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The Beginner’s Guide to Winter Camping

From gear to skills, here’s a 101 to get you prepped

Winter is here, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get your camp on. In fact, venturing into the great outdoors during chilly weather is an eye-opening experience, says Lotus Chong, a youth leader with Scouts Canada. “There’s something so Canadian about it,” says the 22-year-old, who has been scouting since she was five. “In the wintertime, everything just looks so calm and peaceful.” But before you hit the trail in sub-zero temperatures, there are a few important things to remember, say Chong and Scouts Canada.

Illustration of winter camping essentials including a puffer jacket, thick gloves, a camping tent and warm, waterproof winter boots
Dress Appropriately

Many winter campers end up in trouble because they don’t prepare for the elements. Always bring a good-quality parka along with heavy-duty boots and gloves. Pro tip: carry some gum; chewing can keep your cheeks warm.

Illustration of cozy winter pullover and warm, waterproof winter jacket with hood and deep pockets
Layer, Layer, Layer

The key to winter camping is maintaining a comfortable body temperature. Too cold, and you’ll be miserable. Too hot, and you’ll sweat, which will eventually leave you damp and frozen. To avoid those fates, dress in multiple easy-to-remove layers. Peel clothes away if the temperature rises or pack them on as the mercury dips. “In Scouting we say ‘Think like an onion,’” Chong says.

Illustration of cozy winter accessories among a gust of wind, including a striped scarf and warm mittens tied together with a string
Avoid Wearing Cotton

A natural fibre, cotton soaks up sweat like a sponge. And when your perspiration evaporates, you’ll be chilled to the bone. Dress instead in wool or synthetic fabrics, like polyester.

Illustration of essential winter camping equipment including a first aid kit, box of matches, metal water bottle and cozy waterproof winter boots
Expect the Unexpected

During the summer, you can frolic in the woods to your heart’s content. But in the winter, you should be extra careful warns Chong. Tread carefully on the snow, because hazards like brittle ice can lurk underneath. Check the forecast to make sure no storms—or sudden temperature drops—are in the offing. Finally, always pack an emergency kit that includes water and snacks in case you get marooned.

Illustration of small camping mugs with stripes down the center
Keep Drinking

In cold weather, dehydration can sneak up on you, so make sure you drink plenty of water. Also, if you want to warm up with a beverage, avoid anything with caffeine, which is a diuretic. Instead, try herbal tea.

Illustration of map, flashlight and large camping pack with sleeping bag secured to the top
Gear Up

In the winter, having the right equipment is all the more important. You’ll need a solid four-season tent that can withstand the battering of a snowstorm. Don’t forget a flashlight or headlamp, and the classic map and compass. “And obviously, if you bring a map and a compass, make sure somebody you’re travelling with knows how to use them,” says Chong.

Illustration of two sets of snow shoes jutting out from small snowy mounds, a gust of wind blowing in the background
Don’t Go Solo

It’s always a good idea to bring along a friend. They’ll be able to help out in an emergency, plus a little camaraderie isn’t a bad thing during those long, cold winter nights.

Illustration of Ray Ban sunglasses with a gust of wind blowing in the background
Bring Some Shades

Sun reflecting off the snow can strain your eyes, causing nausea and headaches. This is snow blindness—to avoid it, bring a good pair of sunglasses along that block or absorb UV rays.

Illustration of camping tent nestled among tall trees in snowy winter setting
Pick Your Spot

Finding the perfect location for a winter camp is key. Some Ontario provincial parks, including Algonquin and MacGregor Point (near Owen Sound) have dedicated winter campsites. In fact, Algonquin’s Mew Lake Campground, in addition to the usual snowshoe and cross-country ski trails, has a hockey rink in one of its parking lots.

Illustration of evergreen trees with patch with Scouts logo in front
Ask the Scouts

Scouts Canada runs a network of 125 camps across the country that are open to non-members. Many are available for booking during the winter. To find a camp near you, visit the Scouts Canada website (scouts.ca).


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