winter camping

12:07 a.m. on January 30, 2010 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
3 forum posts

hey everyone, new here. me and a friend are going to do a night of camping in a few days. we live in upstate ny, 20 degree weather on the day we've picked. we each have a 3 season tent and sleeping bags rated for 15 degrees. would this be enough or would you have any other advice aside from buying all new gear. thanks everyone.

9:29 a.m. on January 30, 2010 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
153 forum posts

A 3 season tent is fine for most winter camping in my opinion. The two downfalls of a 3 season tent are they don't do as well in the wind and they won't handle heavy snow. Assuming you're not getting a foot of snow then the only other issue is wind. This can easily be solved by pitching the tent in an area where you will be sheltered from the wind. There are two issues with wind. The first is in very strong winds, a 3 season tent could blow down. It would still take some pretty strong wind to do that and this is very unlikely. The other issue which is more likely to come up is that many 3 season tents have a lot of mesh and it is impossible to close off all the ventilation. Therefore, if there is wind, you will have a cold breeze blowing through you're tent. Again, put you're tent in the woods and out of open areas and you should be fine. If you have a choice of locations a stand of pines makes an excellent wind break. Another thing you can do is build some snow up between the ground and rain fly on the upwind side. This will prevent wind from getting under the fly and into you're tent.

A 15 degree bag might be cutting it a bit close if there is a low of 20 forecast. In my experience, picking a bag rated for 10 degrees cooler than the actual temperature will keep me comfortable. If it gets within 10 degrees of that, I start to get cold. If you have a summer weight bag, bring it along and use it as a liner. This could easily extend the comfort range by 15 degrees. Another trick is to boil some water on the stove or fire and sleep with it in you’re bag. Of course, pick the appropriate bottle. You don’t want it leaking on you in the middle of the night. Some bottles won’t hold up to the heat and will melt. Metal bottles will get very hot and will burn you so be careful with that too. Do some testing at home to see what works.

9:50 a.m. on January 30, 2010 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
3 forum posts

The sleeping bag i have was issued to me by the army. It says its good for 30 but its 2 layers plus the gortex cover. Do you think that would be alright? The weather is now saying its going to be 12 for the low.

10:45 a.m. on January 30, 2010 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
153 forum posts

Couldn't say for sure. If you have a backyard and a few days before you go, there is only one way to know for sure. My initial instinct is that a 30 degree bag is not warm enough. If you either have a second bag or can borrow one, use it as a liner and it will make a big difference. The hot water bottle trick works well too as long as you are careful.

Are you camping close to the car or will you be packing in a ways?

10:48 a.m. on January 30, 2010 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
3 forum posts

yea maybe a mile away from the car.

2:15 p.m. on January 31, 2010 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
153 forum posts

I'd think about a second bag as a liner. If you're only going a mile from the car then assuming you're following a trail it would only take 20 mins to get to camp. Best case scenario, you can carry everything at once. Worst case you do two loads of gear and come back for the second bag. You could chance it and leave the second bag in the car, but I’d say if it’s a 30 degree bag and it’s supposed to get down to 12, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to be using it. Better to pack it all at once then to wake up at 2am to go back to the car for it.

After this trip, if you decide you will be doing more winter camping in the future a good zero degree rated bag is pretty versatile and will keep you comfortable down to 10F. If it’s not in the budget, then you could just stick with the plan of layering you’re bag with a borrowed one. When it comes to layering bags, you have to experiment to find out how cold you can go.

9:43 p.m. on January 31, 2010 (EST)
4,419 reviewer rep
6,010 forum posts

One more thing about 3-season tents - the tents that are being sold these days as "3-season" have lots of mesh that can not be closed off. If there is wind, not only will it be breezy as WISam mentioned, but fine snow will blow into the tent through the mesh. One of the students in my winter camping course one year had such a tent, and ended up with the inside of the tent looking like he was camping in a snowdrift.

Depending on how cold or warm you sleep, a 30 degree bag is completely inadequate for a predicted low of 12F. Even a 15 degree bag is marginal for most people, unless they have a bivy, warm liner, or a second summer weight bag inside the 15 deg bag. Especially in a 3-season, lotsamesh tent - that's almost like just sleeping outside the tent (that mesh is for lots of ventilation, after all).

Trying this all out a mile from the car is taking a bit of a risk - Upstate does get some goodly unexpected dumps, so pay very close attention to the weather (take a portable weather radio and/or listen to the commercial broadcasts).

Oh, you do have a closed-cell foam pad, don't you? For 12F on snow, you will want a double-thickness closed cell foam (the WalMart/KMart/Target blue foam at $10 for a full length pad works just fine, especially doubled).

12:29 a.m. on February 1, 2010 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
153 forum posts

Good point forgot to mention snow in the tent. This goes for sand in the desert too, don't ask me how I figured that out ;). Again, if there's wind, build up the snow between the ground and rain fly and you should block out most of the snow and wind.

2:38 a.m. on February 1, 2010 (EST)
38 reviewer rep
1,902 forum posts

Get yourself a book such as "Allen & Mike's Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book." Skip the ski stuff and focus on the winter camping section, which is most of the book.

Look online for winter camping gear lists. You should find many websites that have them. Search through the posts here using the search function and a few lists should show up.

