Winter Camping 101




Introduction: Winter Camping 101

About: Oh Canada!

Hello all,

Thought I would run down my tips, tricks and gear I prepared for my winter camping trips.

This trip was shared by 6 people and my packing list included some of the following; axe, tarp, cooking, fire and ice auger. I personally am not in charge of food for the group so I will not be covering this. You can see my other Instructable for tips on camping food, it is very similar.

This trip we hike approx. 5 km on an unmarked trail into the back country,where we will need to make camp from scratch. We use a combination of both a sled and backpack and travel on snowshoes. You can check out another one of my Instructables where I modified my sled to make it easier for this type of trip,

The temperatures for this trip will range from -3 deg C to -29 deg C, so prep and knowledge are always #1 priority. Never venture into the wildness without the proper skills and know how. I always over pack just a bit but it is worth it once you get to camp and have everything you need to survive and thrive during your adventure.

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This was a lot of fun to make, I hope you enjoy it.


I have many other Instructables here and I also have a small Youtube channel you can check out:


Step 1: Day 1 Clothing

Day one clothing is important. Yes you could go the whole weekend never changing if you want, but if you get wet or sweat getting to camp you could find your lf very cold.

Here is my pick:

  • Thin base layer - pick something you would wear for a base layer for running or climbing
  • Thin stretchy hiking paints -
  • Wool Sweater - I just find wool to be your best friend. Even wet it keeps you warm.
  • tee-shirt - Just an extra layer
  • base underwear (not cotton)
  • Merino wool socks

Use these cloth all day until you get your camp setup. If you find that you are wet and cold at night change to your day two cloths. Try not to get too cold as it is very hard to get warm again. Make sure that you can layer down while hiking. If you sweat and get too cold later you will not have a good trip.

Trips over now...

Turns out I just slept in these cloths over night and actually added dry socks and my wool base layer from my day two cloths as the temperatures fell to -30 deg C with windchill. Always be prepared.

Step 2: Day Two Clothing

Day two clothing:

Since you did all the hard work on Day one I always pack a second set of cloth for day two. They will be dry and that is key.

  • Merino Wool base sock
  • Wool blend second layer (two layers are always warmer than a single thick pair)
  • Base underwear (not cotton)
  • Wool Blend Hoodie (purchased in Mexico of all places)
  • Thermal Underwear base. - I really love the dryWear from Mark's -
  • Insulated cargo pants
  • Tee shirt (just as an extra layer,not always required)
  • Merino Wool Mid Layer - Arc'teryx - (simular)

With the use of gators you may not even need the use of the outer coat with this layering system.

I also typically sleep in these cloth as well. I may take of my pants, hoodie and a single sock layer. No need to bring sleeping attire for winter camping.

Trips over now...

I ended up just leaving my cloths on from the day before. I added the merino wool layer and kept the rest of the cloths packed. I didn't change because it was so cold I didn't want to lose heat while changing.

Step 3: Your Outer Layer (safety Net)

You can bring all the gear in the world and I usually do, but if you can not stay warn and dry in harsh environments you are done for.

My cloth layers are pretty good and warm but they do not protect me from the extreme weather like strong winds, deep colds and wet rain or snow.

I have chose a 3 in 1 coat as my go to for these trips. The outer shell protects against wind and rain and this particular coat seems to have no problem hanging by the fire. The mid layer coat gives you that added layer to keep you nice and warm when you need it.

I use standard snow/ski pants as my outer shell. I picked a pair that you can wear as paints on their own and can handle the elements. You need a pair that you don't care if they are by the fire or get dirty.

I have a very expensive coat and pant set I use for my day to day that I would never bring close to a fire. I dedicated these cloths above as my adventure wear for camping, ice fishing and winter camp fires.

Trips over now...

I wore my mid layer coat and snow paints to bed. This kept my core very warm.

Step 4: The Boats

These are by far my favorite boats.

Salomon has the best shoes and boats for all you adventures. These Tundra boats even have a feature to help hold you snow shoes on.

The only down side is they don't have a liner so you can not take them apart to dry. Unless you sweat they don't leak. At bed time just open them as wide as you can to air out and dry.

Trips over now...

These boats kept my feet warn all day. I wore a couple pairs of socks inside and my feet were warm and dry all weekend.

Step 5: Head and Hands

Got to keep your head and hands warm. I like to have a back up pair.

  • I always have two pair of thin base layer gloves
  • Mixed leather gloves
  • What you can't see is that one pair is a three finger glove. They are so handy. You get the warmth of mitts with the dexterity of gloves.
  • two buffs
  • standard toque
  • Russian style Toque with ear flaps and fur
  • Lastly I wear ski goggles as much as possible. Snow blindness is a real concern so at least pack some sun glasses.

I always bring two of everything. If you ever fall through the ice of have a bad rain or ice storm you will be happy to get into something dry. By layering your gloves you can regulate your temperature better as well.

Wear your buff and toque to bed. You buff can help you sleep longer if the sun come out too early and keeps the heat in. A scarf can fall off or choke you in the night.

Step 6: Extra Footing

  • Light Crampons
  • Heavy Duty Crampons
  • Gators (as shown)
  • Snowshoes and walking poles

Trips update...

I wore the heavy duty crampons all weekend as well as the gators. This helped me keep my grip and added some extra warmth to me feet.

