Winter camping rules: 3 top tips for nights under canvas in chilly conditions

Camping isn't just for summertime – here's how to tackle a tent-based adventure in any season

Tent in the snow
(Image credit: Getty)

Camping doesn't need to be a strictly summertime-only activity. With the right gear, you can head out for nights under canvas all year round. There are tents that are suitable for four seasons – head to our best tent or best backpacking tent guides for our picks – but unless you really know what you're doing, if you want to camp out in the snow you might be best picking a site with fixed, elevated yurt-style tents that come with heaters.

We spoke to Todd King, who works with Tentrr, a campsite network across the States, for his tips for off-season camping. "When properly prepared, winter camping is a unique and amazing experience. Waking up to freshly fallen snow or cozying up under the covers after a day exploring the winter landscape is a great way to enjoy the outdoors year-round," he says. Read on for three golden rules for comfortable autumn or winter camping.

1. Layer up your clothing

The old adage goes: There is no bad weather, only bad clothing choices. And it's true; your first thought should be what to wear. "The trick to staying warm and comfortable is to layer properly so you can efficiently regulate your body temperature. You should plan on wearing at least three layers when camping in the cold," explains Todd. 

Start with a base layer that sits close to your skin to keep in your body heat (our best ski base layer guide has plenty of recommendations and buying advice). Next, a middle layer – a jumper or puffer jacket, for example. Finally, an outer layer. "Outer layers offer protection from the wind and other moisture in the air. This is the layer that would protect you from extreme weather including heavy snow and rain," says Todd. One of the best waterproof jackets is essential to provide a barrier to cold winds and stop rain or show from turning you into a damp mess. 

2. Stay fuelled-up and well hydrated 

"Eating properly and staying hydrated helps your body function – especially in the cold weather," says Todd. "You can help reduce fatigue by drinking lots of water and having high-fat and high-protein foods readily available for more energy. And don’t forget warm drinks! There are few things better than a cup of hot chocolate by the fire while leaning back, staring at the stars."

3. Make sure your sleep setup is up to scratch

Nighttime is when the cold can really get to you. Not only will the temperature drop, but you won't be moving around to keep your body warm. So you need to pay particular attention to your sleep setup. Choose a camping mat or even a chunky camping bed that will keep you comfortably elevated off the cold ground, and make sure you bring the best sleeping bag for the job, too. 

"Check the temperature rating on your sleeping bag to make sure that it lines up with the forecast. You’ll want a winter bag good for freezing temperatures, not a lightweight bag rated for cool summer nights," says Todd. "During the day, air out your sleeping bag to reduce any moisture that may be left inside that can freeze."

Tentrr has sites with tent and bed setups especially designed to make winter camping comfortable. Head to the website to find out more. 

Ruth Hamilton

Ruth is a lifestyle journalist specialising in sleep and wellbeing. She has tested more mattresses than her small flat can handle and will talk at length about them to anyone who shows even a passing interest, and has had to implement a one-in-one-out pillow policy for fear of getting smothered in the night. As well as following all the industry trends and advancements in the mattress and bedding world, she regularly speaks to certified experts to delve into the science behind a great night's sleep, and offer you advice to help you get there. She's currently Sleep Editor on Tom's Guide and TechRadar, and prior to that ran the Outdoors and Wellness channels on T3 (now covered by Matt Kollat and Beth Girdler-Maslen respectively).