January 21, 2021
Winter camping is actually easier and more accessible than you might think but there are still a few good tips and tricks to know in order to make the most of your night under the stars while still staying warm and cosy. Here are our top tips for winter camping for photographers.
There’s a popular saying in the outdoor industry: Buy right, buy once. We’ve all fallen into the trap of buying something cheaper and of lower quality with the intention of growing out of it and growing into something more expensive and of higher quality. The problem with the is you typically end up spending more money overall than if you would have just bitten the bullet and bought the more expensive items in the first place.
Good outdoor winter gear is not cheap but if you’re committed to spending plenty of time outdoors in the winter, it will be the best investment you can make. I’d much rather spend money on warm gear than the newest camera gadget because at the end of the day, the clothing and gear will determine how good of an experience I will have and thus, how good my photos will be. There are a lot of gadgets to bring on a camping trip but we’ll just run through the main ones quickly.
We talk about a good layering system in almost every video and for good reason. If you have any hopes of thriving with your winter photography, nailing down your layering system is key. Essentially you want a merino or synthetic base layer, fleece or thick wool mid-layer, insulting layer (like a puffy) on top and a waterproof layer on hand in case the wind or moisture shows up. For your legs, you’ll want to follow a similar system but the number of layers will depend on how cold you are and how cold the temps are.
Once your torso and legs are layered up, you’ll want to have a warm beanie, a scarf or neck warmer, good photography gloves (consider layering these too!), as well as a few pairs of wool socks.
If you’re more of a visual learner, just watch the video below and Carl will break it all down for you!
Sleeping can be either extremely pleasant or extremely uncomfortable depending on just a few factors, the first being how warm of a sleeping bag you have. For camping in snowy conditions, I will always pack a four-season bag like the Marmot Never Summer Bag which is rated down to freezing temperatures. You can also pack a sleeping bag liner for an extra layer of warmth
A good sleeping mat is just as important as a good sleeping bag. Some hardcore winter campers can make do with the old school foam roll but I opt for something that you can blow up and is insulated. My go-to sleeping mat is a thick Thermarest mat which is great for all seasons. This mat is filled with air which gets heated up from your body heat. The trapped air will insulate you from the cold ground and make sure you get some good shut-eye during the night.
Winter weather can be unpredictable so you’ll want to choose a tent that is not only warm enough for freezing conditions but also sturdy enough to stand up in high winds if they arise. A four season tent is a good idea but you can often get by with a 3 season tent too. Another thing to consider when you’re choosing your tent is the length of the stakes. If you plan on camping in the snow, you’ll need to have long stages that can work in the snow. If you’re a pinch, ice axes and ski poles can be substitutes but it’s best to plan for snow and have long stakes on hand.
When winter camping, you should layer your hands just like you would layer your body. Depending on the conditions, you may have a base layer glove, a mid-weight (or heavier) glove plus a big glove to top it off and keep you warm. You probably only really need this layering system if you’re shooting in extremely cold arctic conditions so, for most winter camp trips, you can probably get by with the Skadis or Ipsoots, depending on how cold it will be.
One thing to note is that it’s always good to have a second pair of gloves on hand. Often gloves can get wet and in cold winter tips, it’s hard to dry out your gear. It’s a good idea to have an extra set just in case since your hands really are one of your most important photography assets while out in the field.
You’ll likely be trudging around in the snow during your trip so a good pair of waterproof boots is essential. We like these Sorel boots but anything that is insulated and has a good grippy sole will be fine. In addition to waterproof boots, a few pairs of woolly socks will make for very happy feet.
Having hot liquid and hot food is essential on a winter camping trip as a hot tea can warm you up in minutes. There are dozens of different cookers out there and ultimately the right one for you will depend on what you’re cooking and the quantity you’re needing to cook. If you tend to just boil water for dehydrated meals, a Jetboil is a fantastic choice.
Keep in mind that gas tends to burn quicker in colder temperatures so bring an extra canister if you’re planning on doing lots of cooking. I often will sleep with my canister in my sleeping back so that it’s warmed and ready to go for my morning coffee.
With winter camping, you can expect some cold weather, sure, but just like every other season, you want to watch out for series weather patterns rolling through your region. A bit of snow flurries is fine but you want to avoid getting caught out in a full whiteout unable to navigate. Not to mention bad weather will also make for average photo opportunities. Use a reliable weather service like YR to get a good forecast and use common sense. If it’s not looking that good, just save it. Try as you might, you will never change mother nature’s weekend forecast no matter how much you want to.
Things tend to get slower or stop working when the temperatures really drop so plan for backups when it comes to your camera gear. Batteries, like the ones for your camera and the ones in your phone, are particularly susceptible to cold weather so bring plenty of spares for your camera. When you’re not using your spares, keep the battery close to your body so that it can stay warm with your body heat. If the battery dies quickly, don’t worry, just spend some time warming it up and it will come back to life. You may need to keep switching batteries frequently depending on your camera brand and how cold the temps are.
For your phone battery, I always travel with an external charger that can rejuvenate my phone multiple times on an overnight trip. I keep my maps and trail descriptions on my phone so it’s important for me to have a full charge that I can rely on.
Extremely cold temperatures can permanently damage your gadget so check if your batteries or photo have a minimum temperature and if it does, try to keep it in a protected place.
Having a stove to boil water will be a lifesaver when it comes to winter camping. We mentioned that a simple cup of hot tea can revive your cold bones when things get dire but there are a few other tricks to help you use hot water to keep warm.
If you’re someone who is prone to eating dehydrated meals, pour the boiling water in the pouch, seal it up and then put the pouch underneath your puffy and BOOM, you have an instant hottie. House tip: Make sure you seal the pouch up nicely otherwise you’ll be wearing your dinner and you’ll be wet.
Another great tip is to fill your Nalgene bottle up with hot water. These bottles can hold boiling water and are a great substitute for a hot water bottle. As long as you’ve tightened the lid up fully, you can also put the bottle in your sleeping bag with you at night for extra warmth. The down in the sleeping bag will keep the heat in for a long time and you’ll sleep like a king!
And while we are on the subject of water, don’t forget to drink water and stay hydrated. It’s easy in the winter to forget to drink water but staying hydrated will be essential to staying warm and to keep your body functioning. Keep in mind that if it’s really cold outside, your water bottle might freeze so considering bringing an insulated bottle.
As with any outdoor pursuit, safety should be the number one priority at all times. It almost goes without saying that you should fully research the location you’re going to be camping at and have good knowledge of the avalanche risks (if any) of your location. If you’re not sure how to assess avalanche conditions, it’s best to pick a spot that is far from any sloping hills. A good flat valley is usually a safe bet.
Don’t forget to leave your intentions with a trusted person and if you can, take a Personal Locator Beacon with you in case of an emergency. The best piece of safety advice we can have is to make good decisions before you ever leave the house. Be realistic about your capabilities and the weather forecast and if there are any doubts, consider postponing until the conditions are right.
Once you the safety and technical aspects are taken care of, go out there and have fun! Winter camping in the quiet peace of the frozen world is an unbelievable experience and if you take the right steps to stay comfortable, we promise you’ll see (and capture) some amazing scenes!
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. If you click on a link and make a purchase, we will receive a small commission without any cost to you. We only ever recommend products that we have personally used and can stand behind.
Comments will be approved before showing up.
November 27, 2023
November 21, 2023 5 Comments
October 27, 2023 2 Comments