Planning to be Out of My Comfort Zone: Winter Camping

Like most people, winter camping sounded a little crazy to me. Why go sleep outside in single digit temperatures when you can just do a day trip and then stay inside at night? After hiking with a group of area bloggers last September we all started talking about a winter trip. I was in for some snowshoeing, cross country skiing and maybe an overnight in a hut or something but the group focused on winter camping. I reluctantly accepted the challenge to join Heather, Heidi and Lynne along with their significant others and Sierra Trading Post's videographer, Chris Martin for this adventure.

The night before the trip I was packing my backpack full of everything I needed but I still wasn't sold on the idea of sleeping outside. I still thought maybe I could just snowshoe with the gang and head home if I needed to. But I knew as soon as I spent the afternoon in the outdoors with a great group of outdoor folks I'd be having so much fun I'd just want to stay.

I just had to get over my fears of not being able to sleep, fears of freezing all night long and my irrational thought of getting frostbite.

Then I remembered that all of my favorite outdoor adventures have taken place when I stepped outside of my comfort zone. Hiking 200+ miles on the John Muir Trail, jumping off a bridge, snowboarding my first double black diamond run or whatever it was, reaching outside of your comfort zone is what makes the adventure.

All I could do was do my best to prepare myself with the right clothing and gear for the trip. Worrying about being cold wasn't going to help and missing out on an awesome adventure wasn't an option.

Packing for a winter camping trip really isn't that much different. Actually, I brought most of the same stuff, just more of it. For example, I brought 3 pairs of socks for just an overnight trip. I didn't want to take a chance that wet socks would ruin my fun.

layers for winter camping Layered up for winter camping

What I Wore Winter Camping

Actually, most of this outdoor gear (excluding the snow pants) is the same items I bring on most summer backpacking trips. I brought an extra mid layer and an extra pair of pants to sleep in just in case I was freezing at night but I never needed them.

Winter Camping Planning

Other Winter Camping Gear

  • Sleeping Pad - I actually brought two sleeping pads. My foam pad is only about 3/4 length so I was worried my feel would get cold. My other pad is full length but is an air inflated pad and I was worried it would be cold. The two together definitely did the trick.

  • One-man 3-season Tent - With the forecast calling for a clear night I went with my 3-season tent. I packed snow around the tent to seal the spots where cold air could come in, especially around the vestibule.

  • Camp stove - I know that liquid fuel stoves have some advantages over canister stoves in cold weather but I carefully planned to keep the canisters warm and off the snow while I was cooking.

  • Sleeping Bag - I was able to borrow a -15 degree bag from a friend (I own a 0 and a +20 bag). This made all the difference in the world. I think I would have been cold in a zero degree bag.

All in all, the gear I used for a winter camping trip is the same as I used for my summer trips with the exception of the warmer sleeping bag. I brought more food than normal and a few extra layers but I was extremely comfortable.

Check back as our next post will describe the full winter camping experience and the lessons I learned. Or check out these other posts on winter camping:

Lessons learned from Winter Camping
Winter Camping in the Snowy Range
Preparing for Winter Camping: What Do I Bring?!
3-season vs. 4-season Tents 
How to select a winter camping site

Andy Hawbaker
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Andy Hawbaker
Andy is a hiker, backpacker, snowboarder and outdoor fanatic. When he isn't exploring the Rocky Mountains, burning marshmallows or scratching his dog behind the ear, he shares his experiences here on the Sierra Trading Post Blog.
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