Cold-Weather Camping Do’s and Don’ts

I live in Florida, so you might wonder how I can talk about cold-weather camping. It’s a great question, and you’re right: I don’t go anywhere cold anymore, and my camping and hiking is generally limited to the Everglades of sunny South Florida. However, true to my analyst tradition is the phrase, “If I don’t know it, I probably know someone who does.” In this case, that someone is an old Army roommate who has tackled wintry peaks across the Adirondacks and throughout Washington State. So, don’t take my word for it, but go with these tips from an experienced mountaineer on some cold-weather camping do’s and don’ts

DO Check the Numbers Before You Go

There are a lot of numbers you should know before you hit any trails. The weather forecast is a given, but newbies might not realize that national parks often have their own, in-depth weather reporting services for recreational purposes. You can find out forecasted precipitation, sunrise and sunset times, wind speed, and temperature swings. Take them into consideration when you prepare for your trip and make sure you have the appropriate gear for the expected weather. Take things such as the times for sunrise and sunset, precipitation chances, and make sure your gear is rated for those temperatures.

DON’T Forget the Ten Essentials

Even if you’re well prepared, things can go wrong. If there’s an emergency, you might be “camping” much longer than you had planned. The Ten Essentials, gospel among mountaineers and backpackers alike, are a list of life-saving equipment and contingencies that should be brought on every trip. The categories that are part of the Ten Essentials are:

  • Navigation
  • Sun Protection
  • Insulation
  • Illumination
  • First-aid Supplies
  • Fire
  • Tools
  • Nutrition
  • Hydration
  • Emergency Shelter

What exactly you pack for each category is based on your destination and trip details, but each category should be fully represented in your packing list.

DO Buy the Right Equipment for the Trip

In the spirit of the Ten Essentials, make sure you’re equipped with the right gear for your particular trip. In cold weather, the most important aspect is the temperature rating of the clothing and footwear you’ll be wearing, striking a fine balance between limiting perspiration and keeping your body warm. Emmanuel Barbosa just published a great piece on dressing for winter survival.

Also, check to make sure your sleeping bag, tent, and outerwear is rated for the climate you’ll be in.

DON’T Test New Equipment on the Day of the Trip

Never try to learn how to use your equipment on the day of your trip; doing so could at best cut your trip short and at worst lead to a life-threatening situation. Take the time to use your camping gear at home in the backyard, learning how to properly set it up, use it, and then stow it again. You should do this a couple of times until you’re comfortable with it – you don’t want to break your new, expensive four-season tent or find out your sleeping bag has a defect after eight hours of hiking.

DO Make a Trip Plan

Every nature outing carries some degree of risk, and no matter how routine or simple the trip is, you should always have an itinerary. Always make sure that someone back home knows that you’re going out and has an estimated time when you’ll be back. For longer trips, consider checking in using a satellite phone or radio on specific days. In addition, most parks offer some sort of log service at the local park ranger office. Rangers will ask for your name, contact information, an emergency contact, and your expected return date. Should you fail to sign back out, someone will know that something went wrong and can start working towards rescuing you. But whatever you do, don’t deviate from your plan, no matter how tempting it is.

DON’T Forget to Let Everyone Know You Got Back Safe

After you get back, don’t forget to check in with people to let them know you returned safely! If park rangers think you’re missing and can’t get in contact with you or a family member, they may assume you’re still on the trail. Letting them know you’re safe is a simple step, but one that could easily be forgotten after several days away from civilization.

DO Remember to Enjoy Yourself

There’s something special about the stillness of nature in winter and being away from technology for a few days. By preparing in the ways recommended here, you’ll make sure you can visit the parks year after year – and enjoy your trips every time. Camping and mountaineering are rewarding hobbies that require a little bit of know-how before you get started, but they can quickly become addicting.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Garrett Ferrara

Garrett is a writer, perpetual student, and seven-year Army veteran. Currently studying Anthropology and Writing & Rhetoric at the University of Central Florida, he's hoping to stretch the G.I. Bill all the way to a PhD. Bilbo Baggins is his favorite literary character; a character that traveled, fought battles, and finally settled into a simple life. He's looking forward to squaring away that last phase.
Garrett Ferrara

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