Discover the beauty of the night

Getting out at night in the quiet is one of the high points of the winter backpacking experience. The snow reflects the moonlight and the winter nighttime landscape becomes radiant. When the moon is gone, the Milky Way arches across the sky, and most of the seemingly endless number of stars are merely the ones visible to us within our galaxy. Look carefully and you can also see the Andromeda galaxies. Find the North Star (Polaris) to orient yourself and expand your knowledge of the constellations. You will find that the night offers some of your deepest and most memorable wilderness experiences.

winter landscape at night

The more you go out at night the more you will fall in love with the experience.

Winter nights are long. I usually sleep twice. Most hikers go to bed early or shortly after dark, which can be as early as 6–7 PM. For that reason, I always make a point of getting up in the middle of the night and walking around under the stars. If the moon is out, the snow will be lit up and the features of the landscape are quite visible. 


Because I’m usually alone and there is the danger of tree wells and snow bridges, I don’t go far and I usually walk mostly on the tracks created during the day. Quite often I will make a hot drink or, if it is a single-digit night, reheat my hot water bottle. The time it takes to get on my snowshoes, jacket, and gloves is a minor inconvenience given the rewards of the night. All total, I typically spend one snd half hours out in the middle of the night if I cook a midnight meal.

If you are warm in your sleeping bag, getting up at night is much easier. If you are cold and huddled in your sleeping bag, you will not want to get up and you will miss out. Bring the appropriate gear and use the necessary winter techniques so you can enjoy the full beauty of the winter experience.

winter camp at night

Sleep with your tent door open

Another way I maximize the benefits of the winter night is to leave my tent door open. Whatever the temperature, I always prefer to sleep with the tent door open. This is mainly so I can see the view and stars whenever I wake up at night and in the morning, provided it is not too windy or snowing outside. I especially don’t want to miss out on the sunrise.


Three 3 benefits of leaving the tent door open

  1. Safety: Leaving my tent door open also provides some additional safety, because I can more readily perceive the approach of thunderstorms or interpret whatever is making noise outside my tent and around camp.
  2. Small mammals: This practice of leaving the door open also means that small mammals (especially mice) can come and go in their search for food without having to eat a hole through my tent. However, mice have eaten through the foot of my sleeping bag to remove down for their nest. I expect they would have torn through the tent too if it was sealed up.
  3. Less condensation from your breath. This means your gear is less likely to get damp or covered in frost.

These benefits are, of course, contingent on no wet clouds, snowfall, or winds carrying snow drift.

I don’t sleep with my tent door open because I can endure the cold or like being cold, but rather because my sleeping system provides all the warmth I require. If I were cold, I wouldn’t do it.

As long as my body is warm and my blood has good circulation, I’m comfortable. I don’t even need a balaclava to protect my face from the cold. My face is warm enough. Closing the tent door will add around 5–10 degrees of warmth, but because I am warm in my sleeping bag, I wouldn’t need or notice this extra warmth. This means I am not camping at the limit of my gear’s abilities. If the weather is colder than expected, I can add extra warmth by closing the tent door. 

You may be wondering, why not forego setting up the tent on clear nights? I’ve been tempted many times, but there is usually a gentile breeze in the night which will gradually robe my sleeping bag of warmth. While I like having my door open I also like having the overall wind protection provided by the tent. And, I don’t want to lose any gear to an unexpected gust of wind. It is not unusual for unexpected high winds just before sunrise.

Organize your gear for getting up at night

Make it easy for yourself to get up and enjoy the night. When I get in my sleeping bag, I have my headlamp nearby. My boots are in a dry-sack or plastic bag and placed inside the tent next to the sleeping bag or, if there is single-digit cold weather, placed inside my sleeping bag. My gloves and mitten are inside my sleeping bag so they are already warm when I want them. Snowshoes are outside the tent stuck in the snow in a vertical position so they are easy to find when it snows. All food is in a bear-proof container outside the tent. I usually keep my camp layers (base layer, down pants, and rain pants) on my legs and my puffy jacket inside my sleeping bag so I can get ready and go out quickly if someone needs help.

Stargazing has a way of putting life into perspective like few other experiences. All the more so because astronomy has given us a better idea of our place in the universe. I hope every winter backpacker can master the cold so well that it doesn’t prevent them from going out at night and enjoying this experience.

Have any questions or comments?

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