready to get into it
While it might seem tempting to spread your sleeping bag, making your tent or shelter “homey”, it provides an opportunity for cold dampness to permeate the blankets. Likewise, roll up your blankets when you are not using them.
Stash your next day’s clothing in the bottom of your sleeping bag
Do not sleep in your regular clothing. You will be uncomfortable and have a good chance of perspiring while inside your sleeping bag.
Strip to your skivvies, and keep your daywear at the foot of your sleeping bag where you can reach it without getting out into the cold when it comes time to put it on again.
The exception to this is if your outerwear is wet, in which case get out of it as quickly as possible and hang it where it will dry.
Camping alone in cold weather is risky business. More than that, if you have a snuggle partner, you will both be warmer inside that sleeping bag or bedroll.
Many types of sleeping bags are set up to zip together for double occupancy. Even if you are not comfortable sharing a sleeping bag, a shared tent will also benefit from two sources of body heat.
Bring plenty of lightweight, high-calorie food
Food is the body’s fuel. If you are camping in the cold, your system is going to be burning calories like crazy to help keep you warm. Winter camping is not a good time to go hungry.
Have a radio or cell phone that will help you track the weather
Staying alert to weather conditions that could make your camping trip more hazardous than planned is an excellent idea.
When temperatures plummet below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, or when blizzard conditions are imminent, you need to know whether to hike out or to increase the weather resistance of your shelter.
Whether you know how to tent camp in cold weather, or whether you are just developing your skills for camping in cold weather, gray camping can be a fun way to challenge your survival skills.
But whether you are tent camping or you are honing your skills, it is a good idea to be prepared and to be smart about your activity.
Winter weather can be unforgiving, and Mother Nature does not care whether you are around for spring thaw or not.
Plan well, and remember there is no shame in calling it quits if the weather takes a turn for the worse. In the long run, your goal is to have fun, to learn, but above all to stay safe.