6 Great Tips for Camping in Cooler Temps

Heading out for a camping trip and noticed plunging temperatures? Whether you are willingly camping in the cold or not, there are certain pieces of cold-weather gear you need to pack and tricks to be aware of. Here are six great tips for camping in cooler weather, from learning what to wear hiking in winter to choosing winter-worthy gear. Knowing how to survive and stay warm when camping in cooler temps is crucial, but it will also ensure a more enjoyable (read: warm) camping trip.

#1 Start with the Ten Essentials

Even if you don’t plan on venturing far from your campsite and hunkering down by the fire, it’s important to bring the Ten Essentials. A headlamp and extra backup flashlight is necessary, especially once daylight saving ends in the fall months. You will also need matches or some kind of firestarter to ignite a campfire to stay warm. Of course, you can also bring other basic items like a cooler with wheels to keep perishables and drinks fresh. Even on a cool fall day, peak temps could reach the high 70s, so be sure to choose a high-quality cooler with long-lasting ice retention.

#2 Choose the Right Sleeping Bag

sleeping bags

Did you know sleeping bags come in different temperature ratings? While a summer season sleeping bag is rated for around 30 degrees Fahrenheit and higher, most people need something warm when camping in cooler temps. The other two options are a three-season bag and a winter sleeping bag. What you choose will come down to what you are comfortable with. If you get cold easily, you might want to consider a winter-rated sleeping bag that is rated for anywhere from 15 degrees to 30 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if you are thicker-skinned and have a higher cold tolerance, a three-season sleeping bag might be just enough.

This decision can also come down to the type of tent you plan on sleeping in. Most camping tents offer protection from wind, but if you plan on hammock camping, a winter-rated sleeping bag will keep you warm.

Also, be sure to select a sleeping bag for your size. Sleeping bags that are too big or too small for you will not work as efficiently. With one that is too small, you will feel cramped and want to hang a leg or foot out, making your body cold. If you choose one that is too large, you will need to fill up the empty space with items like clothes or warm water bottles and the like. This goes double when camping with kids. If you have kids, make sure to get them a child-sized sleeping bag to keep them snug and warm.

#3 Bring Extra Sleeping Pads

Choose the right insulated sleeping pad to offer an extra layer between you and the ground. Cozy self-inflating or a closed-cell foam pad both come in handy. But even closed-cell foam sleeping pads offer better insulation than an air mattress. Air mattresses, while they provide some glamping luxury, are not exactly practical for camping in cooler temps. On the contrary, they offer less insulation and can even trap cold air inside, making you feel colder. We suggest using both for extra protection, placing the foam pad beneath the softer, more comfortable self-insulating pad.

#4 Pack the Proper Clothes

winter jackets

Be sure to pack the proper clothes for cooler temps when camping. You will be outdoors, without a convenient central heating, and preparedness can go a long way. First things first: Insulate as much as possible around your stomach, back and chest. It’s a common myth that heat escapes through your head, but this has been found to be untrue. It’s actually your core, which is why it’s so important to keep it warm. However, don’t just slip on a single sweater. Try to think in layers. Pack the long johns and some loose-fitting T-shirts for pajamas. In general, avoid tighter, constricting garments. Also, be sure to pack a rain jacket or insulating boots and socks.

Keep your head warm, especially when heading to bed. If you can, choose a mummy-style sleeping bag with a built-in hole for your head. Make sure to wear socks to bed, too, drying any sweat out in front of the fire beforehand if needed. If you get too warm in the sleeping bag at night, add some ventilation to the bag or remove layers to prevent perspiration. Always go to bed with more layers than you need.

Of course, body heat from your tent partner or pup helps, too! So does doing some jumping jacks to warm up your body before hitting the sack.

#5 Ventilate Your Tent

When you sleep at night, you should leave your face exposed, not buried inside your sleeping bag where it will develop condensation and dampness. Due to this, you need to ventilate your tent, too. As you sleep, you will exhale moisture and cause condensation, making your clothes and sleeping bag — and eventually you — damp and cold by morning. And that’s not a great way to wake up before getting hot coffee and breakfast in your belly. Luckily, most tents offer some sort of mesh to help ventilate, but if not, be sure to leave a door partially unzipped.

#6 Stay Hydrated

Drinking water can be challenging in cooler temps, but you need to stay hydrated. Instead of drinking cold water, try to consume different water-based drinks like hot teas. Just because you’re not sweating buckets on a hot summer day doesn’t mean you aren’t losing water. Plus, your body uses water to regulate your body temperature and warms up by burning calories.

Have to take a bathroom break in the middle of the night? Don’t fight it! If you have to pee, relieve yourself, even if it means crawling out of that super warm, cozy sleeping bag. Why? Because otherwise, your body is wasting heat keeping the fluid warm. If you plan correctly, take a bathroom break before going to bed, sleeping the whole night through. Then, replenish and rehydrate the next morning.

Ready to Go Camping in Cooler Temps?

Hopefully, these six tips for camping in cooler temps come in handy. Once you learn how to stay warm and do it right, you will enjoy camping on a cool fall or winter day. Cold weather camping isn’t for everyone, but if it’s for you, you know how awesome it can be in nature — quiet and without a soul around.