11 Winter Camping Safety Tips Essential to Your Adventure

Enjoy the magic of the great outdoors while staying safe in wintery weather.

Updated July 23, 2021
Climbing Mount Baker.

It's crisp and cold, the snow sparkles, and the clear night sky is filled with stars. You gather with your BFFs around a cozy campfire with steaming mugs of sweet hot chocolate warming your hands. Winter camping is magical when you're properly prepared, so be sure it's safe for everyone. From bringing the right gear to knowing how to handle an emergency, there are a few winter camping safety tips to keep in mind to ensure your trip is a wonderful experience.

1. Know the Signs of Hypothermia

Being chilly is normal in cold weather, but it's important to watch for signs of hypothermia in yourself and in any camping partners. According to the US National Library of Medicine, hypothermia happens when your overall body temperature drops below normal. If you see any of the following signs, make sure you warm the person immediately and get medical attention if their body temperature is 95 degrees Fahrenheit or below:

  • Clumsiness
  • Sleepiness
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech

2. Watch for Frostbite

When temperatures or wind chills are very cold, your extremities are at risk of frostbite. Areas particularly vulnerable to this cold injury include your fingers, toes, nose, ears, and face. According to the National Safety Council, you should seek medical attention immediately if you see skin that is waxy in texture with a white, yellow, or grey coloration. If you suspect that someone may have frostbite, there are some things you can do if medical attention will be delayed: soak the affected area in lukewarm (not warmer than 104 degrees Fahrenheit) water for about half an hour and elevate the frostbitten area.

3. Pick a Partner (or Two)

Enjoy meal morning

While it can be peaceful to camp alone, winter camping is better done with at least two people. Camping as a pair or group is much safer when temperatures drop below 32°F. If something happens, you'll have more people to figure out a solution to a problem or go for help if necessary.

4. Plan Ahead for Your Winter Camping Trip

Before you head out for your winter camping trip, take lots of time to plan ahead. Good planning is important for safety. Take some time to research where you'll be camping and the best sites in that area. Then look at winter camping packing lists and consider what you'll need to bring with you. Before you leave, always tell someone where you'll be going and give them an itinerary of your trip.

5. Dress in Layers to Stay Warm

Hypothermia is a significant danger when winter camping, so it's essential that you keep your body heat up. However, you may also sweat if you are doing active things like hiking, skiing, or snowshoeing. Sweat can make your clothing damp and then cause you to get chilled. The key is to dress in layers, so you can remove some clothing if you start to get too warm.

6. Keep Your Feet Dry

Another important winter camping safety tip is to keep your feet dry. Frostbite is a danger if your feet get too cold, and wet socks or boots can increase the risk. Start by wearing socks that will wick moisture away from your skin. Then add warm boots that are comfortable and fit well. If you have the space, you may want to consider a second pair of boots in case yours get wet.

7. Protect Your Eyes

Summer isn't the only time you need to protect your eyes from the sun. Bright winter sun reflected off the snow and ice can damage your eyes, so it's important to wear sunglasses or ski goggles that help keep your eyes safe.

8. Choose Your Gear Carefully and Know How It Works

The winter camping gear you bring is very important for staying warm and safe. When you're shopping for a winter camping shelter, look for the terms "all season" or "four season." Many tents, especially those on the inexpensive side, are not weatherproofed to handle whipping winter winds or being set up on snowy ground. Also choose a sleeping bag that is rated for temperatures well below what you expect to encounter, and bring two sleeping pads to insulate yourself from the ground.

9. Know How to Stake Your Tent in the Snow

A strong shelter is essential for staying safe while winter camping, but many people don't realize that regular tent stakes don't always work well in the snow. You can invest in a set of snow stakes to secure your tent, or you can fill stuff sacks with snow or rocks and bury them in the snow around your tent instead of using stakes.

10. Keep Yourself Hydrated

Cropped Hand Pouring Tea In Cup On Snow Covered Log

Staying hydrated is very important when you're winter camping, since dehydration makes it more difficult for your body to maintain its temperature. Drink even when you don't feel thirsty. If possible, choose heated liquids, since your body won't have to invest energy in warming them.

11. Remember to Use the "Bathroom"

Although urinating in the cold is a daunting prospect, your body uses valuable energy to keep urine warm. If you urinate more often, this can make it easier to stay warm. It's a small thing, but it can help you avoid hypothermia when you're dealing with very cold temperatures.

Protect Yourself So You Can Have a Wonderful Time

Winter safety is important even at home, but it's essential when you're winter camping and can't easily find a warm shelter. If you protect yourself from hypothermia and frostbite, you'll have a great time enjoying nature in the colder months.

11 Winter Camping Safety Tips Essential to Your Adventure