HOT TAKE: WINTER IS THE BEST TIME TO CAMP — BUT ONLY IF YOU PACK THESE 15 ESSENTIALS FOR A SAFE TRIP

From winter sleeping bags to a handy headlamp.

For the past decade, I’ve been camping in cold conditions — from the stark landscape of Patagonia, Chile to the vast beauty of Alaska to the rolling mountain trails of the Catskills. Being out in nature is a peaceful place for me to decompress from city life, even if it means getting out in freezing temperatures. Roasting marshmallows over a fire, watching migratory birds, and enjoying hot tea while watching the sun set over a snowy landscape is a one-of-a-kind experience you just don’t get any other time of year. 

But trust me, it’s not something you should take on unless you’re prepared. In my experience, being equipped with the right winter camping gear makes a cold-weather trip run smoothly and safely. From an extra warm winter sleeping bag to a packable down jacket to keep me cozy, here are the 15 winter camping essentials I swear by for experiencing all the magic that winter camping has to offer.

Related: What to Pack for a Winter Camping Trip

Mummy Sleeping Bag

$350

Buy on REI

To keep warm on frosty nights, consider a mummy-style sleeping bag — they’re designed to retain body heat with layers of insulation and a hood that keeps your head warm. I trust the Mummy Sleeping Bag by Magellan Outdoors, which features anti-bite webbing and a 0-degree Fahrenheit temperature rating and is made with micro-bailing fiber fill. The sleeping bag fits people up to 70 inches in length. Or, consider REI’s best-selling The North Face One Bag, which can be used in varying temperatures from 40 degrees Fahrenheit to as low as 5 degrees Fahrenheit comfortably.

All-Seasons Camping Tent

$800

Buy on REI

Having a reliable tent on cold nights is critical. I recommend the MSR Access 2 Tent, which is made to fit two people comfortably. The limited mesh on the body of the tent keeps the warmth trapped inside on cold nights, while the central support frame is made to endure overnight snow buildup. If rain or sleet comes through, you can count on the Xtreme Shield waterproof coating to create durability against the elements. For another highly rated all-seasons tent made to withstand cold nights, try the REI Co-op Arete ASL 2 Tent for a reasonable $449.

Insulated Camping Booties

$30

Buy on Amazon

Like a puffy down jacket for your feet, insulated camping booties are essential for cold-weather camps — but don’t be surprised if you start wearing them at home, too. Choose a cozy, functional style like the slip-on Baffin Unisex Cush Insulated Slipper Booty, which has multiple layers of water-resistant poly wool insulation and a drawstring closure to keep cold out. Don’t just take it from me; one Amazon shopper said her daughter wore these for a camping expedition in Utah, and “they kept her feet toasty warm. She requested her second pair for Christmas to wear around the house.”

You could also opt for a pair like the Outdoor Research Tundra Trax Booties with durable soles that create much-needed traction when trekking over slippery, icy and cold surfaces. For added warmth inside the booties, choose a pair of warm wool socks

Portable Charger

$20

Buy on Amazon

Winter is no time to be out in the woods with only 1 percent battery life. Keep your phone and small accessories charged when out in the elements like I do with this Anker Portable charger, which has compatibility with most of the latest iPhone and Samsung charging ports. The slim and compact size allows you to fit it in your backpack or overnight bag with ease. 

Smokeless Fire Pit

$495

Buy on Amazon

When it’s cold out, there’s nothing like warming up with grilled vegetables, barbecue, and freshly caught fish, all of which can be easily prepared with the Breeo Y Series: a portable, smokeless fire pit weighing only 31 pounds. I was able to take the Breeo Y on various camping activities to be used in a safe, contained campfire using either wood, pellets, or lump charcoal. You can also opt to pack fire starters for a quick way to get the heat going at your campsite.

