How Cold Is Too Cold For Camping?


Is there such a thing as too cold for camping? Find out what actual campers have to say!

The average temperature stated by campers as too cold for camping is 19.5 degrees Fahrenheit. 40% of respondents had answers below freezing temperatures (32 degrees), while 29% of respondents had answers above 32 degrees. 21.5% said no temperature was too cold as long as you had the right gear.

Are you the type of person who loves a challenge? Or do you feel that if camping isn’t fun it’s not worth the time? What kind of person are you? Read on and we’ll find out what people have to say and we’ll learn some insights.

How Cold Is Too Cold For Camping? The People Answer!

In order to get the clearest view of how cold is too cold for camping, we turned to campers themselves.

I got answers from over 230 campers so we could find the consensus.

An amazing portion of campers (40%) gave answers below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, with several responding with below zero answers. These are the hardcore campers who love a challenge.

The next largest percentage, at about 29%, offered up temperatures that were above 32 degrees Fahrenheit, ranging from 32 to even above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Similarly, about 3.9% indicated that if there’s snow on the ground, it’s too cold for a camping trip.

Within all of the answers combined that we received, there was an average temperature of 19.5 degrees as the limit that would determine whether a camping trip was too cold for camping or not.

A surprising 21.5% claimed that no temperature was too cold as long as they were equipped with the right gear to keep them warm and safe. Alongside that, 4.9% specified that they would camp at any temperature as long as a fire or heater was available to them.

If you’re someone who’s willing to camp in just about any weather assuming a heater is available, it’s important to learn what kind of heaters are the safest and how to use a heater without creating a risk of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. In our article on catalytic heat, we’ll take a look into safe heater use. Check it out here.

So, that’s what the people answered–how does this help you?

Overall, the answer to how cold is too cold for camping for you comes down to two main aspects: how prepared are you, and how much fun are you going to have?

Most casual campers are likely to draw the line somewhere above 32 degrees, as they are mainly out to enjoy the weather and have fun. There’s certainly no shame in knowing your limits!

At the same time, many campers find fun and excitement in taking on whatever the weather has to offer. For that group, preparation is absolutely key. In fact, many people gave their answers stating the type of gear they have to have to make it enjoyable.

If you’re in shorts and a t-shirt below freezing, you’re not going to have a good time. In order to enjoy cold weather camping you must be prepared with the right gear.

In short, each camper is a little different, but all campers should be as prepared as they can for any weather situation they might end up in while on a trip.

How Do You Stay Warm Camping In 40 Degree Weather?

It’s interesting. Each set of temperatures requires a whole new set of preparation. Above 70 degree camping and you should be prepared to bring your swimsuit. 40 degrees is the line for many people where they start to consider whether they should go camping at all.

So, staying comfortable at 40 degrees is the key goal here. While it may not always seem that way, 40 degrees is really quite cold! You might not have snow to contend with, but it may still be rainy, windy, or just really chilly!

On the most basic level, you’ll need to prepare well in order to camp in 40-degree weather without ending up miserable. Important items like a waterproofed tent, a solid sleeping bag, and a sleeping pad with a decent R-value will be among the most important items on your list. Warm clothes are also a must!

For a more in-depth explanation of how to camp in 40-degree weather and actually enjoy it, take a look at our article on the subject here where I talk about the type of gear we use in this type of weather.

How Do You Stay Warm Camping In Sub 32 Degree Weather?

While avoiding discomfort is often a key task when camping in 40-degree weather, camping in sub 32-degree weather is a much more serious endeavor.

Rather than just trying to stay dry and warm so that you aren’t miserable, below-freezing temperatures means you have to focus on staying dry and warm so that you can stay alive and avoid frostbite.

If you’re car camping, you can always start the car and get warm or drive home. If you’re primitive camping below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, then camping becomes much more serious.

In other words, camping in temperatures below 32 degrees is not a venture for just anyone. Unless you are an extreme camper who thrives on defeating the challenges of nature, it’s unlikely you’ll have a good time.

