How to Dress For  Winter Camping

One of the single biggest barriers to enjoyment of winter activities is improper attire. Traditionally when we go outside during the winter, we throw on the warmest thing we can find and call it cozy.

This is a great strategy if you plan on laying in your tent the whole time right next to your car. However, in the perfect world, people don’t go camping to lay in their tent.

Even the process of setting up the tent can cause body temperatures to escalate. If you aren’t wearing the proper attire, escalating body temperatures can lead to sweating.  Sweating causes two things to happen your warm clothes becoming moisture soaked and the removal of the warm clothes to cool off.

This scenario starts a dangerous cycle which can lead to hypothermia and the possibility of snuggling with a large, handsy 60-year-old stranger named Chris. The best way to avoid a Trump-style life-saving technique is to dress properly in the first place, layers.

Upper Body Winter Wear

The first layer you should have should be a thick non cotton base layer. This layer should be made out of synthetic fabric or better yet merino wool.  It should be skin tight and hug your body.

I will often do another layer here that is a button up shirt. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but I will find something that is not cotton from the thrift store. If it’s a little thick, that’s ok. If not that’s ok too.  The advantage to button-ups is that you can pop a few buttons when it’s hot or roll up the sleeves.

The next layer should be a nice fleece pull-over or hoodie. It should have a higher neck piece to help shield your neck.  A hoodie is preferable because it will allow a layer for your head and should cinch around your neck. However, fleece hoodies are not always easy to find.

Your final upper body layer should be something that is both wind and water-proof.  There are two types of potential cold. What happens when the wind blows and the cold without the wind chill factor.  If the temperature is 0 degrees and negative 15 degrees with the wind chill, a high quality windproof hardshell will negate that -15.  If you have several bulky layers on and they aren’t windproof, when the wind comes along, it can blow all the body heat away. Gore-tex is still the industry standard when it comes to wind and waterproof.  There are other fabrics that can work also.

Head Wear

There is an old belief that people lose 80% of their warmth from their head.  While this couldn’t be farther from the truth, the head is a place that if not properly covered can lead to a large amount of heat loss.  Many times people are comfortable with a regular beanie. Other people would prefer a skull cap made out of fleece and Gore-tex. The latter is the better option for extreme cold, but a regular beanie should work.  If you have a fleece hoodie as one of your upper body layers, you get bonus points for options.

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Choosing Best Winter Wear For Hands

For the coldest weather and just staying warm, a pair of mittens is best.  However, if you will be doing an activity, you may find yourself needed the dexterity of several digits.  A good pair of gloves should have a removable liner, non-cotton insulation, and a waterproof shell.

Proper Winter Wear For The Legs

Your legs are another large part that requires specific layers to regulate your body temperature.

Start with a tight-fitting synthetic or Merino wool legging.  For ladies, nylons and Yoga pants can usually go under these to allow an additional layer without increasing bulk or weight.  I guess guys could do that too if they desired.

The next layer should be a thick fleece topped off with a hardshell pant that is both water and windproof.  Many companies make these with a zipper that runs the length of the side. These should be a little bit thicker than the hardshell jacket you have up top.  Refrain from ones that have too slick of a material. If you slip and fall, slick pants can send you downhill or make it harder for you to stand up.

Keeping Your Feet Warm During Winter

The feet are the hardest one to figure out.  Someone is always going to have cold feet, and they are never going to be happy about it.  Warm feet start with a good waterproof boot. If you don’t have boots that come up to at least mid-calf, then I would suggest investing in a pair of gaiters. Keeping snow and moisture out of your boot is one of the first ways to keep your feet warm.


People often go wrong by putting on too many layers.  The pressure of the boot on the layers of socks will often cut off the supply of blood to the foot decreasing the foot’s ability to generate heat.  Try a non-cotton dress sock that is fairly thin for your first layer. It could even be an ankle sock.



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What You Should Remember About Dressing For Winter

Avoid cotton clothes when winter camping.  Cotton loses its ability to keep you warm when it gets wet.  Wool’s and synthetics can keep you warm if they are wet. Regulation of body temperature is the most important.  A slight shiver is better than a slight sweat.


Andy Johnson was first introduced to the outdoors at seven years of age when his mother’s company sponsored a rafting trip down the Green River.  Since then he has expanded into several different outdoor recreation sports including backpacking, canyoneering, hiking, and travel.  During his years in the outdoors, he has worked as a sales floor manager for a small outdoor recreation shop and wrote articles for the Daily Herald Newspaper.