Camping doesn’t have to be reserved for warmer months. There may even be an upside to taking a trip when the temperature dips, says Jason Stevenson, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Backpacking and Hiking.”
“Camping in cooler weather lets you experience the outdoors in a whole new way,” he says. “There are far fewer people, the bugs that bite are dormant and the fall foliage is spectacular.”
Here are five tips to help you get the most from your cool-weather camping trip.
Once you select your campsite destination, check the National Weather Service for the latest forecast before departing. Checking the forecast at your exact location can help you prepare for wind, rain, sleet or snow. Each weather condition may dictate different types of gear needed for your trip. For example, snowy conditions may require a tent rated for use during all four seasons.
Your off-the-beaten-path destination may not have a ZIP code, but you won’t need one with this site, according to CleverHiker.com. Simply zoom into your destination on the website’s map, search for the name of a nearby lake or mountain, or even type in your destination’s longitude and latitude, and get a seven-day forecast.
In the fall and winter, the temperature difference between mornings and evenings, and clear and overcast days, can be drastic, so dressing in layers that you can easily add or subtract as the temperatures change is a must, according to Wilderness.org.
For your base layer — no matter how cold the weather — choose a long-sleeved shirt made of a lightweight fabric, Backpacker.com suggests. The thin fabric will wick away sweat and dry faster that a thicker fabric. A lightweight wool or polyester shirt or sweater is ideal for the second layer. Your outer layer can be a jacket that’s resistant to wind and water. In really cold weather, a puffy jacket — which provides great insulation — with a hood is ideal.
Sleeping bags are rated by temperature. Some bag ratings include a simple rating in degrees: That rating indicates the coldest temperature at which the bag will keep you warm, according to GoneOutdoors.com. So, if it’s rated as a 30-degree bag, it should keep you comfortable in temperatures down to 30 degrees.
However, Backcountry.com notes that some manufacturers have adopted standardized testing for temperatures, called European Norm (EN) testing, and give their bags two temperature ratings, one that indicates the lowest temperature at which the average woman can sleep comfortably, and one that shows the lowest temperature at which a man can sleep comfortably.
Before you choose, consider your own sleep patterns: if you tend to get hot while sleeping, you’re likely to be more comfortable in a bag that’s designed for warmer temperatures.
“If the weather is expected to drop to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, you may want to use a bag that is rated as a 30- to 45-degree bag,” Stevenson says. The lighter, warm weather sleeping bag can act as a counterbalance to a camper’s excessive body heat, even in the colder temperature.
Mummy-style sleeping bags may help keep you warmer because they cling closer to your body, according to Wilderness.org. Most mummy-style sleeping bags come with a hood that surrounds your head, helping to capture and retain heat.
In cold weather, a sleeping pad can be even more important than a sleeping bag, Stevenson says. “The cold ground soaks up your body’s warmth fast. While a pad puts a layer of insulation between you and the ground.”
Sleeping pads have R-values, which measure thermal resistance, or how well they are insulated. R-values for sleeping bags range from 1 (minimally insulated) to over 11 (very well insulated), according to SectionHiker.com. The higher the R-value, the better the insulation. For cool-weather camping, you’ll want a sleeping pad with an R-value of 4.0 or more, Stevenson says.
For maximum comfort and warmth, he adds, “I like two pads: a foam pad next to the ground, with an air pad on top. The foam protects your air pad from punctures; the air pad provides additional cushioning.”
Because cold air sinks into areas such as a riverbed in a valley, you’ll want to find a campsite that is slightly higher in elevation to stay warmer, Stevenson says. And angle your tent so its door faces east or southeast (if possible) to take advantage of the warm early morning sunlight. “The coldest part of your camping trip will be the early morning,” Stevenson says. “But mornings are beautiful — quiet and full of animal activity. You won’t want to miss them because you’re too cold to get out of your tent.”
Keep these tips handy to help enjoy your next cool-weather camping trip.