For those who are interested in taking on the coldest temperatures while camping, the following lists of necessary tips and equipment are going to be key to having a pleasant (and safe) experience.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare – Tips For Cold Weather Camping

More often than not, preparing for camping tends to mean making sure you have the right tools. It means ensuring that you have a sleeping bag or other bedding that’s rated down to the temperatures you’re camping at (and even better if it’s rated far below where you’re camping so you’ll be comfortable), the right clothes for the weather, and all the tools you need to make meals while you’re out in nature.

Camping elements equipment on the mountain at the winter time next to the bonfire.

In other words, a sleeping bag rated to 32 degrees is not going to be a comfortable sleeping bag at 32 degrees. If it’s 32 degrees I would look at 15 or 0 degree bags.

Camping in sub-32-degree temperatures means that a much greater focus on safety needs to take place while you’re preparing. When it comes to selecting your tools and making your plans, staying alive and healthy becomes the primary focus rather than staying comfortable.

With the help of the tips below, you’ll be able to camp in freezing temperatures safely and as comfortably as possible.

Use Snow To Your Advantage

Snow is a surefire sign that you’re going to be in for temperatures that are at or below 32 degrees. While it’s often viewed as essentially cold in solid form, you can actually use snow to your advantage in a number of ways.

To begin with, heating up snow is a good way to get reliably-clean water. That means you won’t have to worry as much about seeking out or filtering natural water sources.

In addition, the way you use the snow around your tent can help to keep you warm. By clearing snow away from under the tent and building up walls around it, you can keep cold winds at bay and decrease the amount of heat that is lost from inside your living space.

Stick To A Small Space

The larger your space is, the harder it will be to keep it warm. Consequently, it’s a good idea to keep your tent as small as possible. That way, you’ll have an easier time staying warm while you’re sleeping at night. That said, you will still want to make sure you have room for your supplies.

I say that because you’ll also want to be storing as many of your supplies in your tent as possible. Not only will this help to protect them from getting damp, but it will make your space even smaller and easier to keep warm. Unlike fair weather camping, it’s more likely you’ll be spending more time in your tent anyway and you won’t want to be letting heat escape by going in and out to get your supplies.

Avoid Dampness

Damp clothing or bedding can quickly become a problem when you’re camping at temperatures that are below freezing. That means you will need to be extra careful whether you’re drinking water, cooking something that uses water, or even just sweating.

Because of evaporative cooling, when items around you become even a little bit damp, that dampness can quickly become freezing cold. As a result, your body will struggle to maintain the normal amount of heat.

Consequently, you will need to be extra careful when it comes to all forms of dampness – even sweat. Bring extra clothing so that you can change into dry clothes as often as needed, hang up your bedding when possible to allow any dampness to dry out, and make sure that you bring along waterproof footwear to avoid frostbite in your toes and feet.

Waterproof footwear can cause your feet to sweat, so if you’re combining layers of socks (and you probably should) make sure and switch out the layers to avoid sweaty socks.

Have In-Depth Knowledge Of The Potential Risks

As I’ve previously mentioned, camping in below-freezing conditions isn’t just something that can potentially be uncomfortable – it can also be dangerous. Issues like frostbite and hypothermia can both result in what’s considered even mild conditions which leads to serious situations that may even become life-threatening.

Because of that, it’s important to know all of the signs of both of these conditions. That way, you can seek out help as early as possible.

The signs of frostbite are as follows:

  • Skin that feels hard
  • Lack of feeling, after a period of intense tingling
  • Skin that has become white, red, blue, or gray

Frostbite often follows a condition known as frostnip, where you will be able to feel the coldness of the skin. This may also be where it begins to turn red. If you’re noticing frostnip, it’s a good time to warm up the area before the issue gets any worse as frostnip is a stage that won’t create lasting damage.

