Winter camping is one of the best ways to get outside during the colder months of the year. But how cold is too cold for winter camping?
There’s no such thing as conditions that are universally too cold for winter camping. That’s because it all depends on your experience level, equipment, and cold tolerance. Some people may not want to go winter camping when the temperatures drop below 0ºF (-18ºC) while others are okay with camping in -30ºF (-34ºC) conditions. It all depends on your personal comfort level and what gear you have available.
If you’re new to winter camping or you’re simply looking to expand your winter camping repertoire, you might be a bit nervous about camping in very cold conditions. In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at what “too cold” really means for camping and what you need to know before you head outside.
Winter Camping In Cold Conditions
There’s no such thing as conditions that are too cold for winter camping.
Now, that might sound like an absurd statement, but the reality is that people go winter camping in a wide range of weather conditions. For example, think about people who ski across Antarctica or people who do winter climbing trips in places like Alaska. It can get really, really cold in both of those places (think -40ºF/-40ºC cold), but they still go out anyway.
Does that mean you should go winter camping when it’s -40ºF (-40ºC) outside? Not necessarily.
Every single camper is different and their tolerance for the cold will vary greatly from everyone else’s. Additionally, the type of gear that you have available to you will have a huge impact on what kind of conditions you can tolerate on your camping trips.
As an example, think about what you would need to stay warm on a winter camping trip in 0ºF (-18ºC) or below weather with snow on the ground. Most people would pack, at a minimum, the following clothes:
- Long underwear (tops and bottoms)
- Fleece jacket
- Fleece pants
- Midweight puffy jacket
- Puffy pants
- Heavyweight puffy jacket
- Extra-thick puffy jacket
- Rain jacket
- Rain pants
- Thick socks
- Puffy booties
- Over booties
In addition to all of this clothing, you’ll need at least a -20ºF (-29ºC) sleeping bag, two high-quality sleeping pads, and a four-season tent, as well as kitchen gear that can handle cold weather.
Most people simply don’t have all of that equipment. As a result, many people aren’t prepared to go camping in conditions below about 20ºF (-7ºC) or 30ºF (-1ºC). But it’s up to you to decide what you’re comfortable with and whether or not the gear you have is appropriate for the conditions you’ll face in the mountains.
How Cold is Too Cold to Sleep in a Tent?
There is no temperature that is universally too cold to sleep in a tent. There are winter campers and mountaineers that sleep in tents at temperatures around -40ºF (-40ºC). However, most people would not find sleeping in a tent at those temperatures to be that comfortable, especially since the majority of campers simply don’t have the right gear for those conditions.
As is the case with winter camping, what’s considered “too cold” to sleep in a tent will vary widely from person to person. What someone from a warm climate might think of as too cold for sleeping in a tent will be different from what someone who lives in a cold area might be comfortable with.
At the end of the day, it really depends on your comfort and skill level in cold environments and whether you have the right gear available to sleep in a tent when the temperatures drop.
Can You Get Hypothermia While Camping?
Yes, you can get hypothermia while camping. In fact, hypothermia is one of the biggest threats to campers and it’s something that requires constant vigilance to avoid at all costs.
Hypothermia is defined as when the body’s core temperature drops below 95ºF (35ºC). It is a life-threatening emergency that can be fatal if left untreated.
Thankfully, most people who go camping don’t get hypothermic. But you can get hypothermic while camping during both the summer and the winter, though it’s a greater concern during the colder months of the year.
Anyone who goes camping—especially in the winter—should have a good understanding of the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and how to treat them before things get too serious.
It’s highly recommended that all campers (particularly winter campers) enroll in a wilderness first aid course so that they can learn more about hypothermia and other potentially dangerous medical conditions before their adventures.
Can You Get Sick From Camping in the Cold?
The old adage that being in the cold makes you sick isn’t really true as cold conditions themselves don’t make humans fall ill.
However, there are a number of reasons why people are more likely to get sick in the cold, whether they’re camping or doing some other type of activity. For example, researchers believe that viruses are better able to survive and reproduce in colder air, which may be part of the reason why more people get sick in the winter.
But beyond the common cold, there are other ailments that can affect campers in cold conditions.
One really important medical issue to pay attention to when you adventure in cold areas is hypothermia, which can be life-threatening. Hypothermia is a very complex condition that we can’t discuss in-depth here, which is why all campers should take a wilderness first aid course to learn more about how to prevent and treat these medical emergencies in the outdoors.
Too Cold For Winter Camping: Fact or Fiction
Ultimately, there’s no one temperature where it’s “too cold” to go winter camping. Every camper will have their own cold tolerance that depends on their comfort level, experience in cold weather, and the gear that they have available.
What might be okay for you cold-wise might be much too uncomfortable for someone else during a winter camping trip. Always remember to double-check the forecast before you head outside for a camping trip. If you’re concerned that it might be too cold for you, making the conservative decision and waiting for better temperatures might be your best bet.
Up Next In Cold Weather Camping:
David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.