Step 7: Knives and Cutting (my Favorite)

Being able to collect wood and process it is key to a winter camp. The fire is life. I also use these tools to make scout-craft items for use around camp while sitting around the fire.

You can still get the Bear Grylls version of knifes but I believe they are not made anymore. Gerber has all the same knife in different versions. These tools have never failed me so I stand behind them.

Step 8: Cooking and Utensils

A couple bulky items here which we divide amounts the group to pack in to share the weight.

  • Iron Dutch Oven pot
  • Kettle
  • Stack-able pot set (fits inside Dutch Oven) -
  • Wooden Utensils - Wood is your friend while winter camping. It will not freeze to your lips. Plus I just make them while sitting by the fire.
    • Spoons
    • Butter knife
    • Chopsticks
    • Will make a flipper at camp using forked twigs.

Trip Update...

Making a cooking Tripod made our cooking and boiling so handy that we never once needed to use a cooking stove.

Step 9: Maps

Always bring your topo maps with you. If you are lost for a while your battery GPS and you phone will out of power, so they will be no help. There are lots of resources on the internet to get maps for free.

In Canada here is a good start:

Here is a good government one for fishing lakes: and here:

PS - Keep your maps dry. Put them in a Ziploc bag if you don't have a detected unit.

Step 10: FIRE! - No Lighter

OK this is OVERKILL but I love practicing fire building and honing my skills.

Peanut Butter jars are my all time favorite Bug-out Bag kit add-on. I keep everything sorted in these things. For one they are free second they are virtually water proof.

I get a kick out of using these tools to start the fire. I always have a light in my pocket but I try not to use it.

Here is a video from my Youtube Channel where I start fire with just nature materials:

Step 11: Light It Up!

Light is essential while back-country camping. It not only helps you see it helps keep the Boogie Man away. I bring lights for every ocation and location in camp.

I keep the mini light in my various pockets so I always have alight handy.

Step 12: Shovel (s)

Ok do you really need this??? No.


I bring the blue one as it helps greatly with setting up camp.

The small black shovel is usually leave in the truck as back up. It is very strong and can get you out of trouble if you need to dig a truck out or need it in an emergency. similar

Step 13: Ropes and Tarps

I like to bring a couple 100ft of Para-cord as it can be used for anything.

  • Hanging gear
  • Setting up tarps
  • Cloths lines
  • Etc.

I also have 35ft of climbing rope. This can be used while traveling across ice or in an emergency.

The tarp I bring is small 8x10 ft yet can get you out of the rain or weather in a pinch.

I also bring a Space Blanket that can be used a tarp or to heat you in an emergancy to help warm you up.

Step 14: Some Extras

I also bring ice safety picks : the last thing you want is to fall in the ice without anything to help you get out. just thread them through your coat like your Mom used to do with your mittens.

Step 15: Pitch a Tent

My 2 Person 4 Season tent is perfect for me and all my gear. I have slept two men in it and it works well if you place your gear in the ends of the tent outside.

Here is my typical tent setup.

Similar Tents here: (I have had my gear for a while so it may not be available anymore)

  1. Flatten out ground with snow shoes or shovel
  2. I always use a ground sheet and I always place on the outside of tent.
  3. Base tent setup
  4. Fly (This is your protection)
  5. Pack snow around edge of tent. This will help keep heat in and protect from wind.

Step 16: Build a Quinzhee

So we built a quinzhee during this trip. It was amazing and a game changer. Although I slept in a tent, two of my fellow adventurers slept in it all weekend. They could sleep with there skin exposed and were very comfortable.

They even put a heated rock from the fire inside on our grill and added even more warmth.

Next year we are all going to make one.

Step 17: Sleeping and Bedroll

I have the best sleeps when I winter camp. My secret is bringing many layers.

  • Winter sleeping bag - This is bulky so a compression sack helps you save space in your pack.
  • Silk liner
  • Cotton liner
  • Compact pillow
  • Bedroll
    • Blue mat
    • Reflective layer (Windshield cover with reflective backing, or Reflectix Insulation (@Lowes))
    • Wool Blanket (optional)

The key is staying off the snow. The more layers you have the better. Layering off the ground keeps the cold out and heat in.

  1. Blue mat
  2. Reflective layer
  3. Wool Blanket
  4. Sleeping bag
  5. Liner 1
  6. Liner 2
  7. Cloths

You will be snug as a bug. I also wear my toque and buff.

Cots do not work as they leave a huge air gap behind your back. Staying on the ground with these layers has worked for me as low as -27 deg C.

Step 18: Other Gear

  • Power
    • Power pack - for a three day weekend this will work fine.
    • Solar panel - extra but only good on really bright days.
  • Grill for the fire
  • Ice auger for water and fishing (if you wish)
  • Toilet paper (in a sealed bag or jar to keep dry)
  • Heat a seat
  • Camp chair - This style of chair is so light and comfortable it is worth the extra weight.
  • Nelgene Water bottle. ( I made and insulator for it) Using this to drink from helps you track how much you have been drinking and if you fill it with hot water at night you can put in your sleeping bag for an extra bit of heat.

Step 19: HAVE FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Please if you ever do anything like this, the number one rule is HAVE FUN!

Enjoy the views.

Enjoy your friends.

Enjoy our world!

I hope you found this Instructable interesting and informative.

Until next time...


Step 20: Capture Everything

If you want to capture the moments bring a camera, your phone won't always put up with cold temperatures.

My Gear:

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