I would also look at, a NE website. Membership is closed now, but you can read the posts. There are forums for different areas in the NE, plus a general backpacking forum.

A bag rated for 30 won't be warm enough at 12. You will likely be cold. You may be able to rent a winter bag at a local shop. If not, bring plenty of extra clothes and plan on sleeping in them. You need a base layer, insulating layer and shell outer layer, plus warm footwear and snowshoes. Also, gloves or mitts, a warm hat or balaclava, goggles or sunglasses, reliable stove (don't rely on a fire) and cookkit, plenty of fuel and unless you are within sight of your car, navigation skills. Everything looks the same when covered with snow. I spent 20 minutes one time looking for a pair of skis I had leaned up against a tree and walked away from no more than about 25 yards.

Take enough food and fuel for a few days, even if you don't plan on being out that long. Things can happen. Exposure is your enemy. I've read too many stories about rescues where people went out for a day or two, got stuck (no snowshoes was one cause) and had to be rescued by a massive SAR mission launched in a ferocious storm. Don't let that happen to you.

A mile is a long ways if you are off trail or in deep snow. Soft snow means snowshoes, skis or stay on a packed trail or road. Even then, you are limited. If you get in backcountry a mile away and it snows and you don't have snowshoes, you probably aren't coming back unless you are Superman. Try walking in deep snow with a pack on with no snowshoes and you'll see what I mean. I sure couldn't do it, I could barely do it with snowshoes on.

I know this seems like a lot for just an overnighter, but we're talking about winter and from what I have seen on the news, it's been pretty harsh back your way.

6:25 a.m. on February 1, 2010 (EST)
132 reviewer rep
32 forum posts

I think the worst thing is to not be able to sleep because of the cold. So to me that is the most important thing to get right, to be sure that even if the temperature unexpectedly drops below what you planned, that you can still have a decent nights rest. If you are too cold in the bag, you won't be able to sleep, you'll lie awake most of the night shivering, and you'll be tired and cold the next day. And in a bad winter storm that can be lethal.

But really decent bags are expensive as hell. You can buy a cheap liner and bivy-bag, and that will add a good few degrees to a cheap bag. You can try and keep snow and ice off your clothes and sleep in them in the bag. You can heat rocks in a fire and wrap them in a towel and put them in the bag, or boiling water and putting it in a Sigg and wrapping that in a towel.

A lot of military surplus stores sell big woolen blankets and thick woollen boot liners, they are usually really cheap. You can wrap the blanket under and over the bag and put on the boot liners over your socks at night. If you smoke or have bad circulation you might find your hands and feet get cold easily, so it might also be worth sticking a few heat pads into your socks before getting into the bag.

It's worth having a balaclava and hat on at night, even if the sleeping bag is mummy style. It's a little more uncomfortable to sleep in but saves a lot of heat.

And if you're comfortable with your friend, zipping two sleeping bags together is a pretty cheap way to sleep warmer.

This all assumes you have a decent pad under you, most of the heat loss is down into the ground, so spending the cash on a decent Exped downmat is a better idea than having a cheap pad and an expensive bag.

Also, a REALLY nice tip, have a piss bottle beside your bag. Nothing is worse than really having to get up and piss when it's really cold. Getting out of your bag, putting on boots and a parka... In normal conditions that takes a minute, when it's really cold it can take a half hour and cost you a lot of energy.


Also one other small tip, the benefit of winter camping is your weight doesn't matter much. I don't know about in the States, but here in Sweden you can buy a cheap plastic sleigh for around 5 euro. With one of those you can bring an extra 20 kilos of gear with very little effort. Rig up a shoulder harness for it and you can easily bring a lot of extra clothes/fuel/food.

10:10 a.m. on February 1, 2010 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
153 forum posts

Regarding snowshoes, my usual rule of thumb is around 6 inches of snow is where they start to be helpful. Anything less than 6 inches and the extra weight on you're feet requires more effort then they save you. After 6 inches they are definitely a benefit. With 6 inches of snow, the hike will be more enjoyable with them, but they are not an absolute necessity. After a foot of snow you pretty much need them. As for having them with you just in case, it sounds like you'll only be out a night or two. If you're in the mountains or near the Great Lakes, you could get a foot or two of snow pretty unexpectedly. If not, you should be able to get the forecast a couple of days in advance. If you need snowshoes, you can rent them from many outdoor stores. If you’re on national forest land, you can get a hold of the local forest service. Usually, they can refer you to someone who works in the area who can tell you how deep the snow is.

As for the zero degree bags, you can get one for pretty cheap, but it will be heavy and bulky. A lightweight compact zero degree bag can run $300 and up. My recommendation if you are looking for one in the future is to check out the scratch and dent sale at REI. Both my friend and I got good quality 0 degree bags there for under $100. These bags would have ordinarily sold for $350.

10:07 a.m. on February 16, 2010 (EST)
77 reviewer rep
123 forum posts

if you are only gonna be approx 1 mile in from the car. get a fleece sleeping bag. at cabellas they are approx $15. slip that inside your current bag and you should be warm enough.

June 21, 2018
Quick Reply

Please sign in to reply

More Topics
This forum: Older: Basic Stuff Newer: backpacks
All forums: Older: Camp 4 Newer: FS - Medium 1996 Azimuth Anorak