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  • Writer's pictureBasecamp Outdoor Gear Team

Winter camping essentials

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

Are you planning a camping trip in the Southwest in the winter? There are a few things you should know before setting out.

Winter in the Southwest usually means sunny warm days and beautiful starry nights. But it could also sometimes mean freezing temperatures, unexpected cloud coverage, and windy conditions. Prepare for all weather types with the right clothing and camping gear. Download and print our winter camping checklist. Refer to it whenever you pack for any winter adventure.

snow-covered sign for capitol reef national park
Snow-covered Capitol Reef National Park

Elevations and temperatures

The first thing to check when heading to the Southwest is your intended camping altitudes. The higher you go in elevation, the colder it gets. For instance, Zion National Park is about 2000 ft higher than Las Vegas. And Bryce Canyon is 4000 ft higher than Zion!

Here's a comparison chart of average altitudes and winter temperatures:

Temperatures and elevations chart
Southwest temperatures and elevations chart

Daytime temperatures, as long as you stand in direct sunlight, may feel similar in all three destinations. But stand in the shade or in cloudy/windy weather, and you will immediately know the difference. Not to mention nighttime temps, which drop dramatically.

snowy trail among tall orange cliffs
Consider snowshoeing in Bryce Canyon in winter

Camping in cold weather

Typical sunny winter days offer ideal hiking temperatures anywhere in the Southwest. But winter nights often drop to below freezing. Brrr... In fact, campgrounds at the rims of Bryce and the Grand Canyon, at over 7000 ft, are usually snow-covered between December-February.

That being said, you should still go there! Yes, nights might be cold, but that's what we're here for. We'll set you up with the right gear to spend the night, so you could enjoy spectacular days.

pink skies, orange rock, white ground
Beautiful color contrasts at Bryce Canyon National Park

Advantages of winter camping

There are lots of advantages to winter camping in the Southwest:

  • Less crowds

  • No bugs, no snakes, no scorpions

  • Beautiful color contrasts between the rocks, trees, and snow

  • Amazing photography

  • Perfect temps for physical activity (as long as you wear the right clothes for it)

  • More time for relaxation or to finish that book you started reading last summer

  • The list goes on and on!

In order to enjoy all of the above, you must prepare to deal with the cold and overall temperature extremes. Lucky for you, Basecamp is here!

It's all about the gear

At Basecamp, we rent three types of sleeping bags: summer, 3-season, and winter.

Summer sleeping bags are rated down to 35°F. However, they are most ideal for sleeping in temperatures 45°F and up. In the Southwest, that's usually the months of June-August. A sleeping bag liner may come in handy if you use a summer bag at 35°F.

3-season sleeping bags are rated down to between 15-20°F. They are most ideal for sleeping in temperatures that range between 30-45°F. In the Southwest, that's usually the months of September-November and March-May. Once again, sleeping bag liners can be used at colder temperatures.

Our winter sleeping bags are rated down to 0°F. They are most ideal for sleeping in temperatures that range between 10-25°F. We highly recommend renting winter bags for most destinations in the Southwest between December-February.

Here's a summary of the above:

Sleeping bag temperature chart
Sleeping bag temperature chart

You can read some tips for winter camping on our sister company blog. The main thing to take away from all this information is that you need the right gear, especially sleeping pads and sleeping bags.

Snow-covered bush in front of a series of canyons
In winter, the rim of Grand Canyon National Park is often snow-covered, but the inner canyon is clear

Size matters

As DetourOn mentions, short people can always stuff extra clothing at the foot of the sleeping bag to block out any cold air pockets. But if you're tall, your toes will push against the foot of the sleeping bag, so you will quickly get cold.

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


There's a direct correlation between body warmth and enjoyment of winter camping. The warmer you are, the better your camping experience will be in winter. So cozy up by the campfire with good layers and great winter camping gear. Download and print our winter camping checklist. Refer to it whenever you pack for any winter adventure.

Winter Camping checklist
Download PDF • 538KB

Stay tuned for our upcoming blog about our favorite things to do in the Southwest in winter.

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