Cold Weather Camping for People Who Hate Cold Weather

Durham, NC: Hi, Leave No Trace world. I have a confession to make.

My name is Jessie, I’m a Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer, and I hate cold weather.

But, despite my love-hate relationship with the cold, I still relish getting the opportunity to live (mostly) outdoors and to share Leave No Trace skills and practices with other outdoors-lovers. So I’ll put on a pair of long underwear (or two or three) and relish the opportunity to enjoy fewer crowds, open views, and even a campfire every now and then.

Here are five tips for cold weather car camping from someone who hates cold weather.

1.   Warm up before you get cold. If you wait until you’re shivering to put on your puffy jacket, it’s much harder to keep your body temperature up. When the temperature starts to dip in the evening, put on those extra layers immediately. Actually, put them on before the temperature drops. Heck, go ahead and put them RIGHT NOW. 

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Winter is coming. And someone is going to be ready for it.  

2. When I’m winding down on a cold night and know I won’t be doing anything sweat-inducing before bedtime, I’ll put on whatever shirt(s) I’m wearing to bed that night before it’s time to crawl into the tent. My body heat warms up my pajama layers so I’m not putting on cold clothes, then crawling into a cold bed, and THEN being cranky because I’m, you know, cold.

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Puffy jacket, I love you. 

3. And speaking of clothes…remember that old scout trick of sleeping with your next-day clothes in your sleeping bag? (As long as they’re dry, of course.) It keeps your clothes warm and makes getting dressed the next morning much more pleasant. I often start my day with a run and will make a running clothes bundle to cuddle with all night long. (This is more enjoyable when my clothes are clean.)

4. A quick way to get some blood moving to frozen(ish) fingertips is to windmill your arms for a few minutes. (Seriously, try it.) Also, mittens keep my fingers much warmer than gloves do. I wear a double layer system with a light fleece mitten under a windproof mitten shell. Of course, when I actually need to use my hands for something, mittens are less than ideal, so I keep a pair of thinner water and windproof gloves handy (ha) for when I need dexterity to do things like…

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The mittens are warmer, but, sometimes, you need to use your fingers. 

5. Make hot drinks. In case you haven’t noticed, grocery store tea aisles are exploding with options. Even my coffee-or-bust partner will drink a few mugs of passion tea, so it’s worth trying a few kinds to see if there’s one that you like enough to drink on your next cold camping trip, especially if you need a caffeine-free hot option before bed. Also, an insulated mug keeps drinks magically hot. 

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This Klean Kanteen mug will probably keep your tea warm until summer.

Want more cold weather camping info? Check out our Leave No Trace Principles for winter recreation and our Leave No Trace Tips for Winter Trips video!

And for advice on how to camp in the snow, check out REI's winter camping blog and video

Enjoy Your World and Leave No Trace,
Jessie and Matt

Leave No Trace's Jessie Johnson and Matt Schneider are part of the 2018-2019 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, REI, Eagles Nest Outfitters, Deuter, Thule, and Klean Kanteen.