Signs of hypothermia include the following:

  • Drowsiness
  • Intense shivering
  • Slurring speech
  • Inability to use your hands well

The CDC has put together a convenient page that includes further details on both frostbite and hypothermia. Make sure that you take a look at it and that you fully understand how to prevent and respond to both issues before heading out to camp in the cold.

Avoid Going Out At Night

When you’re already camping in temperatures that may reach 32 degrees at the most, there’s no denying that nighttime is likely to be much, much colder. Many of us may already detest the prospect of having to get out of our warm sleeping bags to walk to a restroom (or into the woods) if we need to use the restroom at night, but doing so when it’s already below freezing can be downright dangerous.

To begin with, snow and darkness can easily make it more difficult to see where you are going. On top of that, you will have to get all bundled up in warm clothing again unless you want to freeze during your trek. Finally, opening up your tent at night will allow your much-needed heat to escape.

That said, we can’t always control what our bladders do throughout the night. Instead of going out as you might normally, it’s a good idea to have an emergency bathroom setup inside your tent. For many, this might just include a labeled bottle. For ladies, devices like the SheWee can make the process much easier.

From personal experience, a bladder bottle is super convenient and on the coldest of nights you’ll gladly experience a little gross so you don’t have to go outside.

Hydrate Well

To most people, it seems pretty obvious to drink plenty of water when you’re camping somewhere hot. However, it can be just as easy to forget about staying hydrated when you’re going to be camping somewhere cold. On top of that, you might see added hydration as a hassle because you don’t want to expose your body as you use the restroom in freezing conditions.

Regardless, making sure that you’re hydrated adds to your body’s ability to fight off the cold. It might seem counter-intuitive, but drinking plenty of water is actually just as important as eating foods that are packed with nutrients. Your body needs both!

Remember, when you have a lot of layers on, it’s difficult to perfectly thermoregulate so you might sweat a lot in cold weather. (the goal is to sweat as little as possible using vents and layers) It’s likely you’re losing more water than you think in cold weather.

Know Your Surroundings

No matter when or where you’re camping, having an understanding of your surroundings is immensely important. Not only will it keep you from ending up lost in the woods, but it’s also a great way to make sure help can get to you easily if an accident occurs.

That said, picking out landmarks can be more difficult when the landscape around you is covered in snow. The fact that the snow makes it harder to determine where you are is the exact reason you should make sure to find (or create) landmarks.

Look for larger landmarks, or try to find ways to guide yourself anywhere you might need to go. That might include tying ropes to trees or using other tools that won’t become lost in the snow as easily. When possible, your best bet to avoid getting lost is to stay at least within easy sight of your campsite at all times.

What Gear You’ll Need For Comfortable Camping In Sub 32 Degree Weather

If you’re planning on camping at below-freezing temperatures, you’re going to need the right gear. Otherwise, you’ll be likely to end up cold and miserable or worse.

The following items should be at the top of your list.

The Right Sleeping Bag

Most standard sleeping bag options available today come with temperature ratings around 40 or 50 degrees. While those sleeping bags may work just fine during the summer, they absolutely will not cut it for camping in freezing or sub-freezing temperatures.

Your first step in making sure you have the right sleeping bag will be to take a look at the lowest possible temperatures you’re likely to see where you plan on camping. Pay special attention to the night temperatures in particular, because they may drop pretty steeply compared to the daytime.

Then, aim for a sleeping bag that is rated for at least that temperature. For example, something like the Disco 15 (REI) may work to help you survive at around 15 degrees, but a sleeping bag like the Zenith 0 (REI) is likely to keep you even warmer. If there’s one thing that can’t be denied, it’s that any extra warmth is a huge deal when you’re already camping at below-freezing temperatures.

If you want to stay warm, but aren’t the biggest fan of sleeping bags, there are still other options available to you. Take a look at some fantastic and lightweight alternatives to ultralight sleeping bags in our article here.

