You could argue that only the insane would venture out into cold outdoors, and, granted, it isn’t for everyone. We’re not talking about snowboarding or ski runs: Winter camping is real and doable, and while it requires some pre-planning and additional gear, it can be fun and enjoyable. There’s nothing like the crisp air and snowshoeing through quiet surroundings to make you feel really at one with nature.
If you don’t bring along the right gear, however, a winter camping or backpacking trip can go severely awry, even deadly. Naturally, you need to keep well insulated. The limited amount of light means you’ll need to bring along a capable flash, as well as a navigation tool to stay on track. Should the temperature drop unexpectedly or you spend more than a day’s backpacking, you’ll need shelter, not to mention sustenance and drinking water. Unlike the summer months, camping during winter can be highly unpredictable.
But should you heed the call of the wild, here are our picks for cold weather camping.
(Special thanks to our resident camping expert, Annie Bernstein.)
In the outdoors, the chance of getting a cell signal is very slim (although the smartphone compass can come in handy). If you’re venturing somewhere deep or off the beaten path, this portable GPS device offers navigation and routing to help keep you from getting lost. When in trouble, activate the SOS function which will connect you to a rescue center.
We know camping is about powering down, but who are we kidding – we’re attached to our tech. To keep a phone juiced up, we enjoy the large-capacity (10,000mAh) Kodiak Plus. There are plenty of portable USB chargers, but we like the rugged attributes of this one, and it’s waterproof. (If you’re crazy enough to bring along a laptop, you should consider something like Goal Zero’s $350 Sherpa 100.)
In the winter months you don’t have that many hours of natural light. The ReVolt Headlamp’s LEDs provide 130-lumens of light, but we also like its longevity and power options. It can run off AAA batteries or rechargeable lithium-ion. You can get as much as 300 hours off a charge.
Evrgrn Lowboy lantern ($30)
This lantern is all about creating ambiance around the tent. A handle lets you hang it from above.
The UE Roll is a portable speaker with a 65-foot Bluetooth range and a nine-hour rechargeable battery. It’s covered in a fabric from Swiss textile manufacturer, Schoeller, making it water and stain resistant. Digital Trends’ audio expert, Caleb Denison, says, “You should never expect chest-pounding bass from a speaker this size, but what UE has managed to coax from the Roll is impressive.” Watch our video review here.
The Barebones Safari Tent ($1,862)
You are advised to bring a tent as emergency shelter, but if you plan to set up camp for a few days, the Safari has enough room to fit eight. Easy to set up, Barebones’ tents have been used to serve as temporary housing after natural disasters, like after the recent Nepal earthquake.
Poler Napsack ($140)
Like a Snuggie for campers, the Napsack is a sleeping bag that zips open to let you stick out your arms and legs. Staying well insulated is key when camping in the cold, which the Napsack does with aplomb, but never having to get in and out of this thing is what makes it appealing.
Roughing it in the outdoors doesn’t mean you can’t have some comfort. The ultra-light EvoLite mattress provides good support, yet it rolls up easily for packing. The best part is that it only requires a few breaths to inflate.
Every Pendleton blanket is hand-woven in one of its Pacific Northwest mills, which date back to the late-1800s. Its National Park Collection celebrates the country’s natural landmarks, and this one (pictured) pays tribute to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. The bold yet clean pattern is both classic and modern. Pendleton’s quality craftsmanship makes this something to pass down to future generations.
Besides being well insulated, you should dress in layers. For an outer jacket, the Cathode Hooded is lightweight and folds up to almost nothing, but it’s also water-resistant, breathable, and warm. Pair it with a good base layer, like the Airblaster Ninja Suit, and you’ll feel mighty toasty.
Airblaster Merino Ninja Suit ($141+)
The fact that it has “ninja” in the name is already cool. Airblaster makes the Ninja Suit in various fabrics, but this one in a merino wool blend makes it stronger yet more comfortable, and it also dries faster. Pair this with the Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded jacket, and you’re good to go.
Place those heated insoles into hiking boot, hand crafted in Portland, Oregon. A Vibram sole keeps you steady on uneven surfaces, with good shock absorption. It’s breathable so it keeps your feet dry.
Although we know to keep most of our bodies warm, we sometimes forget about our feet until it’s too late. These insoles, using rechargeable batteries, can provide up to five hours of variable heat. A remote control turns them on and off and lets you pick from different heat levels. It recharges via USB, so you can use a portable charger to keep the warmth going.
Whereas the ProFlex is for the feet, the Heattouch Hyperlite is for the hands. It’s similar in that is has a rechargeable battery that provides three levels of heat.
Leatherman is renowned for its multitools, but the Tread is unlike anything it’s made before. This tough-guy-looking bracelet actually has 29 tools built into each link – various hex drive, screwdriver, glass breaker, cutter, and box wrench tools, and there’s even one to pop the SIM card tray out of a smartphone.
Jetboil MiniMo cooking system ($135) + Grande coffee press ($8+)
The MiniMo is a compact portable burner that has a useful function: You can turn the valve to adjust simmer control. It’s designed to work in temperatures as cold as 20-degrees Fahrenheit. For morning coffee, just attach the optional French press cover. If you’re feeding more than one, check out the larger Jetboil Zip.
Besides sustenance, it’s important to stay hydrated. There are plenty of portable water purification systems, but we like the Sawyer Squeeze Mylar bags for easy packing. The filter will clean out nearly 100 percent of bacteria and protozoa from water, making it safe for drinking or cooking. Another cool feature: The filter can be attached onto the threads of most water bottles.
Made from Japanese titanium, Snow Peak’s Hybrid Trail Cookset contains a silicon bowl, metal bowl, and metal spork. Everything fits inside each other, and there’s enough room to store a fuel canister or portable stove.
Now that we’ve covered the gear, here are some things to keep in mind before you head out into the cold outdoors. The key is to be prepared.
- Stay warm and dry: It’s all about layering. Pick a comfortable, breathable base layer that keeps you dry, a middle to keep in heat, and an outer to shield against wind and water. Don’t forget the head, hands, and feet, too; frostbite is serious. Check out REI’s guide on how to layer.
- Travel with others, or alert someone of your itinerary.
- Smartphones won’t work, unless you’re Candy Crushing. Get a communication device that works, like two-way radios.
- Bring a water purifier for to clean the water you come across, and stay fed and hydrated. Pack energy-rich food, or a camping stove.
- Carry in, carry out: Don’t dump your waste.
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