Are you a popsicle? A hater of the chill and cold, just like me? Do you dream of camping year round, but pale in fear at the very thought of setting up a tent in -25°C, with a windchill of -30°C or worse? Or are you one of those special folk, the elusive wizards of the cold that seem unaffected, unbothered by any remote dip in the thermometer, acting like winter weather is simply a long, sunny walk on a tropical beach?

Either way, this is the blog post for you. Why? Well, if you’re an avid outdoors person winter camping is another strike on the block so to speak - a benchmark of achievement in the world of camping. Alternatively, if you have a lick of common sense it’s an absolutely mental thing to do, but if you’re taking a gander through this post, I doubt that thought has crossed your mind. Whatever the reason, I’m here to tell you that it is indeed possible to be a popsicle of a human being and still reach this sense of enlightenment. Even the wizards of winter camping need some tips are tricks - they probably have a friend they’re dying to integrate into the winter camping realm.

Vanessa being sad while winter camping
Vanessa on the last day of winter trip on crown land.

See this? This is me a year ago - miserable, cold, damp, and dreaming of ways to end my winter camping misery (don’t tell me you can’t see the pain in my eyes). My feet were frozen, hands ice-cubes, and I was pissed at the amount of snow coming down. The heat potential of my scarf was in absolute ruin and I could feel the dampness seeping in. I wanted everything to end and if I could have suddenly invented teleportation in that moment I would have in a heartbeat.

Ah, but look at me today.

Vanessa being happy while winter camping
Making breakfast on the first morning of our hike on the highland trail.

Isn’t that one hell of a difference? You wouldn’t think it but I was actually enjoying myself! Shocking, but it is possible to legitimately enjoy freezing your ass off outside.

How? Well there are five things you need to keep in mind (five things for now).

1. Positivity is KEY

Personally, I’m a negative Nancy and this outlook is turned on full blast during winter camping. It’s easy to focus on how cold your hands are, or whether not it’s really worth changing into another set of dry clothes. This can set you into a real spiral of despair and honestly, it’s not worth getting into the mindset so far from home (not ever at all, but sometimes it can’t be helped).

What do you need to do?

Put on a pair of rose-coloured glasses, set positive waves of change into motion. Be happy - not many people are brave enough to go outside in the winter time, let alone camp. Plus you have the advantage of seeing some of your favourite places in a brand new light. Some of the best adventures, photographs, and experiences take place in the wintertime. If you’re in Canada like me, the whole landscape looks so incredibly different, so take a moment to accept your discomfort and move on - it makes the experience a hell of a lot more brighter.

2. Start Small

Don’t be that person that drags your friend out on a multi-day winter camping trip. Don’t be a beginner that agrees. Know your limits and set boundaries.

The best way to get into winter camping is to start small. Work your way up to longer trips with multiple days in the backcountry. This might mean staying one night on the trail in a tent, embracing the full experience of existing outside in depths of winter, and then moving to a cabin another night where you can warm up consider the ups and downs of the experience. Alternatively, try camping in your backyard for practice. If you really hate it you can just flee and run back into the house (plus you don’t have to go to the washroom outside which is a win, let me tell you).

In short - take the time to figure out if winter camping is the best thing for you, and if it is ease into it! Don’t rush the process.

When I first went winter camping it was for one night in -25 and I immediately knew that anything past -15 was really pushing it for me. Ever since then I’ve made a point of checking the weather and making sure that any overnight trip that made my fingers feel like a foreign object was a no go (not just the fingers, any body part honestly). So I guess that leads to a bonus point - pick a good weather window that works for you.

3. Experience Goes A Long Way

Bottom line - go with someone who knows what they are doing. Experience really goes a long way. Not only are you learning the skills ultimately required to winter camp from someone you trust, but you have a chance to see what gear works and what equipment is really needed once you get out there in the cold. Better to know what you need than struggle with the feeble gear that you probably have and believe me, the gear you have is likely in need of some kind of upgrade.

My winter camping experiences have been filled with wants and wishes, largely because half the time I lack the appropriate gear to prevent suffering out in the damp, dark cold. Fortunately I’ve been lucky enough to have a partner that is fully equipt - when I’m cold he throws a warmer pair of mitts in my direction, makes sure I keep moving, and ensures that I drink enough water. Might seem a bit hand holdy, but I’ve had the chance to learn and realize what I actually need winter camping.

So find that friend that can hold your hand a little bit and guide you in the right direction. The added positivity is a bonus as well!

4. Moving and Grooving

Hiking with a sled in QEII Wildlands Provincial Park.

Before you get out there it is crucial to understand that winter camping is absolutely not the same as camping in fairer weather - get that fact in your head as early as possible, and I mean early. There will be no lounging around, no skipping around the campsite like a fairy princess in search of animals to talk to. Your main priority is staying warm, so unless that skipping session includes collecting more firewood, don’t count on a particularly relaxing trip (unless you have a hot tent - in that case you’re dealing with an entirely different situation).

Winter camping is work. You’re outside in the freezing cold right? Your main goal is to survive, so prioritize moving around. As soon as you’re cold, go for a walk - pick up some fire wood along the way. If you’re still cold after that, go walk some more and maybe slap on another layer for added warmth. It might be annoying and even cumbersome, but moving even a little bit helps. I usually take a camera with me or a friend - you never know what you could see out there! Even better, make it a game. Have a contest. Who’s going to be the person that walks the most laps around the campsite? Have fun with it!

5. Good Food Is A Good Mood

Eating oatmeal for breakfast in front of the fire.
Eating breakfast on the last morning of our hike on the highland trail.

I don’t know about you guys, but good food can do wonders to boost morale. I always make a point of bringing something that I will look forward to at the end of the day when the chill really starts to bear down. That might be something as simple as hot chocolate or a Luna Bar (that’s usually the aim for me). Maybe you enjoy fancier cuisine - I’ve known a few people that go big out there in the wilderness. Steak for instance is a very nice treat. Can’t say that I’ve personally been privileged with that, but you get the direction I’m going for! Just never make fondue - it’s an absolutely awful idea and I know for sure that Isaac can attest to this. Pick something that won’t make a clean-up nightmare!

Regardless, bring something that’s practical, but filled with joy. Good food is truly a good mood, so devote a little energy to something that’s going to fill your heart with joy (and warmth, because don’t those two things go hand to hand?)

Now I know that these five pointers aren’t suddenly going to make you a champion of the cold and an advocate for winter camping, because let’s be realistic - winter camping isn’t for everyone. It is psychotic, it is extreme, but it’s worth a shot. It doesn’t have to be your first love, but it is one step in the direction of becoming slightly less of a popsicle…just slightly.