17 Winter Camping Items You’ll Only Forget Once
I used to keep my camping packing list in my head. That is, until my first winter camping trip when I got slammed with an unexpected storm. Now, I keep a printed and laminated checklist in hand while I’m preparing my loadout, saving brainpower to replay the memory of a Really Bad (and Impossibly Cold) Weekend. I tick off each item as it goes into my pack and try hard not to think of the time hypothermia nearly knocked me off this mortal coil.
If you’re going camping this winter, learn from my experience and pack these camping gear essentials:
Baby wipes and hand sanitizer
You know what they say: There’s nothing like breaking creek ice for quality bidet time in the backwoods!
No. Nobody said that ever. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in your coat pocket to reduce the amount of water you have to heat to wash up. I recommend alcohol-free products, as alcohol-based sanitizers are flammable and will dry your skin faster than those using benzalkonium chloride as their active ingredient. If you pack moisturizing baby wipes, keep up with the alcohol-free theme and have a plan to pack out your discards, even if they’re labeled biodegradable
Extra base layers
If you’ve ever served in the military, you know the somewhat clumsy C.O.L.D. mnemonic:
- Keep it Clean
- Avoid Overheating
- Wear Loose Layers
- Keep it Dry
It doesn’t matter if you call them long underwear, thermals, or base layers. Just buy quality and change them at least once a day. Even with high-quality outdoor clothing materials, sloughed skin and dried perspiration reduce the fabric’s ability to breathe and insulate. The same goes for socks, hats, and glove liners!
We all know what these are made for, but try this great trick. Before you get out of your sleeping bag in the morning, loosely wrap your fresh base layers around a hand warmer. It’s a bad idea to stuff your sleeping bag with your next day’s wardrobe because crowding your bag with too much gear will reduce its loft and warming capabilities, though there’s nothing wrong with bringing them in for a ten-minute cuddle before you get up to seize the day.
Lip balm and lotion with sunscreen
Dry winter air and sunlight reflecting off snow dehydrates and damages the skin. Use quality products with beeswax or another natural sealant to trap moisture. Lotion up after each hand washing, and don’t forget to put sunscreen under your chin to block sunlight bouncing off the snowy ground.
Midnight responses to nature’s call let cold air into your cozy tent, but holding it in may deplete your body temperature and invite infections. Bring a clearly-marked wide-mouthed container and, depending on your personal equipment, a pee funnel. I’ve got built-in accessories, but I’ve heard great things about the PeeWee Flex and GoGirl from friends who have to go aftermarket; they also report that funnel-style urination devices are easier to use inside a cramped tent than the trough-shaped urine diverters.
Bonus! Your recently-used pee bottle can help keep your feet warm if you stash it at the foot of your sleeping bag.
White gas camp stove
White gas burns hotter than other camp stove fuels and is more efficient in cold weather and at altitude. Don’t forget to purchase or make a wind blocker to place around the flame for faster cooking and optimal fuel economy.
A good pair of waterproof gaiters will keep snow and cold air out of your boots and pant cuffs. What might quickly dry off in a toasty mudroom at home likely won’t inside your tent, so gaiters are a great alternative to roasting your footwear over your cook stove or campfire.
All-weather duct tape
Have you ever tried to tape up a torn jacket or tent in sub-freezing weather? It doesn’t quite work, does it? Heavy-duty, all-weather duct tape is a must if you have to MacGyver damaged gear or fashion a splint.
Level the area around your tent, make a snow cave, and cut paths around camp with a compact, lightweight shovel. Technically, shovels have squared edges and the pointy-ended tools are spades. I prefer the former for most terraforming in the white stuff, but if you have to cut into ice, a spade or ice ax is the way to go.
Don’t take chances with icy trails. Even if there’s no snow, plummeting temperatures can cover the ground with a treacherous frozen film, especially on steep or ledgy trails where runoff and seep can cover a swath far too wide to safely jump. If you know you’re going to be spending vertical time on serious ice, invest in a good pair of crampons.
Your buddies might laugh at you, but they’ll laugh anyway if you fall on your butt. Not so much, though, if you (or they) end up with a bad concussion or bone break.
I’ve never been a trekking pole person, but I do pack at least a single collapsible staff for cold-season camping and hiking. Here’s what they can do to help make your trip safer and more convenient:
- Test ice and rough, snow-covered terrain for safe footing
- Maintain balance crossing streams
- Help support tarp shelters
- Knock ice and snow off the tent ceiling from the comfort of your sleeping bag
- Support small camp lanterns
You can order snow baskets to replace the standard set on the poles you already own, or just swing by a garage sale and pick up an old pair of ski poles. Save your money for that gorgeous down parka, personal locator beacon, or new snowshoes.
Sleeping bag liner
Boost your bag’s temperature rating and extend its lifespan with a liner. You’ll spend about $60 for a good one, and whether you opt for silk, Merino wool, or a synthetic blend you’ll appreciate the extra degrees—often upwards of 20°F warmer than without.
The stakes that came standard with your tent won’t be worth much in the snow. Stakes designed for winter camping grip compacted snow better than traditional tent stakes. While you’re at it, bring some extra paracord and learn to make deadman anchors for snow and sand.
Extra sleep pad
Beef up your sleep system with a bonus layer of home-scrounged padding. Foil bubble-wrap insulation reflects body heat and adds another barrier to prevent the ground from leeching valuable degrees.
Fleece or wool hat
Battening down your hatch with a beanie will help you retain heat at night. I like to reserve a clean wool or fleece hat for sleeping. Pick a design that will comfortably cover your ears. If you go the balaclava route, be sure it’s loose enough to preserve loft, and its mouth and nose openings don’t trap condensation.
Silicone gel and seam tape
Before your trip, check your tent to see if you need to add waterproofing tape to the seams, and bring a tube of all-weather silicone (I love E-6000) in case your soles separate from their uppers. It always happens at the worst time.
Extra batteries for everything
Compensate for longer nights and shortened battery life with extra sets of batteries for your flashlights, lanterns, and tech. Toss in a USB battery pack or folding solar panel, and keep your batteries in an inside coat pocket to protect them from the cold.
This winter, go camping with KÜHL
A little skill-building, an investment in field-tested, guide-approved gear and outdoor recreation clothing, and a sense of adventure are all you need to experience winter camping. Get out and play hard this season!