How to Go Winter Camping and Backpacking

If you plan to do any winter camping, you will probably need to purchase or rent a bag designed specifically for that purpose. Many mountaineering bags are made of water-repellent nylon or Gore-tex on the outside, and have a special absorbent inner-liner that “wicks” perspiration and moisture away from the body. They are also made of the highest quality synthetics or down, and some even use combinations of down and synthetic, putting the synthetic fibers in areas of the bag that tend to get wet or compressed, such as underneath the bag on the side closest to the ground.

As you might guess, these specialized bags can cost from $200-$350 on up, and are often too insulated for use in anything but extremely cold conditions, such as minus 15 degrees. So unless you’re planning an expedition, or money is no object, consider using less expensive ways of adding warmth to a bag. These methods include the use of exterior covers and inner liners.

camping backpacking winter How to Go Winter Camping and Backpacking

A waterproof bivy sack surrounding the outside of a sleeping bag will help it retain heat, and prevent the bag from getting dirty and damp from dew or condensation. If you’re not using a tent, bivy sacks are especially useful for keeping the wind and dampness away from your bag. But condensation can occur even inside a tent, where your warm breath (which is full of water droplets) condenses in the cool air and settles back down on your sleeping bag during the night. If it’s very cold outside, you might even wake up to find your bag covered with a thin layer of ice.

An inner liner made of silk, cotton or cotton/polyester blend material will also help retain a little more heat, and keep your sleeping bag cleaner and drier from the inside out. It will prevent dirt and body oils from building up inside the bag. Liners are also good to use because your body perspires a little even during sleep. These liners absorb that perspiration and, once you get home, are much easier to wash than your bag.
It’s smart to “air out” your sleeping bag in the morning, if the weather allows it. Unzip it fully and lay it out on a rock or other dry, flat surface in the sunlight, turning it from one side to the other. This will help dry any condensation on the outside, or perspiration on the inside, and retain the all-important loft to keep you warm the following night.


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