10 Tips For Cold-Weather Winter Camping


I remember when I took our first trailer tent to Katarapko Creek, just off the River Murray. It was a June long weekend and it was freezing! We unintentionally left a cup of water out overnight, and it was completely frozen when we got up in the morning.

Why did we bother going at that time of year, and why do we still make the effort? Well, apart from the times when it rains heavily (I don’t mind a bit of drizzle), we have had some of our best camping trips during the winter months.

A roaring campfire at night

A campfire is one of the best parts of winter camping. Image: Coleman

Why winter camping is the best

The air is crisp and clean, you can have a campfire (my favourite part), cook in a camp oven, rustle up some damper, enjoy some great beverages, and as usual, solve the problems of the world. Plus there’s always long walks to warm up and to help you appreciate nature.

While there are so many great things about camping in the cooler months, it does take a little bit more planning and preparation, so here are a few things to keep in mind to make the most of cold weather camping.

Stirring a mug of hot chocolate with a campfire in the background

You can enjoy a hot beverage around the fire. Image: Coleman

Top 10 Tips for Winter Camping:

1. Choose your campsite carefully

Scout out the area and avoid setting up camp near a creek bed or on a slope in case it buckets down and the area gets flooded.

A Northstar Coleman tent set up on a grassy clearing next to a bench

Avoid setting up on a slope. Image: Coleman

2. Avoid camping under large trees

When the weather is wet and rainy there’s a higher risk of a branch snapping off and falling on your site, so find the clearest spot possible.

View of sunset in winter

While large trees are nice to look at, they’re not the best to camp out under. Image: Andrew Kennedy. 

3. Consider how you’ll light your campfire

Think ahead and consider how you’re going to light a fire when you arrive and try to bring your own wood so that you know it’ll be dry. If you’ve only got wood to work with, check out our guide to starting a fire with wet wood here.

A group of campers sit around a campfire with a pile of wood in the foreground

Take your own wood from home. Image: Coleman

4. Bring a backup cooking method

If you’re planning on using your campfire for cooking, it’s best to bring a backup option just in case it’s too wet to light a fire or you come across an unexpected fire ban. A gas stove or portable BBQ make for an ideal alternative.

Coleman Hyperflame Fyreknight setup on tree stump

Bring a gas stove just in case. Image: Coleman. 

5. Put your next day’s clothes in your sleeping bag with you

The worst part of getting up on a cold morning is crawling out of your warm sleeping bag to change into your freezing cold clothes. When it’s time for bed, stuff tomorrow’s pants and jumper in there with you so they’re toasty warm when you put them on the next morning.

A woman sits inside her sleeping bag holding a warm drink

Pop tomorrow’s clothes inside your sleeping bag. Image: Coleman

6. Get off the cold ground at night

The ground at the campsite can get pretty darn icy, so a good tip to ensure that you have a cosy night’s sleep in your tent is to sleep on a stretcher. Or, if you’re not a fan of stretchers, a well-insulated mat will also provide a barrier between you and the frosty tent floor.

A stretcher sits inside an Oztent RV Tent

Use a camp stretcher in your tent to get away from that freezing cold floor! Image: Oztent

7. Don’t forget to rug up

You need to dress appropriately for the weather, so get out all your warm layers and thermals – keep in mind that plenty of thinner clothes are better than one big coat. Don’t forget your waterproof jacket, beanie, warm socks and gloves for your extremities. Plus it’s a good idea to throw in a couple of changes of clothes just in case you get caught out in the rain.

A couple wearing thermals and beanies at the entrance to their tent

Don’t forget to rug up. Image: Explore Planet Earth

8. Check your sleeping bag rating before you leave

Check your sleeping bag rating, and if it’s not low enough for the temperatures you’ll be experiencing, add a thermal liner to increase the warmth and keep it cleaner for longer.

Sleeping Bag Rating for Winter Camping

Make sure your bag is warm enough for your winter camping trip before you leave.

9. Leave a little earlier for your trip

With the winter sun setting earlier, it’s a good idea to hustle the troupe into the car at the crack of dawn – maybe even pre-dawn, especially if you’ve got a very long drive ahead. You’ll be grateful you made the effort when you pull into your camp at the flip side of the day and there’s still plenty of light to get set up and the fire going so you’re not rummaging around in the pitch dark.

A family packing a tent into the back of a 4WD outside their house

It gets darker faster in winter, so leave for the campsite early. Image: Oztent

10. Play it safe

While there are some great things about camping in the chilly season, you still need to be prepared for the worst. Make sure you always have an emergency blanket or even some disposable hand warmers in case the weather takes a very bad turn, you can’t light your campfire, or your sleeping gear and tent are not performing as they should. It’s better to be safe than sorry!


Header image: Coleman

Do you have any winter camping must haves? Share them in the comments below. 

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Joined back in December, 2013

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