Let me start this off by saying that we are NOT experts when it comes to winter camping. In fact, this month was the first time we ever decided to brave the (backyard) elements for some family bonding and get some more camping-with-little-ones under our belt.
So, despite the fact that we aren’t pros, we have the trip fresh in our mind and think we can pass on some of our findings for newbie winter campers.
Now, even if it is feeling like spring in other parts of the country, we are far from it here. Snow storms are still rolling in, the temperatures are in the teens at night and we have yet to leave the house with something other than boots on. Not that we are complaining because we love winter, but it definitely makes camping a little different than summer months.
Let me also state that the kids LOVED it. J especially was completely committed to the whole experience and made sure we didn’t forget the fact that it was imperative we eat hot dogs, roast marshmallows for S’mores and use headlamps.
I am honestly not even sure it crossed his mind that he was in full winter gear and there was snow on the ground. But, that is the hope with getting outside often with the kids – that they will think what we do is completely normal and will integrate it easily into their own life.
Starting Winter Camping with Kids
We busted out the 4-season tent that Mtn Papa has had since high school, made a camp fire, and spent the evening (and night) outside.
We left the figurative door open to bailing if needed (hence the backyard experience) but went into it like we would be there until morning.
Truth be told, P and I DID bail part way through the night. But, not because it was cold, but more that we were testing out all four of us in our new Teton Sports Mammoth Double Sleeping Bag and P was going nuts and keeping us all awake.
I sacrificed a little so J could have some special bonding time with Daddy. It worked because they are already planning some special Daddy-J camping and backpacking trips for the summer.
Here’s our best tips (taken from our introductory winter camping trip):
A Quality Tent Matters
Use a 4 season tent if you will be dealing with snow. The vents and construction of the tent are specific for dealing with those winter conditions and do make the whole process warmer.
Warm from the Ground Up
Absolutely use sleeping pads. We threw three of them under our sleeping bag and then topped them off with two heavy fleece blankets. Do NOT use a blow-up air mattress. The extra pockets of air will actually make it much colder.
Cozy up in a Family/Double Sleeping Bag
Try a family/double sleeping bag. While it was too crowded for all 4 of us, the Mammoth by Teton Sports is like bringing your bed with you kept everyone super snug and comfortable. And you can actually add on to the Mammoth if you have a bigger family. That extra body heat helps a ton. We also recommend the Kelty TruComfort Doublewide and the Big Anges King Salomon.
Be smart about staying warm while sleeping. Wear long underwear, wool socks and a hat on your head. Remember that you will be sleeping in that hat, so one that is low-profile is a lot easier.
Wear head lamps (though I think this is great for camping in the summer too!)
Check out the Twilights by ENO. A small string of LED lights on their own battery pack, they are great for a little nightlight in the tent. We hung ours using loops at the top of our tent a little bit of duct tape. They performed beautifully in the cold too. Highly recommended practical “bling” for your campsite.
Plan on a Fire
If you are having a campfire (which is pretty much required) remember to wear clothing that you are ok with getting some burn holes in. You hope it doesn’t happen, but sparks from the fire can easily burn tiny holes that are much more destructive in winter clothing.
Camp chairs make life much easier because they let you sit up and out of the snow. We LOVE these by Kelsyus that we reviewed last fall.
If eating dinner outside, think about foods that can be eaten with mittens on. We went simple with hot dogs and S’mores and then did numerous laundry loads of gear with Nikwax the next day. It’s camping – you’re going to get dirty.
Keep snow and mud out of the Tent
Throw an old welcome rug right outside the tent door. It makes boot removal much easier without getting snow/dirt in the tent.
Prepare hot drinks in travel mugs. We actually didn’t do this, but it sure would have been nice! BE POSITIVE! Be happy, excited and totally into it. The kids will follow suit.
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