Everything you need to know about camping in winter
Camping in winter is an amazing experience, thanks to which one can see nature from a completely different perspective. However, if camping itself requires careful planning, this is at least as true in winter - cold temperatures and the vagaries of the weather can quickly spoil the experience if you're not prepared.
So this article will give you everything you need to make sure your experience is the best it can be and that you stay safe throughout your adventure, no matter what the weather has in store for you.
Preparation and planning
Responsible preparation and thorough planning are the alpha and omega of a successful trip. In practice, this means choosing a suitable location, checking the weather forecast, and packing all the clothes and equipment you may need.
Factors such as snow depth, site exposure to wind, and availability of materials needed to build and maintain a fire should also be considered when choosing a site in winter. In this context, it is also important to check if you can build a fire at all legally in a given location.
The weather forecast is an aid to planning all year round but is particularly important when it comes to winter camping. In particular, concentrate on predicted temperatures and wind strength so that you can adapt your clothing and equipment to the worst possible conditions you can theoretically expect.
Packing for winter camping is very similar to the rest of the year, all you need are several layers of clothing, an adequately warm sleeping bag, and a 4-season tent. Pay extra attention to choosing a good quality sleeping mat - as the cold will be "attacking" you from the ground, a good sleeping mat will protect you and make a big difference to whether you feel comfortable.
Pitching the tent
As already mentioned, it is important to choose a 4-season tent. These things have thicker, more durable materials, and also a sturdier construction to withstand even really strong winds. Moreover, these tents are also suitable for other seasons, while 3-season tents are not a safe choice in winter.
When you arrive at the place where you plan to spend the night, the first step is to choose a suitable spot. Winter offers one great opportunity in this regard, which our friends from our Himalayan expeditions taught us - snow is an excellent barrier, and if it's deep enough, it's ideal to excavate a space for your tent and pitch it there. However, we are talking about really extreme conditions and very strong winds.
If possible, build a fire - it will not only offer you warmth and light, but you can also use it to prepare dinner, a hot drink, or simply melt the snow.
Stay dry and warm
The most important thing for a successful winter camping trip is to stay dry and warm during the whole trip.
Layering is the most important thing you need to know about dressing for winter. A good quality base layer made from a material that is able to wick away moisture is essential. At ZAJO, we have long relied on a merino wool base layer in this respect, which is also pleasantly warm and doesn't smell even after several days of wear, whereas synthetic materials need to be changed every day as standard.
The second layer should also be able to wick away moisture, but should also give you plenty of warmth. In this respect, fleece Polartec jackets are an excellent choice, as they are superbly warm, do not restrict movement and have excellent parameters in terms of breathability.
The third layer is the outer protective layer whose primary role is to protect you from wind, snow, and water. This layer should be waterproof and should also be able to wick away moisture, although these are theoretically two properties that are mutually exclusive. The best choice, in this case, are our waterproof jackets made from eVent membrane material, which is able to wick moisture away through millions of micropores, but these pores are also small enough to prevent water from seeping through.
These three layers should be enough when you're active, but when you stop moving and your body stops producing heat, you can get cold. That's why a fourth warming layer is good for winter camping, you can hide under a waterproof layer and provide plenty of warmth even without moving. Our down jackets are a safe bet in this case, but our synthetic-filled jackets also come close in their ability to keep you warm.
At night, it's important to choose a sleeping bag that can handle the lowest possible temperatures and, as we mentioned, a good quality sleeping mat that won't allow the cold from the ground to penetrate to your body.
Ultralight and in winter?
Getting around in winter climates and snowy terrain requires extra effort. Firstly, because the movement itself requires more energy and secondly because our body fights the cold and has to exert more energy to keep itself at its optimum operating temperature. But there's another reason that isn't talked about that often.
The backpack, or the loaded backpack, greatly affects the effort we need to expend. And in winter, because of the need for more gear and better quality equipment, the backpack is by default much heavier.
The heaviest item in a person's backpack who wants to spend the night in winter is most often a tent. However, despite what many people believe, the ultralight tent category is also suitable for winter. While ultralight tents are made of lighter materials, that doesn't mean they offer inferior insulating capabilities. A lot of weight is usually saved by using higher quality materials that can offer the same performance at a lower weight. The amount of netting and the number of poles are often reduced, but always with a view to ensuring that the tents are stable enough in high winds, especially in the case of four-season tents.
We offer several tents suitable for even the harshest conditions that have withstood expeditions to the highest Himalayan peaks, including the ultra-lightweight Litio 2 WUL Tent, which has a much lower grammage for comparable parameters. This means the pack can shed hundreds of grams while still offering extremely durable construction and ample protection in even the worst conditions.