We just got back from a camping trip that got down to 33 degrees Fahrenheit (about 0 degrees Celsius) a couple days ago. I wanted to share exactly the gear we had so you can actually enjoy camping in 30 degree weather.
To camp In 30-degree weather comfortably you need to bring a ~5 degree Fahrenheit sleeping bag, and a high-quality sleeping pad. To wear, you should have a base-layer with at least 2 additional layers of clothing with the outer-most layer being a windbreaker, as well as thick wool socks.
I was able to sleep comfortably with just a sleeping bag and no additional blankets. After we put our child to bed, me and my wife were able to sit and talk outside for about an hour before it got too cold just sitting around (there was a burn ban so we couldn’t light a fire). I’d call that a success!
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I’ll try and break down each item of clothing and sleeping gear we had so you can have a successful camping trip in 30 degree weather.
As a side note, this is assuming you are car camping and not in the wilderness.
What You Need For Camping In 30-Degree Weather
30-degree weather is where camping gets a lot more serious. It’s the kind of cold where you can actually get hurt if you’re not adequately prepared.
As always, if you are in danger and you experience any signs of hypothermia or frostbite (see below for the symptoms), leave and seek medical attention.
The two most important systems you need are clothing and sleep. Let’s talk about both of them.
Clothing System For 30-Degree Weather
The most important concept to get a hold of while camping in cold weather is layers. It’s always easier to cool off than to warm up if you dress in too many layers. If you’re inexperienced, then over layering is fine as long as you peel off layers as you go until you find a temperature you’re comfortable at.
I’ll describe my layering system in this last trip that worked really well for me. Your body is different from mine (count your lucky stars) so you may have to experiment.
Bottom, in order of wearing:
- I’ll be real, I wear my own underwear under my thermals. I feel better about wearing my thermals for multiple days without washing them if I can swap out the underwear.
- Thermal base-layer bottoms: Specifically, I got synthetic dual-layer thermals that were kind of expensive (Coldpruf brand) . Absolutely no regrets. I’ve faced some uncomfortable temperatures with these thermals and they keep you warm without having to add a ton of layers. You can check them out here (Amazon) if you’d like.
- For inside the tent–Some good ol’ fashioned sweat pants: When I was inside the tent I just wore the base layer along with these sweat pants and I stayed cozy.
- For outside the tent–Running pants with insulated fleece layer: I used these for running in freezing temperatures about a decade ago. I got them at a thrift store so wherever mine came from don’t exist anymore, but the principle is similar to these ones, here (Amazon). The big thing that I like about wearing these is that they have a windbreaker outer-shell which cuts down on the wind chill. (I wore these and not my sweat pants while outside the tent)
- Thick merino wool socks (these are from REI): I actually got away with just one pair, but I brought another in case my feet got cold and I needed to double up.
Top in order of wearing:
- Polyester base layer: I have a polyester base layer (basically a long sleeve 100% polyester shirt) that’s medium thick that I got from Costco several years back. Great shirt, but stinks pretty quick, unfortunately.
- Additional cotton long-sleeve shirt: I wasn’t planning on getting wet, so I wore a cotton long-sleeve shirt over my polyester base-layer. It’s not a thick shirt or anything, nothing special.
- Fleece jacket: I think this was my secret ninja garb this trip. I have an old fleece pullover jacket that someone gave me from Old Navy that’s at least a hundred years old. Anyway, this one from AmazonBasics looks like it is in the same ballpark. The important feature that can’t be understated is that it should come up to your chin. If you don’t have that than a scarf or other neck covering will make a big difference in comfort
- Hoodie pullover: I admit, I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to cold. Over my polyester base layer, long-sleeved cotton shirt, and my fleece jacket I wore a large hoodie that I got while I was in high school (some years back you could say). I appreciated the hoodie and I think it brought me comfortably in the line where I was able to sit outside in the cold without losing a lot of heat.
Sleep System For 30-Degree Weather
So, that’s what to wear. Super important stuff. In fact, your clothing *is* a part of your sleep system. I wore all this clothing to bed (minus the running pants). It’s not as comfortable as sleeping in PJs, but I stayed warm and that is much more important to me.
Let’s talk about each part of the sleep system that we used in this last trip:
- Tent: We have a Core 6-person tent (Amazon) that worked great to fit me, my wife, our child and all the accompanying sleep gear. However, our tent is a tent you can stand in. The big tall tents will fit a lot of stuff, but won’t stay very warm. Our 2-person Kelty Grand Mesa stays a lot warmer. If you’re camping with one or two people, than I’d suggest a smaller tent in colder weather. We use a tarp ground cloth for our tent. (See here why you’d want to use a ground cloth).
- ~5+F Sleeping Bags: Me and my wife both use the Teton +5 Fahrenheit tracker sleeping bags (Amazon). These are GREAT bags that are inexpensive and I was super impressed how warm I stayed even when it got down to ~33 degrees Fahrenheit. (By the way, this company has a great warranty and customer support. I have nothing but good things to say about them)
- Sleeping pads: Check out the Klymit V sleeping pad (Amazon. I guess we’re an Amazon family). It’s a great sleeping pad that is quick to inflate and is pretty comfortable. It’s not considered an insulated sleeping pad but it has proved sufficient for the task.
