Whatchya Wearing: Winter Camping

A friend visited us one snowy morning

Hut trips and winter backpacks are fun. But there is something else I enjoy in the winter as well: Car camping.

As I said previously:

Much like a hut trip  in reverse: We set up camp and hike to and from our camp. We don’t ski to the hut first and then back again.

The concept is similar. When the nights are long and cold, some good food and an adult libation or two makes the time memorable. Add a cozy shelter with very warm sleeping bags and clothing , in addition to  the welcoming glow of  some lights, and a good experience will be had while camping.

Just another way to enjoy the outdoors.

And one I have enjoyed quite a bit over the years!

Day Use clothing


What clothing I bring during the day very much depends on the activity.

Most of the clothing, but not all, is based on my day use Nordic touring clothing.   

When I am skiing, this is the kit I take I course. I used it When I was camping in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in January. The goal was to ski the road that is groomed for Nordic tours. A fantastic ski tour in an otherwise busy national park!

Black Canyon of the Gunnison ski tour. Twelve miles round trip on what is usually a very busy road in the summer.

But what about when I am hiking?  

I swap out my ski pants for BDUs. The polycotton blend works surprisingly well in the cold and dry air when there is not a lot of snow (otherwise I’d be on skis! 🙂 ).  The pants area also a little thicker for a smidge more warmth versus nylon hiking pants and they are durable if there should be a campfire, or I am scrambling up and down rocks, ladders or otherwise.  I’ll also take my older, but lighter, GoLite Bitterroot since I will be out during the day but back in camp at night.  Otherwise, the clothing is the same. What works well for skiing works well for hiking in the winter I find.

Footwear? All depends. Again, if I am skiing, I use my Nordic touring boots.

Sand Dunes in early winter.

If there is not too much snow on the ground, I’ll use trail runners and possibly a thicker Smartwool type merino sock from, where, else Costco (Kirkland brand) 🙂  A real bargain at $5 per pair roughly. Since I am not doing multi-week hikes in the winter, they last just fine.

When I made a late Thanksgiving camping trip to the Sand Dunes, this is the footwear system I used.

If there are a few inches of snow on the ground, I take my old reliable Hi-Tec hiking boots I use for trail work and around town in snowy or slushy conditions. Since I am camping versus backpacking, I will have an opportunity to dry out fairly easily. And my Sno-Seal treated boots will repel snow reasonably well for the three-to-five days I am doing this types of trips.  I couple this boot with the same socks as above. It was my footwear of choice when I went to the Badlands this past December.

And if it is cold and wet as opposed to cold and fluffy snow? I am car camping, out there to see something, and do not have to get from A to B.  I am in my tent, enjoying a cup of hot chocolate, reading a book and enjoying the chance to be warm, dry and having the gift of time to do nothing but relax! I’ll wait until the weather is a bit better. 🙂

We were not car camping in the Winds! 🙂

Which brings me to….

Clothing system at night


My clothing system for at night when deep winter car camping is the biggest change. Since I am essentially doing a hut trip in reverse, without having to haul in anything, I can mostly take the warmer, but bulkier and heavier, clothing that I would not take winter backpacking. 


The handwear is very similar since it serves the same purpose: Keep my hands warm and dry!

  • The leather work gloves and liner combo is used more, however. Since I am typically doing some more involved cooking, additional camp chores and just hanging out a bit with a significant other or friends, I tend to be doing more “stuff.”  As mentioned in my winter backpacking article, this combo is surprisingly warm.



I generally don’t suggest wearing them in your living room, however.

  • A thick pair of socks is used just for at night. Again, warm and dry socks are heaven on a cold, winter night.
  • But unlike winter backpacking, unless I was on a short hike or hauling something in by sled, I’ll take my Bunny Boots. They are quite possibly the warmest boot you can buy. They work. And they work very well.


I bring two key pieces of clothing to keep warm in toasty in camp.

from the Sportsmans Guide


Additional Base Layers and Pants in camp

  • And if it is freezing? I can layer my heavier running pants I use for skiing that are fleece lined. Mainly for sleeping as much as anything.

Outer insulation layers


  • My beater down coat is my top outer layer of choice.  I am invariably doing more in camp, and I seem to camp in the desert southwest in the winter (where it can get quite cold!) so the clothing takes a beating. This every faithful puffy has older style baffle construction. I don’t how many ounces of down it contains, but it compares favorably to my new Montbell Frostline with ~7oz of down fill.


With the clothing above, I can be very comfortable in the heart of winter. Using a variation of the gear above, I was able to enjoy a beer one frigid winter night in New Mexico. How cold was it? Cold enough where the beer turned into a slushy!

The beer may have been a little bit frozen.

But I was not. 🙂

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Bill Brokob
Bill Brokob
7 years ago

I chuckled at the mention of BDU pants. I rarely have a fire with the exception being car camping. One hard learned lesson is to wear something that is “ember friendly” on the outside. I ended up with too may of my favorite layers with burn holes!

Douche P.
7 years ago

I know you’re set with gear, but keep an eye out for the Costco balaclava for $10. Its a solid thick fleece, great for sleeping of camp in freezing ass cold temps.

7 years ago

There are many fleece hoods on eBay similar to the one that you bought. One looks almost identical and is marketed as Hot Headz 6 in 1 fleece hood. A search for 4 in 1 fleece hood yields numerous results. The only thing that you can’t tell is how thick or what kind of fleece they are made of. They’re all cheap so it might be worth a gamble. The one thing that I am seldom without in cold weather is my Balaclava BUFF. It’s thin, but it does knock some of the wind off and helps keep my ears… Read more »

7 years ago

Do you use any kind of leather treatment on your gloves to keep them flexible?