Deep snow, eerily silent nights, and air so cold it chills you to the bone is the perfect recipe for shaking the winter doldrums. Winter camping and overlanding aren’t for everyone, but if you love a challenge and appreciate wild, unforgiving places, you’ve landed in the right spot. So before you take off during the next cold snap, be prepared with these hot tips for fun and safe winter camping and overlanding.

Clothing

Freezing temps aren’t just uncomfortable, they can be downright dangerous, and proper layering is key. First and foremost, staying warm and comfortable starts with a high-quality base layer – and merino wool reigns supreme. You can get different thicknesses of merino wool base layers for various conditions, covering everything from sub-zero temperatures to hot days. It’s an incredible material that wicks moisture while remaining soft and breathable. Plus, it’s antimicrobial so odor is minimal, even after multiple days of use.

An insulating mid-layer, such as a fleece hoodie or zip-up, is perfect for reducing heat loss without the bulk of outer layers. And when you’re exposed to the elements, especially wind, you’ll want insulated pants or bibs, as well as a jacket to stay warm. There are a ton of options for outer layers but be sure to choose a set that’s wind and water resistant at a minimum. Fully waterproof and windproof is even better.

Keeping your extremities warm starts with a warm core, so if temperatures drop to dangerous levels it’s a good idea to add an insulated vest. Always bring multiple hats and gloves in case one pair becomes lost or damaged. A pair of insulated gloves and mittens is a perfect combination during frigid temperatures. If you have a challenge keeping your feet warm, as many do, heated insoles or socks are a cheat code for avoiding frozen toes. You could also add insulated booties that slip over your boots to provide another layer of insulation.

Sleeping System

The importance of sleep can’t be overstated and contrary to popular belief, it’s very possible to sleep soundly in bitterly cold temperatures. More than any other time of year, winter is when your sleep system is the most important camping gear. Even if you have an external heat source during the night, such as a heater or stove, you’ve gotta be prepared to survive without it.

A quality sleeping pad makes a huge difference in warmth by adding an insulating layer between your sleeping bag and the surface of wherever you choose to sleep. An inflatable foam pad offers supreme warmth and comfort. While closed cell foam pads won’t ever leak, they offer less insulation. If you’ve got room, bringing one of each is a foolproof way to know you’ll have some degree of insulating power, even if your inflatable pad ends up with a leak. Other winter campers simply bring two closed cell foam pads and stack them together to increase insulation.

Of all the tips for winter camping, here’s a favorite  – remember you can always put a hot water bottle inside your sleeping bag as a heat source in brutally cold weather. This warms up the bag prior to crawling in and adds long-lasting heat. Of course, your sleeping bag is the workhorse that traps your body heat during the coldest nights. For winter camping trips, you’ll want an idea of what the lowest possible temperature could be so you can choose a sleeping bag with the right temperature rating. Remember to choose a bag with a rating 20 degrees less than the lowest temperature. For example, 20 degree rated sleeping bags will keep you warm enough to survive at 20 degrees, but you’ll be pretty cold at that temperature. Instead, you’d want a bag rated for 0 degrees. A sleeping bag with a hood also adds significant warmth to the head and neck region for all-night comfort.

Vehicle Preparation and Safety

The risks of driving in winter conditions can’t be underestimated, especially if traveling cross country or to unfamiliar regions. Worst-case scenarios mean preparing for possibly being stranded for multiple days in bitterly cold weather. At the core of survival is the ability to start a fire. Multiple lighters, packs of matches, and firestarters can make an unbearable situation comfortable. An axe, hatchet, or chainsaw are other tools that can be used to get wood, but you’ll want to know the laws specific to cutting wood where you’re camping.

Cold weather can take a toll on batteries and a jump box or jump starter is an easy way to bring a dead battery back to life. For your windshield washer fluid, winter is the time to use a blend that won’t freeze in cold temperatures. To avoid being immobile, preparing the vehicle for winter travel across snow, mud, and ice is critical. Tire chains are incredibly effective in conditions where even four-wheel drive can’t gain traction. Never leave home without a shovel, and if you have space you’d be wise to bring two – a spade shovel and a snow shovel if you’ll need to move a lot of snow.

Mental Toughness

Camping in cold, wet weather can take a toll mentally. It’s important to have ways to temporarily warm up and dry out – this could mean a hot meal over a fire, camping from a hot tent, or simply putting your socks and gloves inside your sleeping bag at night to dry out courtesy of the trapped body heat. These are the small victories that can make the days enjoyable. Essentially, the right preparation and gear can make all the difference in giving you the confidence to enjoy winter camping, without worrying about survival and frostbite. Take these steps to get outside this winter and enjoy a world few get to see – it’s truly a privilege to take on rugged landscapes during the most difficult time of year.