Brrr! It’s chilly outside. But don’t let that stop you from getting out and hitting the trails to see the cold, white winter wonderland and all that it has to offer. Your secret to success in this season will be a good 4 season tent and some excellent cold weather camping clothes. Here’s your essential guide on what to buy, bring, and wear.
Cold Weather Camping Clothes
Let’s see what will you need to bring with you if you intend to go winter camping.
Layers, layers, layers
Cold weather is all about having multiple layers, so you can take off what is too hot, or even what got wet. Later on, you can pick and choose what to put on next, so your body will always stay the right temperature
Inner base layer
The innermost layer would be the clothing that you take off the least – your long underwear. If you get cold easily but don’t sweat that much, you’ll want to start with wool underclothes, such as merino wool. But if you tend to sweat a lot, you’ll want something more breathable, such as a polyester tee shirt.
The idea is that the fabric wicks the moisture away from your skin as this will cause you to quickly become over-chilled. And being wet and cold is a hypothermia risk. Just don’t wear cotton! Cotton doesn’t have the wicking properties like other fibers. There are always some interesting new synthetic fabrics on the market, don’t be afraid to look at those, either.
Middle insulating layer
This layer of clothing sits between your inner base layer and your outer jacket layer. It’s made of thicker, warmer, or puffier material. Fleece, polyester, and down tend to be the main players in this area. When it comes to middle layers, you really can’t judge by the material and thickness alone, you need to try it on. Jackets are nice, but don’t forget about the rest of your body, too, such as fleece or insulated pants.
A few words about down
Down is a lot warmer for the weight compared to other clothing items, and can be rolled and pressed very tightly. It’ll also last you a very long time if it’s taken care of correctly. However, down loses all of its warmth if it gets wet, and it tends to take a long time to dry. Cleaning down items requires special knowledge, care, and materials. Lastly, some people tend to be allergic to down.
Outer shell layer
In tent language, you waterproof your tent by spraying it with a special chemical, and this makes the tent waterproofed. Your outer layer is the winterizing agent that makes you winter-proof against wind, chill, rain, sleet, and snow. Sometimes this is called rainwear, but you want everything that you pick to be actually waterproof and not just water resistant.
Water resistant means that it can withstand some rain for a little while, but eventually you will end up as soaked as if you weren’t wearing one at all. Durable Water Repellent, or just Water Repellent is a new technology that causes water to bead on the hydrophobic material’s surface and eventually slide right off.
You also need your outer layer to be breathable so that you can expel the perspiration that you inner layer wicked from your skin. Sometimes this is called Moisture Vapor Transfer. Generally soft shells should be highly breathable by default. It should also have windchill protection by default of being waterproof. You definitely want the full windproof label, and not simply wind-resistant, which means that it can hold up to mild breezes, but not fully fledged storms.
Make sure that the top of your shoes or boots are covered by your pants. If they aren’t, bring gaiters to keep your feet nice and dry. You don’t want your shoes getting wet as that will travel to your socks, and then your feet.
Another idea is a 3-in-1 jacket that acts as a windproof, waterproof, and breathable jacket typically made of fleece. They tend to come with a second inner component, so that you can just stash that in your pocket in case you don’t need it. There’s also something called a hybrid shell. Exactly how they are hybrid varies from product to product, so you need to read the label and have an idea of the kind of weather you will experience at your camping site.
You’ll want to bring some other things, too. For your hands, bring gloves or mittens just in case. Not losing fingers to frostbite is always worth the reduction in dexterity. For your face, a ski mask or face mask just in case the wind is a blistering cold, a hat or beanie to cover your head and shade your eyes, and sunglasses for when the sun is right in your path.
You’ll want to make sure that they are UV blocking. Glasses with colored lenses yellow through red or with a Visible Light Transmission (VLT) of 20-40% are very good in cloudy, low-light conditions. Polarized lenses and anti-reflective coating cut down on glare but hikes generally don’t have much of this except the glare reflecting on your sunglasses themselves. Mirror-coating, like metallic lenses, reduces the amount of light that passes through.
Extra clothing is always a good idea. If nothing else, you can use it as extra stuffing in your pillow or extra padding inside your sleeping roll to help keep you warmer. Be sure that your extras include extra socks. Keeping your feet dry is very important, especially on longer expeditions.
Happy winter camping!
I hope that your next trip goes swimmingly thanks to this guide on cold weather camping clothes. Remember to bring along some hand-warmer packs, or even electric gadget versions provided you can charge them. On every trip, bring your camping go-bag with your go-to camping gear, including first aid and extra water or a water filtration system.