- Cheap blue foam roll-out pads: I’m not sure how needed these pads were, but we did use them underneath our air pads, so it’s possible we got all the insulation we needed from them because of these cheap blue foam pads you can grab at Walmart
- Blankets: We had a TON of extra blankets. It turns out that sometime during the night I somehow lost all of mine–and I found that I was actually very comfortable with just my sleeping bag. I’d recommend bringing a few extra blankets because you can never be sure how cold you are going to sleep.
Super Important Preparation Tips for Camping In 30-Degree Weather
Besides your clothing and your sleep system, I wanted to let you in on a few key tips that can make or break your experience.
Don’t Go Far On Your First Cold Camping Trip
If you aren’t accustomed to camping in cold weather, don’t make your first trip 500 miles from home. Stay within an hour drive within home
This is a fantastic way to get a feel of the ropes of cold weather camping. You can adjust your sleep system to exactly what you want. Bring a little bit extra to your remote camping location when you’re ready and you’re good to go.
Check For Burn Bans
It crossed my mind during this trip but I had forgotten to check. If you are staying at an established park, sometimes the parks will have a burn ban preventing any campfires.
Burn bans can also be statewide, so that’s another place to look.
I’m not saying there’s no point in camping without a campfire–looking at the stars, enjoying the sound of the wind through the trees and feeling the cool air are all a part of the experience. But the campfire is definitely a highlight for many.
If there’s a burn ban you can’t light a fire. If you’re not okay with that you need to call ahead or look online to find out if there are any burn bans before you get to your campsite.
Using Heaters While Camping In 30-Degree Weather
So, one thing I kind of wish we’d had was a portable heater. There are a specific grade of heater that is rated to be used in enclosed spaces with supervision. NEVER SLEEP WITH A HEATER. If you must use one in your tent, turn it on for a few minutes to warm things up and then turn it off before falling asleep.
Additionally, you must have adequate ventilation or you could be setting up a disaster.
To learn about what types of heaters are considered rated for small spaces, check out our article here: Heaters In a Tent: What is Safe and What Is Deadly.
Taking Kids Along While Camping In 30-Degree Weather
So, bringing kids adds a whole new dynamic to camping–and it doesn’t make it an easy task. In fact this is probably the most stressful part of cold-weather camping. I’d say toddlers are especially difficult for many reasons.
There are a few things that you should think about trying if you’re bringing along a toddler.
- Skipping camping dinner: If possible, try eating dinner before you leave so all you have to do is set up the tent. Managing a toddler while trying to set up a tent and make dinner at the same time is a lot to ask, especially when it’s getting very cold
- Consider a full-body sleeping bag: This is something we’d wish we had when we took our child camping. We had a body suit but something like this (Amazon) covers the hands and the feet
- Find a sleep system they can stay on: There are some floor beds that have small barriers to prevent your child from rolling onto the tent floor. This is a good option so they get the proper insulation they need throughout the night.
When To Call It Quits While Camping In the Cold
So, as I mentioned earlier, we recently went camping when it was right around freezing temperatures and things were going great. Me and my wife were sleeping warm and we weren’t having issues.
We still decided to pack up the tent around midnight and go home.
Our son is less than 2 years old and although we brought enough sleeping gear for him to stay warm he didn’t quite understand the importance of keeping any of his blankets on top of him and not sleeping directly on the tent floor instead of his very thick sleeping pad.
Even though he had a very warm body suit (that’s basically like a big body coat), his extremities were still at risk.
We made the hard decision to pack up and leave. With kids there’s only so much you can do.
I totally get the feeling of wanting to tough it out and not be beaten by the weather–this one was especially hard because me and my wife were feeling pretty comfortable. However, you and your family’s health takes top priority.
The following sections are two of the most important problems to be aware of while camping. If anyone in your group is exhibiting these symptoms, it’s time to call it quits and head home:
Weather even below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (especially if you’re getting submerged in water) can be a risk for hypothermia.
30 degree weather is definitely in the ballpark for getting hypothermia.
This list, from the CDC, describes the warning signs of hypothermia:
- Exhaustion or feeling very tired
- Fumbling hands
- Memory loss
- Slurred speech
- bright red, cold skin
- very low energy
The big one: if your body temperature is below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, seek medical attention immediately.
It’s especially difficult and important to make sure your children are okay since their communication may not tell you enough of how cold they are and they don’t exhibit the same symptoms. Make sure to pay close attention to them.
Frostbite is a concern below freezing temperatures (~32 Fahrenheit). Skin exposure at this temperature especially in windy conditions is of highest concern but even covered skin is not immune to frostbite.
Here are the symptoms from the mayoclinic:
- At first, cold skin and a prickling feeling
- Red, white, bluish-white or grayish-yellow skin
- Hard or waxy-looking skin
- Clumsiness due to joint and muscle stiffness
- Blistering after rewarming, in severe cases