Things to Consider When Winter Tent Camping
Going camping in winter might sound like an amazing idea. There is the crisp snow all around you, endless snow games and the calming trek through the snow-laden trees. Such is the beauty of winter, a beauty that comes at a price. The biggest problem in winter camping lies in the same thing that makes it interesting, the frigid weather. While most people think of packing the warmest parka they can lay their hands on, your comfort lies in something bigger at night – your tent.
Knowing the basic things to consider when choosing your winter camping tent ensures that you stay warm and cozy all through the night. Since you want a balance between weight and functionality, it would be better if you understood the essentials of winter camping and all the tricks that you can use to cover up for your tent shortcomings without putting your life at risk.
Because of the colder, wetter climate, winter tent camping requires some different techniques and equipment than summer or fall camping. Some manufacturers make tents and sleeping bags specifically for winter camping.
When I was young, I did a lot of camping in the summer and fall. One year I thought it would be “cool” (no pun intended) to try my hand at winter camping.
But because of my limited income as a young man, I did not purchase a winter tent or sleeping bag.
To make a long story short, I and my buddies almost froze to death that night! We set up our tent on the snow (which was okay if you have the right tent) and melted snow (a.k.a. water) started seeping through the non-waterproof floor and into our sleeping bags.
Needless to say, we packed up our stuff in the middle of the night and hiked back out to our car and “cranked” up the heat! Fortunately, we were only a mile away from the car, and nobody got frost bite. But we all learned the hard way that winter tent camping was not the same as warm weather camping.
So what exactly do you need to do and/or purchase to have a successful winter tent camping experience?
The first, and probably the most important, element is a tent designed for cold, harsh weather.
Why a four season tent
The camping rule of thumb says that you pack nothing but a 4-season tent when going for winter camping. Unlike 3-season tents, 4-season pieces are designed to shed snow rather than letting it accumulate on the fabric hence preventing the tent from collapsing under the snow’s weight. Four season tents also have thicker walls that are amazing in giving the tent sheer structural and protective power. They provide extra insulation and protect you from the chilly wind of the winter.
One other feature most winter tents have is an aerodynamic shape and a low profile. This allows the tent to endure high winds, which are more common in the winter months.
Because of these added features, winter tents are more costly that 3-season tents (tents suitable for spring, summer, and fall). These types of tents can cost $500 or more, but are necessary for winter tent camping excursions.
What to look for
The first thing to look for is the tent’s ability to shield you from the cold. You will need something with heavy fabric that keeps away the cold. 4-season tents are especially designed to cater for this. Other than just thinking about the tent walls, also consider your tent’s flooring. The floor should be both insulating, waterproof and versatile enough to endure the punishment from your heavy winter boots.
2. Tent’s capacity
When determining the size of tent needed, figure 30 square feet of floor space for two occupants. This will allow room for sleeping bags and gear.
The worst thing that could ever happen to you in winter is separation from your group. Keeping someone near you increases your chances of surviving. The help could be mutual, by sharing body heat, or physical by helping each other do something. Buying a tent that can accommodate three to four people will not only keep you close to the team but also let you use natural body heat to warm things up.
Something else a good winter tent has is a good sized vestibule. This is like a small room between the main entrance door and the main sleeping area. The purpose of this space is to store your pack and boots away from drifting snow or pouring rain.
3. Tent quality
Even though you shouldn’t be camping in a blizzard, expecting it and carrying a tent that is strong enough to endure the gale could save your life. In most cases, you have to work with tents that have reinforcing aluminum poles, stakes and reinforced doors. This will not only keep the tent at one place but also allow you to open the tent doors in a considerably rough weather.
When it’s cold outside and warm inside, you could experience a condensation problem. That’s why you need plenty of ventilation.
In as much as we are trying to keep the heat inside by using heavy walls, a poorly ventilated tent could be your very demise. Your body produces moisture. This moisture could easily condense and get the inside of the tent wet if it’s not vented out properly. Go for a tent with adjustable venting mechanism as this could give you control over the tent’s microclimate, just like you would use a window to control a house’s temperature.
5. Ease of access
Two, three or four people is quite a number. Fitting through one tiny door in a hurry could be impossible. Buying a tent with two doors makes things simpler. You can split doors for faster entry and exist. Better still, in case something blocks one entrance, you can always use the second to escape unscarred.
Even though this should be the last thing on your mind when choosing a winter tent, it won’t do you any harm to choose something that is easy to tot about. Consider how you will be transporting the tent before making your decision.
Any good 4-season tent will have all these capabilities in mind. If you don’t mind the bulk, you could even get something with bathtub floors and some space for storing dirty or wet gear. If you buy such a tent, consider getting a sled to tug it on if you will be going far away from the roads.
The other option would be a car tent. With the right car, you could convert the rear into a superb camping area. A pick-up truck or an SUV with a tailgate will work well with a Dac-Mid-Size truck tent. You will have the solid metal and chassis of your car to protect you from below and still have a tent over your head hence keeping the camping spirit alive.
Double wall or single wall
A good winter tent has double wall construction to retain heat within the tent. And most have a 40-denier or higher floor with a polyurethane coating to make it 100% waterproof (something my tent did NOT have!).
Double wall 4-season tents have two walls. They are stronger, bulkier and warmer. If you are headed to a cold place and intent to stay on one place for longer, you should consider carrying such a tent. They have better ventilation and are bigger hence are a perfect way of setting up the base camp or some common meeting place if you are camping as a group.
Single walls are amazing since they can be sufficiently warm and versatile. They are good enough for a small group or an individual. Compensating for the shortcomings by packing some warm clothing and a way to make some coffee or cocoa could be all you need to keep warm through the night.
Sometimes, camping is all about using what nature has to make life better. You needn’t fully rely on your tent to keep warm. Choosing your camping site well, for instance on a protected place should keep off the wind making things warmer. If you will be camping in one place for long, you could consider pitching your tent in a trench. Just ensure that the spot you pick is leveled and you don’t stand the risk of being covered in snow overnight.
Knowing what you need out of a tent is the key to choosing the right thing for your winter camping needs. Coupling your desirable sharing options with the acceptable tent bulk will help you choose a winter tent that will be easy to move about and strong enough to protect you from the elements.
The other important piece of equipment needed for winter camping is a warm sleeping bag. A good sleeping bag is a must for staying cozy when the outside temperatures drop below freezing.
The best sleeping bags for winter tent camping have goose down fill and what are called “draft tubes”. These are made of nylon fabric sewn into the shape of a tube and filled with insulation. These are located at the top of the bag and are used to seal around your neck and keep your body heat from escaping.
Smaller draft tubes should also cover the zipper area to prevent cold air from entering and warm air from escaping the bag.
These are just a few points to keep in mind when winter tent camping.
Additional equipment like snow shoes, skis, boots, and packs need to be considered, as well.