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Don't Leave Home Without These 11 Winter Camping Essentials

Stay warm, stay dry, have fun.

By: Sara Sheehy + Save to a List

When the temperatures start to drop, many people pack away their camping gear and call it quits for the winter season. But just because it's cold outside doesn't mean that you need to spend all your nights cooped up at home. When you're itching for a night under the stars, why not give winter camping a try?

Here are eleven winter camping essentials to take with you on your next adventure.

Nemo Sonic Down Sleeping Bag

Pick a sleeping bag that is rated to at least 10 degrees colder than the weather forecast calls for. Is it going to be 20 degrees overnight? Bring a 10-degree or 0-degree bag to be on the safe side.

This Nemo Sonic sleeping bag (20-degree and 0-degree options available) is a Backpacker Editor's Choice Award winner. It is fine-tuned to allow for temperature regulation in almost any climate. A draft collar and draft tubes help to keep cold air from reaching your skin, and adjustable "Thermo Gills" on the front let out some of your body heat if things get too steamy.

Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated Air Sleeping Mat

When you're camping in the winter, your sleeping pad is for more than just comfort, it is protection from the frozen ground beneath you. Sea to Summit's Comfort Plus pad is insulated with Thermolite and Exkin Platinum and has two layers of air chambers that allow you to fine-tune your comfort.

For even more protection from the elements, pack a closed-cell foam pad to go underneath the insulated one.

Cotopaxi Nepal 65L Backpack

Forget squeezing all your gear into a daypack, winter camping takes up more space than your average backpacking setup. Pick a pack that is at least 65 liters, like this features-heavy Cotopaxi Nepal with a removable top lid, separate sleeping bag compartment, and trekking pole/ice axe attachments. 

You'll feel great about your purchase, too — Cotopaxi is a B Corporation that diverts a portion of their annual revenues to funding humanitarian non-profits.

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV3 Expedition

If you're camping below tree-line, and in calm weather, you can likely get away with using your three-season tent for a night in the snow. But if you're going to be facing wind, snow, or rain, you'll want a four-season tent with sturdy poles and durable fabric to make it through the night.

Check out the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV3 Expedition. It has a burly pole system for keeping the tent upright no matter the weather and tall walls for more living space (critical on long, snowy nights!). 

Pro tip: since you'll be hauling more gear in the winter, save one of the sleeping spaces in your tent to store it inside with you. In other words, if there are two of you, bring a three-person tent.

MSR WhisperLite Liquid Fuel Stove

There's nothing worse than getting to your camp spot in the winter and realizing your stove is on the fritz. Play it safe(r) by bringing a liquid fuel stove like the MSR WhisperLite.

The WhisperLite has been on the market forever, and it's a bomber addition to your winter camping quiver. Liquid fuel stoves are much easier to regulate in cold temperatures (most canister stoves cannot control fuel pressure, making them prone to disfunction in the winter), so you won't have to choke down a dry backpacking meal.

Patagonia Macro Puff

If layering is important in the summer, it's at least twice as important in the winter. Bring clothing layers that keep you warm while wicking moisture away from your body so that when you reach your destination, your drying sweat doesn't turn to ice.

Patagonia's Macro Puff packs down small but uses synthetic insulation to keep you warm even if the sky starts spitting a wintery mix. Be sure always to pack a shell, as well, so that wet weather doesn't swamp you.

Costa Tico Sunglasses

Sun protection is critical in the winter when the UV rays not only come from above but also reflect off the snow and hit you from below. This can cause you to go snowblind and, in some cases, causes permanent damage to your eyes.

Costa's line of polarized sunglasses provide 100% UV protection and reduce glare. The Tico's face-hugging wrap design gives you a lot of protection from the sun, and are comfortable enough for all-day wear.

Badger Balm Mineral Sport Sunscreen

Speaking of the sun, have you ever had a sunburn in the winter? Nothing can quite prepare you for the double-whammy of having frozen fingers and a nose on fire.

Badger's natural mineral sunscreen uses zinc oxide to reflect the sun away from your skin. It is also water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. Don't forget to put it on the underside of your chin and under your nose...two places where the sun reflecting off the snow can give a good (and unexpected) burn.

Merino Wool Buff

A Buff is one of those pieces of gear that, once you have one, you'll wonder how you ever lived without. Use it as a neck gaiter, a hat, a face mask, a helmet liner, a headband...the list is endless.

Buff's merino line is soft, warm, and itch-free. They are also available in UPF 50 sun-protecting microfiber.

Helinox Chair One with Rumpl Insulated Seat Warmer

Unless you plan to stay in your tent once you reach camp (and what's the fun in that?), you'll want someplace to sit and relax. Enter the Rumpl Insulated Seat Warmer, which fits snugly over the Helinox Chair One. 

Sink into this warm seat and watch the stars flicker to life overhead.

Petzl MYO Headlamp

Make sure you can see once the sun goes down with a headlamp designed to work in the harsher elements of winter. The main challenge is going to be your battery life. When the temperatures start to drop, so does the juice in your batteries.

Lithium batteries perform best in the cold, so grab a headlamp — like this Petzl MYO — that can take lithium, alkaline, and rechargeable batteries, and be sure to bring plenty of backups.

Cover photo by Scott Kranz

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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