Winter Camping: Planning and Precautions

Winter Camping: Planning and PrecautionsWinter camping can offer campers and hikers a wonderful experience. In a tranquil world of white, far away from the crowds, you can enjoy cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice climbing and much more. Planning a trip in the winter means spending a good deal of time researching areas and conditions to determine where, when, and how the trip will work. It takes proper trip planning, experience, and the right equipment to travel safely in the winter environment. Below I will share with you some precautions and planning to be taken when winter camping.

Winter Wonder-Plan

Keep the following in mind when planning your next winter camping trip:

  • Goals for the trip
  • Group size
  • Strength and experience of group
  • Snow level (shallow or deep)
  • Snow quality (powder, packed, breakable crust, etc.)
  • Route (on a trail or off trail, etc.)
  • Trail (breaking trail or on a broken trail)
  • Mode of travel (will you be hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, etc.)
  • Elevation changes (ascent and descent may take different amounts of time)

Before you go:

  • Look at your proposed route for potential campsites for each day.
  • Talk to area rangers about permits and camping restrictions.
  • Find out about snow levels, avalanche danger, safety of ice crossings, etc.
  • Know what your emergency and alternate plans are if conditions deteriorate or you have problems.

Keep in mind that everything takes longer to do in the winter:

  • Setting up camp (you’ve got to tamp down a campsite and dig out a kitchen)
  • Lighting a stove (you’ve got to deal with three layers of gloves and cold metal parts)
  • Reaching the next stop (you’ve got snow underfoot and a pack on your back)
  • Make sure you have a lighter and/or waterproof matches on hand.

Read more about Camping Matches and Alternatives and How to Waterproof your Matches.

Avalanche of Problems without Proper Precautions

Extreme winter conditions aren’t so hazardous if you have the equipment to keep you warm and the sense to stay out of trouble.

  • Pay attention to the weather and don’t be afraid to change your plans.
  • Try – especially in extreme conditions – to go out in a group of at least four people so that even in an emergency and someone must go for help, no one is ever alone.
  • Don’t hesitate to hunker down and wait out a storm. The best way to solve problems is to avoid them.
  • Pay attention to details like keeping snow out of your boots and making sure you’re adequately hydrated.

Climate conditions such as extreme cold and wetness can lead to:

  • Hypothermia
  • Frostnip
  • Wind-chill
  • Frostbite
  • Frozen Eyelashes/cornea

Read theses articles for tips on How to Keep Warm While Camping.

Be aware of your terrain:

  • Steep elevations
  • Avalanche (rare except for steep gullies – often east coast)
  • Gully garbage (falling objects with sun, heat, etc.)
  • Breaking through ice (undercutting, margins of ice to shore)

Be careful at your campsite to avoid:

  • Tent collapse (from snow loading)
  • “Widow makers”
  • Stove explosions
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning (from stove use in tent)
  • Stove burns

Other Hazards:

  • Dehydration
  • Ice Axe/Crampon Injuries
  • Watermelon Snow (can cause diarrhea)
  • Yellow snow (yucky)
  • Poor hand-washing (food poisoning)

More than anything, a winter hike is a series of tasks and adjustments, a process of adapting to an ever-changing environment. If you make detailed plans, take proper precautions, not even harsh winter conditions can stop you from enjoying your wilderness camping destination.

Author: Kirsten
(The CampTrip Team)

Edited By:


About the Author

has written 14 articles on CampTrip.

Kirsten loves history, writing, reading and editing. She is one smart little cookie when it comes to academics! She also happens to be quite the artist! Kirsten manages to make everything funny and can always be found with a book in her hand.

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One response to "Winter Camping: Planning and Precautions"

  • Is it true that going for a camp requires some sort of training? Well, considering the things one should look forward to, a big preparation of things and self is important.

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