Up-To-Date Weather And Climate Knowledge

Before you head out on your trip, it’s important to make sure you’ve learned all you can about what the weather and climate may look like where you’ll be camping. In fair conditions, a surprise storm may just be a bit of a hassle, but it can become dangerous when you’re already camping in freezing conditions.

The more you can understand the area you’ll be staying in, the better off you’ll be. Make sure that you are prepared for whatever the weather may bring, even if a certain event is unlikely. It’s often better to be overprepared rather than lacking items you may end up needing.

Proper Clothing

Aside from warm shelter and nutrient-dense food, your clothing is going to be one of the most important tools you’ll need for keeping the cold at bay. Without warm clothes, you are likely to be much more vulnerable to hypothermia and frostbite.

With that in mind, pack plenty and pack extremely warm. Opt for clothing items that use wool or synthetics and don’t forget to bring along all the extras like warm coats, hats, gloves, and socks. Remember, if you’re new to cold weather camping, overpacking may actually end up saving your life or limbs, so don’t be afraid to grab more than you think you’ll need!

As a side note, don’t try 3-day expeditions in super cold weather if you are brand new. I always recommend sleeping in the backyard because the stakes are much lower and you’ll get a good feel of your limits (both your own cold tolerance and your gear limits)

Food

When it comes to planning your meals when you’ll be camping at below-freezing temperatures, there are two main aspects you’ll want to focus on.

You’ll want to pack all the nutrients you can into the meals you create as well as make sure you have plenty of snacks to keep you going throughout the day. Remember that depending on the temperatures and how hard you’re working, you may need to at least double your normal calorie intake.

Many campers who spend time out in below-freezing temperatures opt for foods that are either naturally dry or have been dehydrated. Some popular food options include soups and stews, chili, hot granola, and pasta. Don’t forget that opting for hot foods might be a little more work, but it will keep you warmer than foods you can eat cold.

Freeze-dried food is an excellent option because you just need to add water and eat the food. My dad in our last camping trip had freeze-dried beef and pasta that he and his wife had made with their freeze-drier and it worked really well. Not many people have their own freeze-drier, so Mountain House like this one on Amazon works really well.

A Warm Surface To Sleep On

Even if you take the time to clear out all the snow from under your sleeping spot, the ground is still very likely to be cold. Combined with the cold air temperatures, that means you’re going to need a bed that places a very high level of importance on warmth.

There may be some out there who suggest that an air mattress is perfectly fine in winter weather, but it’s definitely not going to keep you as warm as a sturdy sleeping pad with a high R-value. Some campers prefer a closed-cell option like the Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite (REI) while others think an inflating air pad like the Exped Max 15 (REI) to be perfectly suitable as long as it is insulated well and comes with a high R-value.

An Ideal Tent

The kind of tent you need is really going to depend on where and when you plan on camping. Even if you’re looking at sub-32-degree temperatures, that can mean very different things in different places.

Some camping locations may be relatively mild for the most part, just dipping into the low 30s or high 20s overnight without snow. In these situations, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to get away with using a solid 3-season tent as long as you’re still very careful about keeping warmth a high priority.

However, other situations may include high levels of wind, lots of snow, or a combination of the two. If you know either of these may show up where you’re going to be camping, a 4-season tent is really your best bet. These tents, such as Mountain Hardwear’s Trango 4 (REI), are designed to keep you safe and warm when the weather outside is downright vicious.

A 4-season tent is not so much about heat, a 4-season tent is more about being able to withstand snow and wind, although sometimes the ventilation is adjusted to prevent excessive air movement.

Skin Protection

As you can probably assume, wearing plenty of clothing is the number one way to protect your skin from the cold. Several layers of dry, warm clothes will help to keep your skin warm and protect it from frostbite or other issues that may result from below-freezing temperatures.

That said, it can be difficult to cover every inch of your skin. At a bare minimum, a small portion of your face will need to be exposed in order to see. For areas that cannot be covered by clothing, Vaseline is a great option for keeping your skin from receiving too much damage from the elements.

Peter

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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