Camping in 40-degree weather: How to stay dry, warm, and comfortable

by | Sep 21, 2022 | Weather

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Camping in 40-degree weather (5°C) is cold, but it’s not below freezing. Still, it can be risky if you’re not prepared.

These temperatures are common in the shoulder seasons (spring and fall). Having said that, you can experience them in the middle of summer too in some locations—especially at night.

Is 40 degrees too cold for camping?

The short answer is: no. The long answer is that camping in 40-degree weather can be uncomfortable and even dangerous if you’re in experienced, don’t have the right gear, or aren’t dressed properly.

That’s not to say that camping in 40-degree weather is a total crapshoot. You can still have a great time camping in these temperatures if you’re properly prepared. It all comes down to knowing how to stay dry so you can stay warm.

Your biggest risk isn’t just being cold—it’s being wet and cold

Hiking in the rain.

In 40-degree weather, you’re unlikely to see snow. You are, however, likely to see rain. Not just any rain. Cold rain—and sometimes sleet (a mix of rain and snow).

Myself and many other seasoned campers tend to consider temperatures well below freezing safer than camping at temperatures hovering below or above freezing. This is because if you’re camping in 20-degree weather (-7°C) or below, you’re less likely to get wet.

In our experience, camping in dry cold is better than camping in wet cold. When temperatures hover around the 30 to 40-degree mark (-1 to 5°C), you can expect precipitation in the form of rain, sleet, or very wet snow.

If there’s already snow or ice on the ground, at 40 degrees, you can expect that to start to melt. if you’re not careful, melting snow and ice can make your gear and clothes all wet. And when you couple wetness with cold temps, you open yourself up to serious risks—namely hypothermia.

Hypothermia occurs when your core body temperature dips below 95°F (35°C). When this happens, your body can no longer generate enough heat to keep all your vital organs functioning properly.

Symptoms of hypothermia can kick in even when the temperature outside is only 40°F (5°C) if you’re wet. Although most people think hypothermia occurs from falling in cold water, it’s often more likely to occur from being rained on or sweating too much.

The first telltale signs of hypothermia include:

  • Shivering
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness or fatigue
  • Slurred speech

People in the first stages of hypothermia will often think or tell others that they’re fine when in reality, they’re potentially just minutes or seconds away from losing consciousness and possibly even dying.

Protecting yourself from rain and sleet

Wet autumn leaves on the ground during a rain.

If you’re camping in 40-degree weather, proper rainwear is an absolute must. Even if the weather forecast calls for clear and sunny skies, you should always be prepared for rain—especially in colder weather during the shoulder seasons.

Look for rainwear made with waterproof materials like Gore-tex or nylon/polyester with a polyurethane laminate (PUL) coating. Ideally, your rainwear should have a waterproof rating in millimetres, which represents the fabric’s ability to resist water pressure. The higher the number, the more waterproof the fabric is.

What’s the difference between waterproof and water resistant?

Waterproof means that the fabric will not allow water to penetrate it. Water resistant means that the fabric will shed some water but is not entirely waterproof.

For camping in wet shoulder season or winter conditions, you should look for a minimum waterproof rating of 10,000mm, but 20,000mm+ is better. Here’s a summary of which waterproof ratings can hold up in varying weather conditions:

Waterproof Rating (mm)Water ResistanceWeather Conditions
0 – 5,000Water resistant onlyLight rain/drizzle
6,000 – 10,000Waterproof under light pressureLight to moderate rain
11,000 – 15,000Waterproof under medium pressureModerate rain
16,000 – 20,000Waterproof under high pressureHeavy rain
20,000+Waterproof under very high pressureThe heaviest of rains

In addition to being waterproof, you also want your rainwear to be breathable. If your rainwear doesn’t breathe, you’ll start to sweat on the inside, and once you get wet from sweat, you’re more susceptible to hypothermia.

Breathability ratings are represented by a number followed by the letter ‘g.’ The higher the number, the more breathable the fabric is.

For camping in 40-degree weather, you should look for a minimum breathability rating of 5,000g. Here’s a summary of which breathability ratings can hold up in varying weather conditions:

Breathability Rating (g/m2)Level
0 – 5,000Low levels of physical activity
5,000 – 15,000Medium levels of physical activity
15,000High levels of sustained physical activity

There are two main types of breathable waterproof fabrics: laminate membranes and coated fabrics. Laminate membranes like Gore-tex have tiny pores that allow body vapour to escape but are too small for raindrops to penetrate. Coated fabrics have a thin waterproof coating on the outside that allows body vapour to pass through but keeps water out.

Which is better? It really depends on your camping style and preferences. Laminate membranes tend to be more expensive, but they’re also more durable and often have a longer lifespan. Coated fabrics are less expensive but not as durable and won’t last as long.

Don’t forget about waterproof footwear

A hiking boot stepping in a puddle.

If you’ll be camping in 40-degree weather on a on a regular basis, it’s worth investing in a good pair of waterproof hiking boots or shoes. Most are made with a Gore-tex or similar waterproof/breathable membrane to provide adequate protection in wet weather.

If you don’t plan on hiking much, or you expect to spending a lot of time at camp, it may also be wise to bring along a good pair of rubber rain boots. They’ll keep your feet dry and can be worn more casually than hiking boots or shoes.

