Your Guide to Winter Camping Gear
By Mattie Schuler
Can your camping gear weather the cold temperatures and wet, slushy conditions of winter? Luckily, there are products that can take you through all four seasons, while some will just make the winter months that much more fun. With the right winter camping gear, getting outside when the cold front comes in has never been more enjoyable.
Slumberjack Big Timber
The best part about the Slumberjack Big Timber sleeping bag? Other than the cozy cotton flannel liner, the long-lasting polyester twill shell and the extremely warm insulation—you can easily zip together two of these roomy, rectangular bags to cuddle with your sweetie and stay warm with your natural body heat. The Big Timber is both affordable and functional with -20-degree and 0-degree bags. $110 for -20 degrees; $100 for 0 degree; slumberjack.com
Therm-A-Rest NeoAir All Season Sleeping Pad
Instead of having multiple sleeping pads for summer and winter, choose the NeoAir All Season sleeping pad by Therm-A-Rest. Therm-A-Rest uses internal cells and Reflective Barriers to trap heat, instead of using insulation—that way you don’t have to worry about excess weight. The large weighs less than two pounds with a 2.5-inch thickness. $150; cascadedesigns.com/therm-a-rest
Neck and Face Warmer
Cyclone and Polar Buff Microfleece
Sure, you can zip up your jacket all the way, but often zippers are rough and don't cover your runny nose. Keep your neck and face warm while hiking with the Cyclone Buff with Gore Windstopper membrane or the Polar Buff with Polartec microfleece. These amped up neckwarmers are breathable, moisture-wicking and quick drying. The Cyclone offers extreme protection from wind and the Polar has nine inches of soft fleece. Both can be worn in multiple ways—one of the coolest elements of Buff headwear. Cyclone Buff, $42; Polar Buff $30; buffusa.com
Stanley Classic Vacuum Bottle
Whether it's coffee for you or hot chocolate for the kids, a supreme thermos will keep your drinks at top temperatures no matter how cold it gets. The Stanley Classic Vacuum Bottle uses vacuum insulation to keep liquids hot or cold for up to 24 hours, and the lid doubles as a cup. The leakproof bottle is stainless steel, so it won't rust, and is BPA free. The bottles come in various sizes, from 16 ounces to 1.4 quarts. Bring along your favorite mug and you are good to go—cheers! From $35; stanley-pmi.com
From Icebreaker, Helly Hanson and The North Face
Layering is key to cold-weather activities. Remember, you can always take layers off if you’re too hot, but you can't add any if you didn't pack them or wear them. Start off with a base layer—this is typical long underwear that you wear beneath all other layers to wick moisture so you stay warm and don't overheat. New Zealand company Icebreaker uses extremely soft merino in their products, and their Everyday line offers top gear at a reasonable price, such as the Everyday Leggings and Everyday Half Zip.
Next comes the mid-layer—this layer will be thicker than the base layer and provides insulation. This could be fleece, down, or anything that will keep you warm, like the Graphic Fleece Hoodie by Helly Hansen.
Last comes protection from the elements—a shell that keeps out the wind and wetness. Shells vary from waterproof to water-resistant, and come as soft, hard or insulated shells. For winter camping, an insulated shell is best but not as versatile for other seasons as using a soft shell with layers. Down will be your warmest option, but make sure this outer layer is still water-resistant. With The North Face Saraphi 3-in-1 jacket, you are getting both a mid-layer and outer-layer in one.
Icebreaker Everyday Leggings, $60; Icebreaker Everyday Half Zip, $70; icebreaker.com
Helly Hanson Women's Graphic Fleece Hoodie, $100; hellyhansen.com
The North Face Seraphi Triclimate Jacket, $240; thenorthface.com
SmartWool PhD Outdoor Socks
A good pair of socks might seem like an easy item to come by, but trust us when we say that this can be one of the most important pieces of gear you own. Outdoor-specific socks add extra cushion around the heel, ball of the foot and toes, and are often made from a soft merino-wool blend that stays warm when wet or sweaty. SmartWool is one of the leading brands when it comes to hiking and winter-sport socks and for good reason—the company has specific socks for multiple activities, like running, hiking or snow sports. SmartWool's socks also vary by height and by cushion. Bonus: they are extremely soft and cute, too.
For winter activities, choose a crew length or over the calf. SmartWool's PhD Outdoor or Nordic, Ski or Snowboard socks come with varying levels of cushion and warmth. For the winter, choose a hiker sock if your feet are usually pretty warm or opt for a winter-specific sock if you tend to be on the cold side. If you are camping for a few days, pack two pairs that you can switch out each day. Starting from $21, smartwool.com
Columbia Minx and Bugaboot
Although your hiking boots might last in light snow, the best option is a pair of insulated, waterproof winter boots to keep your toes warm and dry at the campsite and on the trail. Columbia uses Omni-Heat thermal reflective lining in their winter boots, such as the women's Minx Moccasin or the men's Bugaboot Original Trail. This technology traps your body heat and amplifies the warmth of the insulation. Both boots are waterproof, insulated and durable—perfect for around the campfire or on a quick hike with the family. $160 for men's Bugaboot; $115 for women's Minx; columbia.com
Jetboil Sumo Group Cooking System
If you plan to cook in the backcountry in cold temperatures, you need a stove that can handle the climate. The Jetboil Sumo Group Cooking System combines the all-weather Sol burner with the high-capacity, 1.8-litre Sumo Companion Cooking Cup, which has a drink-through lid, a pour spout and a strainer. The set comes with an insulating cozy and a stabilizing tripod and won't fail you in extreme conditions. For more variety when it comes to cookware, the Sumo system is compatible with all of Jetboil's personal-cooking-system family add-ons. $130, jetboil.com
Easton Mountain Products Trail Snowshoe
The best way to stay warm during a winter camp session, other than sipping hot cocoa and sticking close to the fire, is to build up your own heat with a hike. If there’s a decent amount of snow, you'll need a pair of snowshoes. A practical, all-around pair is the Trail Snowshoe by Easton Mountain Products, which has a Quick-Cinch binding system so your boots will stay secure in the snowshoes and padded straps for added comfort. The shoes are also designed to absorb the stress normally put on your joints and are made to adapt to slope angles and different snow conditions. The Trails come in a women specific size, as well. $160; eastonmountainproducts.com
Big Agnes Flying Diamond
You can certainly use your summer tent for winter camping, but it might not hold up very well in cold weather and snowy conditions. Instead, invest in a multiple-season tent, like the Flying Diamond series by Big Agnes, which is basically a luxury condo you can set up in the woods—perfect for families. The four-season tent includes a fly and foot with 1500mm waterproof polyurethane coating to keep you dry in wet summer months or during a heavy snowfall. For summer, the doors have a mesh option, but for winter, zip up both the mesh and the polyester, rip-stop layer for full protection. If you find yourself with one of those snowy but sunny winter days, pop up the front vestibule doors and secure with trekking poles to use for shade coverage. Available for four, six and eight people. Starting from $440; bigagnes.com
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Mattie Schuler is a journalist who writes, edits and reports for magazines and websites. She currently focuses on topics that include the outdoor industry, outdoor recreation and gear, adventure sports, health and fitness, yoga, parenting and travel. In her free time, Mattie enjoys snowboarding, hiking and backpacking, yoga, cooking and reading lots of books and magazines.