Cold Weather Camping


As we get closer to deer season and the weather changes I start pulling out my winter gear. Winter camping demands your attention and you must be properly equipped. If you aren’t properly prepared you will be cold or dead.

While I may be new to deer hunting, I have been camping for many years and I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but I have more experience (& gear) than most people. So consider this my contribution because I don’t know much else about deer hunting!


I’m not going to cover everything, but this should be a good start. That being said, there are some basics everyone should have in their cold weather gear collection.

  • Shelter:
    • If there’s enough snow and the area you camp or hunt in allows it I recommend building a quinzhee.
    • Most of us will have to settle for a tent. You don’t want to buy cheap when it comes to tents. Would you buy a cheap, poorly constructed house? Stick to the name brands, and go for 4 seasons in cold weather.
    • Find a tent with a good fly that goes all the way to the ground, includes many different tie-outs, and includes a vestibule.
  • Closed-cell foam sleeping pad(s)
    • I prefer the Z-Rest because I hate rolling foam pads and the Z-Rest folds like paper. /\/\/\/
  • Synthetic fill sleeping bag:
    • A good rule of thumb is to choose a bag that’s rated AT LEAST 10 degrees below the temperature you will be sleeping in. I.E. buy a 20 degree bag for 30 degree nights.
    • Avoid down bags because goose down DOES NOT retain heat when wet. Down is more compressible and weighs less than synthetics, so consider down if weight is an issue. I personally have one of each.
  • Candy and Trail Food
    • See the technique section for more information.
  • Long Johns
    • Buy a good pair of synthetic long johns, depending on the temperatures you will encounter.
    • I have “heavyweight” and “lightweight” and I rarely wear the heavyweight kind.
  • Fleece
    • Fleece comes in various styles and weights. I prefer thin fleece shirts, heavy fleece jackets, and medium fleece pants.
    • Fleece is very warm, but not windproof. You must have a windproof shell to cover the fleece in windy conditions.
  • Shells
    • Choose a shell that is roomy. If you’re going to layer long johns, fleece, scarves, etc… you will need the room.
    • Choose a shell that’s appropriate for your temperature range. I prefer modular shells with the zip-in-zip-out fleece jacket.
  • Footwear
    • Very personal decision. You have three choices:
      • Winter Boots
        • Winter boots are heavy, hot, and cumbersome. I’ve owned a few pairs and I only wear them in extremely cold temperatures.
      • Hiking Boots
        • My personal preference. Hiking boots allow enough room for warm socks, are easy to break in, and provide good protection from the elements. If you don’t have warm feet, this method is not recommended.
      • Mukluks
        • Cheap, easy to make, and fun to say.
        • Take army surplus snow boots (the kind with removable liners), cut out foam foot beds, cutout fleece footwraps, and you’re done.
        • Very comfortable and warm… and cheap.
  • Accessorize!!!
    • Mittens (Yes, mittens keep your fingers warmer than gloves)
    • Liner gloves
    • Heavy Socks
    • Liner Socks
    • Fleece Scarf (Surprisingly useful!)
    • Hat
    • Balaclava (Face Mask)
    • Water Bottle
      • You’ll want a medium or small water bottle to keep close to your body.
      • Alternatively, you could use a “camelback” or other water pouch, but insulation is important.
    • Stove and Fuel
      • Liquid fuel works much better in extreme cold, but you can get away with propane or iso-butane fuel in near freezing temperatures.
      • See technique for more information.


The way you use your gear is much more important than what gear you have. The following are a few simple but important techniques.

  • Shelter
    • When it comes to shelters make sure you have adequate ventilation, if not you will ice up the inside of your tent or inadvertently melt the inside of your quinzhee.
    • Use a closed-cell foam pad to insulate you while sleeping, standing, and sitting. That cold feeling in your bum when you sit on the bleachers at fall football games is called convective heat loss. Use foam to keep your rump roasty.
    • Avoid air mattresses in the fall, winter, and spring. Air has no insulation and thus encourages convective heat loss.
  • Candy and Trail Food
    • Always keep a little bit of candy with you as an “emergency” energy source.
    • Eat to stay warm, imagine that your stomach is a wood burning stove and that you have to stoke the fire to stay warm.
    • Make your very own personalized trail mix with all your favorite candy, granola, nuts, dried fruit, beef jerky, etc… Eat, walk, & enjoy.
    • Carbohydrates, like pasta, granola, and oatmeal will keep you warm, so eat them.
    • Proteins, like nuts and dried meat will give you energy, eat them too.
  • Layering:
    • Utilize layers of clothing to modulate your temperature. On cold nights put on all your layers, on sunny days take off layers.
    • Start “cold” before physical exertion. Take off your layers before hiking out for the day.
    • Use liner gloves and mittens to keep hands warm. Mittens allow body heat to transfer between the fingers, instead of gloves that isolate the fingers.
    • Use liner socks and heavy socks to prevent blisters and keep your feet warm.
  • Footwear:
    • Wear shoes, boots, mukluks that are roomy. Anything to tight will constrict blood flow to your feet and make them cold.
    • My feet rarely get cold, so I wear hiking boots with heavy socks and liners.
    • If your feet are usually cold try buying or making some mukluks. I’ve used them in -10 degree weather and my feet were sweating!
    • Wear wool or synthetic socks with liners to prevent blisters and keep your feet dry. Change them as often as needed.
  • At night:
    • Change into clean dry socks at night before bed. Let your wet socks “dry” in the cold. In the morning smash your frozen socks and shake of the frozen stuff as best you can.
    • Sleep with a water bottle filled with hot water between your legs, feet, or armpits. Drink the warm water at night to stay warm and hydrated!
    • Put your outer coat zipped up over the foot of your sleeping bag. Your feet will stay warmer.
    • At night I keep a snickers bar handy to warm me up if I get cold. Surprisingly it works, not only does it make you feel better psychologically, it also helps keep you warm by giving you some easily absorbed calories.***
    • ***This is not recommended in bear country!
    • Leave a vent open on your tent, or you will ice up and get “rained” on during the day.
    • Wear a hat or use the hood of your sleeping bag. Do not breath into your sleeping bag, wear a balaclava if your nose gets cold!
  • Cooking
    • Use a liquid fuel stove when possible in cold weather. Tanked fuels are great, but in very cold temperatures the fuel will not vaporize.
    • If using tanked fuels sleep with the canister at night to keep it warm and ready to go in the morning.
    • Morning and evening meals should be served warm. Choose carbohydrate heavy soups and oatmeal.
    • Snack between meals with lots of carbohydrate heavy foods like granola, trail mix, dried fruits, etc…
    • Lunch should have some protein but be easy make and eat, unless you’ve got time to spare…


Get out there y’all!



  1. Awesome tips, Shane! What do you think of the Eureka Timberline tents like these:

    I picked one up last year, and they’re small but tough. I’ve enjoyed it so far.

    1. Shane Whitford · · Reply

      The Eureka Timberline was the go to tent for my troop. I’ve slept in one of those in all four seasons and never had a problem. For the money, they can’t be beat.


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