The Right Stuff: Winter Camping Gear
By Bart Beeson
Having the right gear for winter camping can be the difference between having a good time or a miserable one, between being comfortable and suffering, and, in extreme cases, between life and death. And while the extra gear may add a few pounds to your pack, it’s worth the trouble to make sure you have an enjoyable, and safe, time. Here are a few key items to put on your winter camping checklist:
The Base Layer
Perhaps nothing is more important in your winter outfit than having a good base layer that will wick moisture away from your body, especially if you’re going to be engaging in aerobic activities. The Terramar Thermolater Crew is a great place to start for a top base layer, with mesh panels that allow for breathability. The extended sleeves and thumb holes are great for keeping drafts out from between your gloves and wrists. I found the fabric to be extremely soft and comfortable – particularly compared to a lot of the itchy synthetic long underwear tops of years past.
And if you’re going to be doing any kind of hiking, snowshoeing or skiing, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got happy feet, so don’t overlook the importance of a good pair of socks. If you’re going camping, make sure you have a sock designed for the hike in, and then another pair with some more insulation for when you’re setting up camp and making dinner. On a recent trip I used Wigwam’s Trialblaze Pro for the walk in, which feature moisture control technology and breathable mesh panels, and then switched into their heavyweight Wolf sock, which felt like putting my feet into a nice cozy sleeping bag.
No matter how good your socks our, your feet aren’t going to really be happy unless you have the winter boots to match. The Canada-based Baffin company boast that it tests its products in the most extreme environments on the planet, so you can be sure they will stand up to the elements.
For winter hiking, their new Borealis boot is extremely comfortable, waterproof, and supportive. While I usually try to break boots in before going on a hike, I found them to be both warm and comfy from the get-go. The removable lining is a great feature, allowing you to bring them into the tent (or your sleeping bag) at night to have toasty feet in the morning. The Borealis are also a solid option for fat biking.
For deep snow and colder conditions, Baffin makes the men’s Kootenay boot. Rated to minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit, these boots will keep your toes warm while you’re standing on frozen ground. I’ve also found them to be great for walking around town on early mornings after a snow before the sidewalk plows have been out.
Not being able to sleep because you’re too cold can make for a very long night and leave you groggy and foul-tempered in the morning, so having the right sleeping gear is essential. I had the chance to try out Thermorest’s Polar Ranger sleeping bag on a recent camping trip, and despite the single-digit temps outside, I was warm enough that I had to leave the bag partially unzipped most of the night. The -20F rated bag uses 800-fill hydrophobic down, and features a synthetic ‘snorkel hood’ that channels air to keep condensation from your face, as well as side vents so you can use your arms while in the bag. The only drawback to the bag is that it’s so warm and comfy, it makes getting out of it in the morning to face frigid temps that much more difficult. Combine it with the NeoAir Xtherm sleeping mat and you’re in for a great night’s rest.
Bart Beeson is a Burlington, Vermont-based freelance travel writer and photographer. He is a regular contributor to Travel Weekly, and has published in The Washington Post, Foreign Policy and other media outlets. When he’s not travelling, Bart can be found hiking with his dog Kesey or spending time at his family’s New Hampshire lake house.