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  • Basecamp Outdoor Gear Team

Common winter camping mistakes

Updated: Jan 18

We recently wrote about good practices for winter camping. But what about practices that should be avoided? In the following few paragraphs we'll outline a few typical blunders we all tend to make while winter camping. These are common winter camping mistakes that may sound obvious in theory, but take some practice to master. It's all worth it! After all, you want to have a good camping experience, no matter the season.

Snow-covered camp kitchen
Snow-covered camp kitchen

Let's dive right in.


Size matters

The most important aspect of winter camping that people often overlook is the sizing of their gear. Most specifically: clothing, sleeping bags, and tents. When it comes to staying warm, SIZE MATTERS!


Don't wear clothes that are too small

Fitted clothes, especially long underwear, are great. But you don't want them to fit too tightly! This will inhibit blood circulation to your extremities, causing them to freeze much faster than they should.

Clothes that are too big or unfitted are also not ideal. They will bunch up and feel uncomfortable. Channel your inner Goldilocks while picking out clothes for winter camping. They must be perfect for you.

Unsure about your clothing fit? Try the Jumping Jacks Test.

snow-covered sign for capitol reef national park
Warming up with some coffee at Bryce Point, Bryce Canyon National Park

Don't get a sleeping bag that is too small

When you get into a sleeping bag, you want your feet to just lightly touch the end of the bag. If your feet push against the end of the bag, it's too small. You'll be braced against this cold object all night and it won't let you warm up.

If your bag is too long, it will form a space for cold air to accumulate. You don't want that either. To avoid it, you can always shove clothing to the bottom of it to fill in the gaps. For this reason, it's better to go with a sleeping bag that's too big rather than too small. Of course, the exact perfect size is best.


Bonus for people 6'1 and taller: At Basecamp, we rent 3-season sleeping bags and insulated sleeping pads that come in long sizes.


Don't use a tent that is too big

That's just more space to heat up. The bigger the space, the harder it will be to keep it warm all night. In the perfect size tent, you'll be getting cozy with your tentmate. Word of advice: Go winter camping with someone you like.

four people in sleeping bags inside tent

Don't sweat

Yeah, it's great to sweat in sub-zero degree temperatures. It means you're finally warm. But DON'T DO IT! Wet clothing is your enemy in the cold.

It's hard to believe, but even the tiniest amount of moisture will hurt your chances of staying warm. If you feel like you're about to start sweating, stop what you're doing and immediately remove a layer.


Don't go to bed cold

Do some jumping jacks, go for a brisk walk around the campground. Do something to warm up right before crawling into the sleeping bag. It'll be that much easier to keep yourself warm than trying to shiver yourself to sleep.


Don't close the tent vents

I know. This is totally counter-intuitive. But keeping the vents open will let air circulate. Otherwise, it will condense and create a layer of cold liquid that will quickly cool down the tent like an air conditioner.

five people in sleeping bags outside

Don't bury your face in your sleeping bag

It's tempting to do. Especially your cold nose. But don't give in to temptation. Breathing into your sleeping bag will cause condensation directly in the bag, right against your skin. That's even worse than condensation near the tent vents!


Conclusion

There are a few common and very avoidable mistakes that people make when winter camping. Basically, it comes down to having the right gear and staying dry. As you already know, the warmer you are, the better your camping experience will be in winter.

The bottom line: Stay dry and don't let anyone tell you that size doesn't matter!

You can read more tips for winter camping on our sister company blog.

Looking for a winter camping checklist? Download and print it here:

Winter Camping checklist
.pdf
PDF • 538KB

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