Heavy Blanket

$259

Buy on Purple

Okay, so it’s not your average camping gear, but the Purple Weighted Blanket is actually my favorite heavy-duty blanket that I swear by and use for both indoor use to outdoor camping adventures. The cozy weighted blanket allows you to stay warm with its 20 pounds of hand-knit, organic cotton yarn. Plus, the machine-washable blanket, available in four colors, comes with an organic cotton dust bag that you can throw in your vehicle before you hit the road.

Backcountry Poles

$190

Buy on REI

Venturing out past the campground in the winter? Be sure to take some trusty, Backcountry Poles like the MSR DynaLock Ascent poles made with Kevlar-reinforced carbon fiber so you have a nice grip for safe trekking. Additional durability can be found in the EVA foam grips on the handles and the adjustable aluminum lever. 

Hiking and Camping Backpack

$230

Buy on backcountry.com

Gear access points are plentiful on this Osprey Mutant 52L Backpack, including a designated ice tool carry spot. You can put a bulk of the weight from the pack on the removable waist belt and put additional gear within the belt’s loops. If you’re on a longer trip, no problem: the pack can fit up to 52 liters of gear in its nylon construction.

Snow and Avalanche Safety Kit 

$450

Buy on REI

Preparing for the worst weather conditions is important when packing for a winter camping adventure, especially in snow-prone areas. For the more serious outdoor adventurers, there’s the Black Diamond Avy Safety Kit at REI, which includes a shovel designed for quick removal, an avalanche monitor, and a Quick Draw Probe which will help you get out of sticky situations and signal for help if needed. It’s pricey at $450, but it’s especially good for campers, backcountry skiers, and hikers who are out in risky areas — and worth it for peace of mind. You can also opt for just the shovel at $65.

Base Layer Thermals

$83

Buy on REI

When I’m camping in winter, I like to have a warm base layer to protect my body under my pants and heavier jackets.  Keep your legs protected with the Helly Hansen Seamless Base Layer Bottoms; on top, the Base Layer Crew Top from Helly Hansen is made with a 100 percent merino wool exterior and a moisture-wicking interior to keep your core warm with the two-layer construction. It’s lightweight but traps in heat with the brand’s signature “Stay Warm” technology.

Packable Down Jacket

$280

Buy on REI

Lightweight and packable but super effective at keeping you warm, this Rab down jacket gives you the protection you need while exploring the campgrounds. A warm down insulation, hood, and deep pockets for hiding hands are smart features; plus, this yellow helps you stand out in the snow (for safety, but hey, it also looks great, too).

Heated Jacket

$130

Buy on Amazon

A surefire way to keep warm anywhere, anytime? A jacket with a heater built right in. Lasting up to 10 hours on a single charge, the Ororo Heated Jacket keeps your core warm with three adjustable heat settings. Crank it up depending on how cold you are with carbon fiber heating centered on the collar, mid-back, and underneath the two front pockets. Bonus: it’s machine washable.

Thermal Wool Gloves

$38

Buy on REI

Merino wool material provides winter campers with a material that is breathable, moisture-wicking, and undeniably warm. You can use these Smartwool Thermal Merino Gloves under thicker gloves as a liner or take them out to use on their own, which gives you touchscreen compatibility so you can use your phone without exposing your digits to the cold air. Another great idea for keeping around in the tent? Rechargeable hand warmers.

Chunky Beanie

$40

Buy on Amazon

Protecting the most important part of your body during winter camping is key. If you ask me, you should consider the Helly-Hansen Calgary Chunky Beanie, which is not only seriously warm but also comes in several stylish colors with a pom on the top. The cozy, quality knit fabric allows a close alignment with your head for maximum warmth. 

Headlamp

$35

Buy on Amazon

Now that you’ve got head warmth covered, it’s time to add a light. The last thing you want to do is fumble around in the darkness for a flashlight at your campsite in the winter — the sun sets early, after all. Instead, opt for a headlamp to keep your hands free. This rechargeable headlamp from Night Buddy lasts eight hours on a single charge, projects 350 lumens of LED light, and is waterproof, meaning you can rely on it for safety in just about any condition.

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