Labor Day is the traditional signal for the end of camping season for most families. We tend to equate camping with sunny summer days by the lake or beach and, let’s face it, by the end of September warm sunny days are getting fewer and far between for many of us.
Winter camping offers many advantages, though, including the fact that all of those “other” campers are staying at home and not crowding your campground! The trails are still there, the fish are still biting, and the peaceful winter calm will make you wonder why you didn’t start extending your family camping season earlier.
Unless you plan on camping in extremely cold locations or at high elevations, your regular camping gear is probably just fine for winter camping. If you have been reading CampingBlogger, you know that I’m no fan of cheap “superstore” gear, so in this context “regular camping gear” means a good, 3-season tent, and 20-degree sleeping bags.
Though I’m a big advocate of paying for good quality gear, the additional cost of 4-season tents and lower-rated sleeping bags does not make a lot of sense, for us. A sleeping bag rated for 20-degrees can generally be used all year long, whereas the lower-rated bags are just too warm for much of the year. You can always add a sleeping bag liner, like the very good Cocoon® products, for additional warmth.
The key to comfortable cold weather camping is, of course, keeping warm. Moisture is your enemy in cold weather, robbing your clothes and sleeping bag of their ability to insulate. Keeping dry is critical, which is the real reason behind layering; not piling-on additional clothes to stay warm. Layering allows you to easily shed clothes to control your perspiration.
Our feet in particular, perspire a lot, so it is important to change socks often and always before turning in for the night, less you suffer through the night with frosty toes! If you still have problems with cold feet at night, you can place a waterproof backpack liner over the end of your sleeping bag, and it will keep your feet much warmer. For a fraction of the price, a military surplus waterproof bag works just as well.
Likewise, at the other end of your body, a knit cap over your head will keep you warm and is a much better solution than burying your head inside the sleeping bag, where much of the moisture from your breathing will be trapped. This is an important lesson to teach, and reinforce, to your children, since our natural inclination is to cocoon inside the sleeping bag.
Condensation inside the tent can be a big problem in the winter, so even though it sounds counterintuitive, it is important to ventilate the tent well. This is where spending the extra money for a good tent provides a real benefit, as they generally have full-coverage rain flies that come all the way down to the ground.
The layer of air between the tent and rain fly will provide some insulation, yet the moisture from all of that snoring will travel out through the vents in the tent and condense on the underside of the rain fly, which is a lot better than on the inside of the tent.
Winter camping is an enjoyable family activity that does not require a bunch of new, expensive, gear. Next time, I’ll talk more about winter camping activities that your family can enjoy, but just to recap the first part in this series:
- Your tent should have plenty of ventilation and a full rain fly
- A sleeping bag liner can provide additional comfort
- If you have a problem with cold feet at night, place a waterproof gear bag over the end of the sleeping bag
- Layer clothing to control perspiration
- Dry feet are warm feet, so change socks early and often
What are some of your tips for keeping warm and dry in the winter?