The first rule of camping is to always be prepared — especially once the temperatures begin to drop. Sleeping under the stars surrounded by glistening trees and snow-covered mountains may look glamorous on Instagram, but the wilderness can be very dangerous if you're not properly equipped. To help ensure you stay warm and safe on your next trip, POPSUGAR spoke with experts who live and breathe the great outdoors to get their best advice for cold-weather camping. If you're planning an outdoor adventure this winter, you've come to the right place.
1. Insulate your tent for winter camping.
"Any decent tent will keep the wind at bay, so your main source of cold is usually the ground you lay on," Claire Copeman, cofounder of Adventure Tours UK, told POPSUGAR. "Invest in a good-quality, packable sleeping mat to insulate you from the cool, damp ground below, and choose a four-season sleeping bag to keep you warm at night."
2. Pick the right spot to set up camp.
You want to avoid strong winds, especially during the night, Copeman explained. Instead of making your spot in the middle of a field, find a place that has natural shelter, whether it's surrounded by trees or nestled next to mountainous terrain. If there's snow on the ground, use a shovel and build a wall surrounding your campsite to serve as a barrier against the wind. Just don't build it directly on your tent, Copeman advised, because you'll need proper ventilation for your space.
3. Use hot water bottles to warm your bed.
Before bed, boil a pot of water and transfer it to a hot water bottle. A rubber bottle, similar to what you'd use to ease cramps, is best, though a hard, plastic water bottle can work, too. Leave the bottle under the covers or in your sleeping bag before bed, so it's nice and warm when it's time to sleep. You can even snuggle with it — just make sure to never use a metal bottle, Copeman said, so you don't run the risk of getting burned.
4. Carry chains for your vehicle.
"If you're driving over mountain passes where icy or snowy conditions exist, it's always a good idea to have chains on hand — and often it's required for safety," Harley Sitner, founder of Peace Vans, told POPSUGAR. Chains are a useful tool for these conditions because they allow the wheels of your vehicle to get better traction, which can help prevent sliding.
5. Stay hydrated.
No matter the weather, you always want to avoid becoming dehydrated. In colder temps, Copeman recommends reaching for hot beverages like herbal teas and even soups to help keep you warm.
6. Dress in layers (and more layers).
"It's easy to overheat when you're active, but once you stop, whether for a brief snack break or an unexpected emergency, you'll soon feel the cold. A thermal merino base layer, good-quality mid layer, an insulated jacket, and a waterproof [shell] to keep the rain and wind out are my go-to items for any winter adventure," Copeman said. "Thermal tights, water-resistant trousers, and thick hiking socks inside your waterproof walking boots will keep your lower half toasty and dry, too. Wet clothes are a shortcut to being cold, so although you'll want to pack light when camping overnight, it's important to carry spares."
Speaking of camping overnight, you want to make sure you dress appropriately for bed, too. "I find merino base layers make the best winter-camping PJs, and remember, it's OK to wear a woolly hat in bed when you're camping," Copeman added.
7. Eat a warm breakfast and take short lunches.
Keeping your body fueled is important on any adventure, but you'll want to be especially thoughtful when planning your meals in the wintertime. "Instant oats are the perfect lightweight, packable, and nutritious breakfast. All you need is a camping stove and water for a delicious hot start to your day in minutes," Copeman told POPSUGAR. "For lunch, you won't want to hang around — the longer you stop, the colder you get — so pack a hot flask of soup or tea for a fast, warming pick-me-up."
8. Keep food essentials in your sleeping bag.
"Keep the food you want to eat or the water you want to drink inside your sleeping bag if you want to be able to enjoy it the morning after," said Björg, CEO of Midgard Adventure, an adventure-tour operator in Iceland. "This is because most of the time everything the morning after is frozen."
9. Pack fire starters.
Sitner warned that, when it's damp and windy, it'll be more difficult to start a fire. Whether you're an experienced camper or a novice, it's always smart to have fire starters on hand, because they'll save you a lot of time and energy. You never want to find yourself in a situation where you're unable to successfully start a fire, so always be prepared.
10. Be smart about how you use your space.
This isn't the time for luxurious accommodations. Copeman explained that your best bet is to use the smallest tent you can, because it'll require less heat than a larger one. Keep your gear, such as your backpack, boots, and clothes, inside the tent so it stays warm, and beware of sharp objects around your space to avoid any damage to your structure.
11. Do some jumping jacks to warm up.
You heard that right: squeezing in some exercise before bed or when you wake up can help keep you warm, Copeman said. Get your blood flowing and bring that heart rate up before you bundle up with layers of blankets in your sleeping bag.
12. Keep your electronics charged.
Your phone may automatically lose battery or even decide not to turn on if the weather is too frigid. Keep your devices warm and bring plenty of external chargers. When camping, it's wise to invest in a portable power station to keep all of your electronics going.
13. Rely on the buddy system.
If you're traveling with other people, make sure you're not venturing into dangerous areas on your own, Björg said. Solo travelers should tell their friends and family about their trip so they know to check in and make sure everything is going smoothly. This is important in any season, but especially during the colder months, when your phone can freeze without warning.