Camping and all of the activities, such as hiking, canoeing, or simply relaxing at a campfire, that go with it are some of the best ways to enjoy and explore nature.
Camping enthusiasts can also sightsee during different seasons, so they can get a true feel for everything a particular area has to offer. However, cold weather camping, while fun and exciting, can also sometimes lead to uncomfortable or even dangerous situations.
Researching the limits of cold weather camping and learning about how to stay warm when camping during the winter can help make your camping trip safer and much more enjoyable.
How Cold is Too Cold for Camping?
There’s no hard and fast limit when it comes to temperatures for camping, and seasoned, experienced campers may even opt to camp in temperatures that are well below freezing.
However, most average campers, using average gear, agree that it’s best to only camp in temperatures that are above freezing. Temperatures that dip as low as the high 30s Fahrenheit are usually the limit.
Even then, campers can become very cold at night. For the most comfortable camping experience, most people only choose to camp when temperatures are above 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
What temperature you can safely camp at will also depend on how your sleeping bag is rated. Many sleeping bags have different ratings.
These ratings tell you at what outdoor temperature the sleeping bag will keep you warm and comfortable, as well as the lower limit temperature, which is the temperature at which the bag will insulate and keep you safe.
At the lower limit temperature, you most likely won’t feel truly warm.
Sleeping bag ratings are an estimate, and they don’t measure exactly how every person will feel when using the bag. You may want to test a sleeping bag several times to get a true idea of how it works for you before deciding what temperatures you’re comfortable with or what else you want to bring for warmth on your trip.
Cold Weather Camping in Tents vs. Trailers
When it comes to cold weather camping, camping in a trailer may seem like the obvious answer. If your trailer has electricity, you can use a small space heater or furnace for extra warmth.
Electricity will also allow you to plug in an electric blanket or two, which can make a big difference when it comes to staying warm throughout a cold night.
However, some camping areas might not have a place to hook up to electricity. The larger size of a camping trailer, when compared to a tent, can also be a bit more challenging to heat.
In addition, if you have a camper with running water, you’ll need to winterize the water elements so they don’t freeze and burst.
Staying warm in a tent seems like a challenge, but with the proper gear, it can often be quite comfortable.
In order to stay warm in a tent, you can follow a few simple cold weather camping tips. In addition, you’ll want to wear as much clothing as possible to keep up your body heat.
Ensure that you’re not too warm, however. If you start sweating, the condensation can quickly drop your temperature, and any dampness can make it harder to get warm again.
It’s also important to always ensure that your feet are dry. Wearing socks and a hat to bed can also boost your temperature by quite a bit, making camping in a tent much more comfortable.
Cold Weather Camping Tips
One of the most important things to do when camping in cold temperatures is to stay hydrated and eat enough calories. Burning excess calories can help to heat up your body, so eat a calorie-rich snack before bed.
Staying hydrated helps your body regulate its temperature.
You may also want to do some light exercise before going to bed, just to warm up your body. Only do enough to generate a little heat, and don’t exercise until you sweat.
Sweat will cool you down too quickly, but exercising just enough to become warm before going to bed can keep you toasty all night.
When you’re getting ready to go to sleep in cold weather, your first instinct might be to tuck your face inside your sleeping bag to keep your head warm.
However, it’s much better to wear a hat and keep your head outside the sleeping bag. When your face is inside the sleeping bag, the moisture in your breath can create condensation and dampen the material.
You may even want to bring your sleeping bag outside each day in order to let any moisture dry out.
Always go to the bathroom before going to bed as well. Your body will need to use its own heat to keep urine in your bladder warm, so using the bathroom before bed can help you retain that heat for yourself instead.
You’ll also want to ensure that your sleeping bag doesn’t touch the sides of the tent. Conduction can occur if the bag touches the tent, pulling the cold from the tent wall into the inside and chilling the sleeping bag.
Preparing Your Tent for Cold Weather
It’s always a good idea to make sure that your tent is well-ventilated. Although this may seem counterintuitive, a well-ventilated area can help to prevent condensation.
As condensation evaporates, it leaches away warmth, cooling the internal temperature of the tent and making it difficult for you to stay warm.
In very cold temperatures, you can also hang or tape a thermal blanket to the tent’s ceiling. These blankets are lightweight, so they’re not cumbersome to transport, but they lock heat in well.
Taping one to the ceiling of the tent will help to trap rising warm air, keeping it inside the tent.
While camping, make sure to keep your tent free of frost or ice, especially whatever condenses and freezes overnight. As the frost melts, it can soak into the tent, and this can drastically lower the temperature inside the tent.
Melting frost can also wet your gear, and it can be nearly impossible to dry wet things in cold weather.
Keeping Your Bedding Warm in Cold Weather
To make sure that your bedding stays toasty while camping, choose a sleeping bag that’s the right size for you.
You’ll want to fit completely and comfortably into your bag, but a snug fit is essential, as any extra space will also need to be heated in order to keep you warm, and this can decrease the overall temperature inside the bag.
If you do have extra space, you might want to fill it with hot water bottles.
Be sure to always fluff your sleeping bag before using it. A fluffier bag, particularly if it uses down, will provide much better insulation.
Using a sleeping bag liner can also be incredibly helpful when it comes to staying warm in a tent. A sleeping bag liner not only makes for a softer, cleaner camping experience, but it can also make a sleeping bag up to 10 degrees warmer.
Sleeping in two sleeping bags tucked around each other can also boost warmth.
Finally, make sure that, when you’re camping in cold weather, you use a thick, insulated sleeping pad. This will help to block the cold from the ground from creeping up into the sleeping bag.
It can also make for a cozier, more comfortable sleeping experience.