Managing your body moisture levels

A person in rainwear hiking in the rainy woods.

In 40-degree weather, you’re at a higher risk of sweating when you exert energy. The problem with this is that sweat makes your clothes wet, and once you stop working hard and being to cool down, that cold moisture on your clothing can chill you to the bone and put you at risk of hypothermia.

To prevent this from happening, it’s important to dress the right way. This includes choosing clothing made from materials that wick moisture away from your skin and retain heat even when wet, as well as dressing in layers.

Materials to avoid include:

Cotton. It absorbs moisture, takes a long time to dry, and doesn’t retain heat very well at all, which can leave you feeling cold and clammy.

Some synthetic materials like polyester, acrylic, and rayon. They’re not very breathable and are likely to make you sweat.

Denim. The wind goes right through it and it doesn’t insulate well at all. If it gets wet, it’ll take a long time to dry and make you very cold, very quickly.

Materials that are good at wicking moisture away from your skin and retaining heat even when wet include:

Wool. It’s an excellent insulator and can actually help regulate your body temperature by absorbing sweat and releasing it into the air.

Synthetic materials like polypropylene, nylon, and spandex. They’re very breathable and good at wicking moisture away from your skin—although they’re not very insulating.

Down. It’s an excellent insulator that retains heat well even when wet. However, if it gets wet, it loses its ability to retain heat.

Fleece. It’s very breathable and insulating, and it dries relatively quickly.

What to wear when camping in 40°F: Choosing the right layers

A wool sweater with two autumn leaves.

When camping in 40-degree weather, you’ll want to dress in layers so you can easily add or remove clothing as needed. Here’s what you need:

A base layer. This should be a close-fitting layer made from a material that wicks moisture away from your skin. We’re big fans of merino wool for this layer.

A mid layer. This layer is meant to insulate, so choose something that’s warm but not too bulky. Down, wool, and fleece are all good options.

An outer layer. This layer should be windproof and waterproof to protect you from the elements. A Gore-tex rain jacket or a down parka would work well.

Ideally, you need all three layers for both top and bottom of your body. This way, you can layer up or down as your exertion level changes and your moisture level fluctuates.

For instance, if you’re at camping processing wood in a light drizzle, you may want to take your mid layer off in your tent and head out with just your base layer and waterproof outer layer. On the other hand, if you’re just getting up in the morning, you’ll probably want to have that mid layer on since your body is just coming out of its rest state.

40-degree weather is also cold enough to require additional cold weather clothing items like a warm hat, gloves or mitts, a buff or scarf, and warm socks. You can always take these items off as your body temperature rises to help yourself cool down.

Other tips for managing your body moisture in 40-degree weather

Always bring an extra pair of base layers. That way, you can change into a dry set of clothing if your first set gets wet.

Bring a sweat towel. This is a small, lightweight towel that you can use to wipe away sweat when you’re working hard. We’re big fans of the BOGI Microfibre Travel Sports Towel.

Take breaks. Be mindful of your moisture level and plan to take breaks as soon as you start to notice that you’re starting to sweat. Plan to hydrate with an electrolyte-rich drink and maybe have a healthy snack.

Setting up camp and sleeping comfortably

A red tent glowing at night.

Camping in 40-degree weather is a lot different than camping in summertime heat. Here are some things you can do to stay warm.

Use a 3-season tent or a 4-season tent depending on the weather conditions. Refer to our guide on the difference between 3-season and 4-season tents to learn more.

Consider ;hot tent camping, which involves using a canvas tent with a stove inside to heat the space. This is how we personally stay warm in extreme cold (14°F or -10°C and below).

Make sure your sleeping bag is rated for sleeping comfortably 40-degree weather. If you don’t have a sleeping bag that’s warm enough, add a sleeping bag liner and be prepared to sleep in your mid layer.

Insulate your air mattress by choosing one with an R-value of at least 4 and using a ground sheet or camping pad to provide a barrier between it and the cold ground.

Wear wool socks around camp and potentially at night to help keep your feet warm in your sleeping bag. You may want to consider wearing a thin sock made of merino wool as a base layer with a thicker wool sock over it for extra warmth.

Invest in a portable propane-powered heater to help warm up your tent before you to sleep. Just be sure to set it up away from your tent walls and gear— and turn it off when you hit the hay or leave your tent.

Refer to our guide on how to stay warm in a tent for more tips. As far as what you should pack for when you go camping in 40-degree weather, check out our cold weather camping checklist, which you can download for free.

Camping in 40-degree weather can be safe and fun

Remember the name of the game: Stay dry to stay warm. In 40-degree weather, you have to be hyper-aware of the weather conditions and your moisture level changing in a matter of minutes.

Likewise, making sure your tent and sleep system is appropriate for the temperature and weather conditions is critical to staying comfortable. By following the tips above, you can have a great time camping—even when the mercury dips down into the 40s.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and enjoy the cooler weather!

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Elise & Ross

We’re Elise and Ross, avid backcountry campers and outdoor adventurers! We started Gone Camping Again as a way to share our knowledge and experience about wilderness living and travel. Our hope is that we inspire you to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer!

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