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Cold-weather camping tips

The morning I crawled out of my tent into 4 inches of newly fallen snow was an unforgettable experience. The snow was still clinging to tree branches and draping evergreens, turning the fields and woods into a postcard scene.

However, what struck me the most was the silence. I didn’t think it could get much quieter at this lonely campsite I had chosen, but the layer of porous snow had soaked up what was left of sound waves like a sponge. It was so quiet and still it was as if I were living inside of a photograph.

That peaceful memory could have been replaced by flashbacks of misery had I not come prepared. Being short on gear or having the wrong kind in cold months can lead to frostbite or hypothermia.

Aaron Kupferer of J & H Outdoor Store in Lexington keeps up with the latest in camping technology.

“Here in the Southeast, it’s not so much the tent you have to worry about (as long as it doesn’t leak) it’s everything else,”  Kupferer says.

“You need a sleeping bag with a temperature rating no higher than 15 degrees, which is still good for multiseasonal use, but winter campers should consider buying an additional sleeping bag liner for really cold conditions,” he stresses.

What’s under the sleeping bag is important, too. Kupferer tells me that winter campers need sleeping pads with an R-value (the measure of thermal resistance) of at least 4 to keep that cold ground at bay.

Waterproof boots are a must, “but leather uppers will keep your feet warmer than synthetic uppers—and socks are as important as the boots,” he emphasizes. “Wool socks keep your feet warmer than other types and wick away moisture as well.”

Layers, layers, layers

Camping in the cold means layered clothing, beginning with polyester thermal underwear, a mid layer, then a water-resistant, breathable outer shell. And don’t forget to layer your hands with glove liners inside your outer gloves.

Most outdoor enthusiasts know the importance of hydration when it’s hot. In the winter you may not feel as thirsty, but drink just as much water. Hydration is critical anytime.

In all my years outdoors, I had never thought of Aaron’s final tip to add a little more warmth to winter camping. “Heat water over the fire, pour it into a hot water bottle, and snuggle up with it in your sleeping bag. It works wonders,” he says.

So, now all you have to do is get out there and brave the cold, because you’re now armed with the knowledge that will keep your winter camping memories pleasant.

Insider tips

  • Be sure you have access to firewood and a fire starter.
  • Avoid camping under dead trees or broken branches.
  • Bring a good first-aid kit.
  • Pack plenty of food and water along with a water purification system.
  • If camping alone, be sure to let someone know where you are.


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