Thinking about venturing outside this winter and maybe making a trip out of it?
Winter camping is indeed a unique experience, but you better have the right gear for the cold weather!
Download this winter camping checklist as a printable PDF
Tent or alternative shelter essentials
Let’s start with how to plan on creating a barrier between you and the elements while winter camping.
Option 1: 4-season tent and groundsheet
If you plan on cold camping, this is the tent system you’ll want to use to stay warm when you seek shelter.
Here’s what you need to make it happen:
- 4-season tent (ideally with a large vestibule)
- Tent poles or trekking poles
- Stakes and guylines
Option 2: Hot tent and stove
Hot tent camping is the best in winter, but it requires specialized gear.
These are the items you’ll need:
- Hot tent
- Wood-burning stove and chimney
Option 3: Tarp and hammock
It’s possible to hammock camp in winter, but we recommend bringing an underquilt to keep you warm on your underside.
You’ll need to bring these:
- Hammock with underquilt
- Suspension straps or rope
- Stakes and guylines
Option 4: Tarp only
Ambitious, but it can be done—and better to do with a bivy sack!
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Stakes and guylines
- Bivy sack to increase warmth (optional but highly recommended)
Sleeping bag and overall sleep system
Your sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and all the accessories that go along with it should keep you warm and toasty.
Don’t even think about going winter camping without these items:
- Air mattress with 5+ R-value
- Closed-cell foam sleeping pad
- Sleeping bag with winter temperature rating
- Sleeping bag liner
- Camping pillow
- Camping cot
Backcountry travel and navigation
If you plan on traveling to your campsite, be sure to add these essential gear items to your own list according to your travel style.
- Snowshoes or skis
- Snow trekking or ski poles
- Backpack rain cover
- Sled or pulk
- Crampons or spikes
- Map and map case
You may need to remove snow and ice at camp, which will require tools such as the following:
- Collapsible snow shovel
- Snow stakes
- Campsite permit(s)
- Ice auger (optional)
- Ice metal skimmer (optional)
From base layers that wick moisture, to wool socks that keep your feet warm, every piece of winter clothing should be carefully chosen specifically to protect you from the cold weather.
You should definitely bring multiples of these items, depending on the length of your trip:
- Base layer top
- Base layer bottom
- Mid layer top
- Mid layer bottom
- Outer shell layer top
- Outer shell layer bottom
- Winter boots
- Extra pair of winter boot insoles
- Camp boots or down booties
- Liner socks
- Insulating socks
- Warm hat
- Warm gloves for working
- Extra warm mittens
- Scarf, neck gaiter, or balaclava
- Sunglasses or ski goggles with UV protection
- Long underwear or other warm sleepwear
Whether you plan on using a wood stove, a portable camp stove, the campsite fire pit, these essential items will help you get the job done.
We recommend bringing:
- Your preferred stove (and windscreen if necessary)
- Lighters, matches, or Ferro rod
- Fire starter
- Hatchet or axe
- Hand saw
- Insulated work gloves
Cooking and dining
You’ll need to cook food and potentially melt snow to put in your water bottle.
Be sure to bring:
- Pots or pans with lids
- Dutch oven
- Pot gripper
- Thermos or insulated mug
- Insulated food containers
- Cooking utensils (spatula, wooden spoon, etc.)
- Eating utensils
- Plates and/or bowls
- Water bottle
- Dishwashing kit
- Hand towel
- Aluminum foil
- Trash bags
- Cooking oil, spices, condiments
- Insulated pot cozy
- Insulated sleeve for water bottle
- Water filtration system
Personal comfort and hygiene
A winter camping trip makes it difficult to bathe and drying on the skin, so make sure to add plenty of the following items to your personal gear checklist.
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss
- Hand sanitizer
- Sanitary body wipes
- Contact lens kit
- Toilet paper and trowel
- Menstrual items
- Face, hand, and body moisturizer
- Lip balm
- Sleep mask
Emergency, first aid, and safety gear
Short winter days, long nights, and freezing temperatures mean you always have to be prepared for emergencies.
- Extra batteries
- Battery chargers
- Charging cables
- GPS satellite device/personal locator beacon
- First aid kit
- Repair kit
- Avalanche emergency kit
- Ice claws
- Chemical hand and foot warmers
- Waterproof notepad and pen/pencil
- Emergency shelter, blanket, and spare change of clothing
- Extra lighters or matches
- Extra energy bars and freeze-dried food
Don’t forget to download this complete winter camping checklist as a printable PDF
More about winter camping:
- How to keep your tent warm while winter camping
- How to camp in extreme cold
- Can you camp in winter without a tent?
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).