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Tips for Staying Warm at Camp

There is nothing more satisfying than being comfortable in extremely harsh weather. It is possible to be in below-freezing temperatures for multiple days without ever shivering or feeling cold. Staying warm in cold weather requires a combination of gear and skill. If you don’t have the appropriate gear you will be cold and uncomfortable. You can bring the appropriate gear but if you fail to use it correctly you’ll be miserable. You need gear to insulate you from the elements but you also need to adjust your behavior in the cold. 

Winter backpacking is not about learning how to endure the cold. It is about learning ways to stay warm.

cooking pit at night

I don’t build fires to stay warm. I don’t do jumping jacks to stay warm. I don’t use unreliable tools such as hand warmers or electrical warming devices. So how do I stay warm and comfortable? This post will focus on staying warm around camp and staying warm inside your tent.

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Layering for Winter Backpacking

Layering in the Pacific Northwest:

Knowing how to layer clothing will determine whether you are comfortable or uncomfortable in winter conditions. But be aware that the information here is for winter conditions of the Pacific Northwest, which are comparatively mild—meaning conditions between 0–45º F on average in elevations between 1000–7000 ft and winds that are mostly 0–25 mph and rarely up to gale force. You will likely need more insulation in colder regions, which is why in many places people are traveling on skis pulling heavier gear on a pulk, rather than backpacking in snowshoes. In Pacific Northwest, it is not difficult to backpack in winter with a 25–35 lb backpack. The mountainous terrain here would make pulling a pulk nearly impossible. Nevertheless, some of the basic techniques described in this short introduction to layering may be useful in other destinations.

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Tips for Sleeping Warm

Here are 12 basic tips for having a warm night’s sleeping while sleeping out on the snow or ice.

1. Pick a sheltered campsite. Camp on the leeward side of ridges and mountains or near large boulders that break the wind. Avoid camping near water or in drainage areas where cold air collects. For me, views take priority, so generally, I don’t always pick the most sheltered site. To stay warm, I rely on other strategies (listed below). 

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Winter Sleeping Bags

How to Choose a Sleeping Bag for Pacific Northwest Winter Backpacking

If you are used to camping in summer and the shoulder seasons and are wondering what type of sleeping bag you’ll need for winter use in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon and Washington State, here are some basic points to consider.