7 Tips for Cold Weather Camping Comfort
How-To's & Resources, Winter Road Trips
January 3, 2019
7 Tips for Cold Weather Camping Comfort
By Carly Eisley
Winter adventures can be amazing. Spectacular scenery, limited crowds, and… cold. Hanging around camp in winter can be downright freezing! Here are some tips for winter-ing like a rockstar and braving the campervan chill in comfort.
1. Layer Up
One of the keys to staying warm while camping is the same rule that applies to winter activities such as hiking and skiing: smart layers. Standing and sitting around in cold temps can take things from comfy to chilly in a flash. To stay warm while making breakfast or enjoying your après-adventure beverages, start your outfit with some type of warm base layer. A wool or fleece-lined top and legging (or long underwear type combo) to start out with will help keep the heat in. I usually follow this with some type of fuzzy fleece or sweatshirt and a thick pair of sweatpants. Really cold or snowy? Wear some snow pants around camp. Depending on the temps, this gets topped off with some combination of a vest and jacket.
2. Get Down
My number one most important piece of clothing for all of my camping trips is a lightweight down (or synthetic insulation) puffy jacket. I find down to be the warmest, but if you don’t wear down the synthetic jackets (think Patagonia’s nano puff, etc.) are also nice and toasty. Lightweight, packable, and perfect for a range of temperatures, a decent quality down puffy is an investment you will want to make for your camping trips. Layer this with a lightweight down/insulated vest and you’ll be totally snug.
3. Sock it to me
Don’t forget your feet! Sitting around in camp, hanging out by the campfire, and sleeping in the van can leave you with chilly toes. Pack a couple of pairs of warm, thick socks to rotate through and layer while hanging around camp. I like wool and/or a thick fleece lined sock. Bring some camp slippers of some kind as well – my husband has a pair of the Teva Ember Mocs that he wore on our last cold weather trip and loved. I have a pair of old “Ugg” like boots or slipper moccasins that I will pack to shuffle around camp with. Anything warm with a hard sole will do!
4. Fire Away
Campfires are great any time of year, but especially nice to cozy up to after you are done wrapping yourself in your layers of fleece and down. Be sure to stay aware of local fire restrictions and choose a campsite that allows fires. Equally as important – choose your wood carefully! Many states have very particular rules about where the wood can come from and what type of wood you are burning in a state or national park (i.e. packaged kiln-dried firewood for example).
Try to choose the driest most seasoned wood possible, to avoid turning your attempt at a cozy evening into a smoke show that drives you into the van for the night early. Not that I know this from experience or anything…
Accessories make the outfit – this goes for your winter camping couture as well. I highly recommend bringing at least two glove and hat options. I tend to bring a thinner pair of gloves to wear when I need finger dexterity or if it’s on the warmer side, and a thicker pair of gloves (or better yet mittens) to keep your hands toasty when you are just hanging out. Same logic goes for a winter hat. It’s much better to have options rather than a cold head.
Another accessory I don’t leave home without is a buff. They are tiny, so I bring a few with me – they work great as a hat, ear cover, neck gaiter, washcloth, etc. I find some type of buff used as a neck gaiter works much better camping than a regular scarf – no need to worry about the ends of a scarf unraveling and landing in your food or the campfire.
There’s nothing better than hot morning coffee on a chilly morning! Keep it that way by bringing an insulated cup or coffee mug to help keep your hot beverages from cooling off in the cold weather. We love our Hydroflask pint glasses – they are light, easy to pack, and serve double duty with hot and cold drinks.
6. Sleeping in comfort
While the van is cozy for sleeping, it can get pretty cold when the temperatures drop below freezing. If you plan to spend multiple days in your Escape campervan in below freezing temperatures, I highly recommend bringing a sleeping bag. A sleeping bag is an easy way to keep everyone comfortable, especially if your sleeping partner is usually a lot warmer (or colder) than you are. I have a 30 degree down bag that is very packable and has kept me comfortable in the van in temperatures down to the teens (yes, this was also underneath the included duvet). Typically a warm sleeper? A lighter weight synthetic bag will do the trick and can be opened and used as an extra blanket layer as well.
If you need a little extra warmth to get you snoozing, use this backpacker’s trick. A water bottle (something like a Nalgene – not insulated, not flimsy) filled with hot water and tucked under the sheets with you when you go to bed will provide a little extra heat.
Forgot your sleeping bag? Feeling extra cold? Climb under the covers with your layers on. I have definitely slept in various combinations of my fleece, down vest, and down jacket and was totally comfortable.
Close the curtains to help provide a little extra insulation. They really do seem to help keep things a little warmer (and keep that morning light out if you want to sleep in).
Keep your van’s gas tank on the full side in cold weather. If you get really cold during the night, you can always turn on the van and blast the heat to warm yourself up some!
7. Ask for the extras
The accessories provided with your campervan rental should keep you fairly comfortable. If the weather forecast is looking chilly, ask for an extra duvet. This has saved many a night’s sleep for us when we didn’t quite need the sleeping bag. The space heater (included free with an extension cord) could also come in handy if you have access to a full hookup site with electricity (it’s an electric heater that needs to be plugged in to function, so this is the only option). A bonus is that the cost of full hookup sites in the cold weather (aka offseason) will likely be much cheaper, so it may be worth the splurge for a night of comfort. We randomly ended up at a full hookup site in the van on our last trip and the temperatures dipped into the teens overnight. The heater kept us comfortable all night.
I hope these tips help you get out there and enjoy some winter weather camping! Go forth, have fun, and stay cozy!