Unless you are a bear, winter is not for hibernating. The human spirit can only be inside so long before it needs to breathe the wild mountain air–snow or shine.  Winter can be the perfect season to seek solitude on some of your favorite, but typically more crowded, trails or peaks.  Let’s dig into some winter camping myths that are keeping you and your buds from sleeping on the snow. With the help of a Therm-a-Rest sleep system, you might just find your comfort zone is out there and it’s a whole lot cozier than you thought.

winter camping fun

Myth #1: The gear needed to stay warm won’t fit in a backpack.

This is a common one because it probably used to be true, like way back when packs were big but winter sleep systems were bigger. Luckily for us, sleeping bags have evolved to be super compact without sacrificing warmth. The Questar ™ 0F/-18C weighs in at 2lbs 11oz and is designed for ultimate comfort in cold-weather camping. It will keep you warm without taking up your entire backpack, leaving you with space for more fun things, like perhaps a little camp whiskey to warm you up.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: what about my bulky sleeping pad? You know, the one with the thick foam for staying warm? The sleeping pad has also evolved from a large beast to a small, lithe creature. The NeoAir XThermNXT uses cutting-edge Triangular Core Matrix construction and ThermaCapture™ technologies to trap and re-direct heat for staying cozy in winter weather without the bulk of past sleeping pads. It weighs a slight, yet durable 15 ounces, while providing a robust R-Value of 6.9. With its industry-leading warmth-to-weight ratio, it’ll take up about as much space as your water bottle. Whether it’s your first time camping on the snow or your 100th, the XTherm is used and loved by winter backpackers and big mountain alpinists worldwide.

So grab your things and get to packing. Once you realize how much room you have left, you’ll probably want to grab the Airhead™ Down Pillow. It will add almost nothing to your pack size, so why not go for ultimate camp comfort?

backpacking stove in winter

Myth #2: Cooking is too much work in the cold.

The key to having fun while cooking in the cold is maintaining efficiency throughout the process. Plan simple, boil-only meals and you’ll be basking in the comfort of your toasty sleeping bag in no time. Think about creative ways to make your favorite comfort foods quickly and without the hassle. I like to use instant mash potatoes to make a camp version of potato leek soup. If I’m really organized I’ll dehydrate chili before setting out, making for a delicious but quick home-cooked meal. Your body will also burn more calories trying to keep itself warm, so daytime snacking while winter camping is essential. It’s also important to bring a certain portion of your calories in foods that don’t need to be cooked in case you run out of fuel or break something on your stove that can’t be repaired in the field.

Making sure you have the right stove for winter conditions is also key. The right choice can help save weight and space in your pack, and quickly put dinner in your belly. Fuel efficiency is super important. Investing in an efficient stove means you’ll need to carry less. There are many winter stoves out there, but my favorite is the MSR® Reactor. It’s the perfect stove for winter camping with amazing fuel efficiency, a windproof burner and unmatched heat transfer. It boils water lighting fast in all conditions, and will get you back in your bag–or down the trail after breakfast–in no time at all.

sleeping pad for winter camping

Myth #3: Staying warm enough to have a restful night’s sleep is impossible.

Earlier, we talked about the size and weight of the Questar 0F/-18C sleeping bag and the NeoAir XTherm NXT sleeping pad, but how warm are they? Therm-a-Rest means business when it comes to testing our products. We test both our sleeping pads’ and sleeping bags’ warmth in an on-site EN and ASTM-compliant cold chamber,  assuring an objective and consistent rating across our sleeping pads and bags. The Questar 0F/-18C has a comfort rating of 14F degrees, meaning most people will be warm and cozy at that temperature. When you add the  XTherm NXT sleeping pad underneath, with its 7.3 R-Value, you’ve got a solid winter sleep system which will keep most people toasty through the night during all but the harshest winter conditions,

For a deeper dive into building a sleep system that works for you, head over to the blog posts:  What is R-Value and Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings for a better understanding of how sleeping bag temperature ratings and sleeping pad R-values.

In a nutshell, Therm-a-Rest puts a ton of time and energy into making sure you are comfortable at camp, rain, shine and snow. This is why you can trust them when they promise a “Better Sleep Guarantee” (only available in the US and Canada).

fun camping cold

Myth #4: You’ll be stuck in your tent all night.

It’s true – the long nights of winter are a bit too long for sleep alone. But fear not – there are a ton of ways to enjoy yourself. Hopefully you’re with someone that is a bit less than boring, which should definitely be the case if they were crazy enough to follow you into the backcountry in the middle of winter. Now, take the Z Lite Sol seat that you brought and color in the dimples to create a checkerboard, or even a backgammon board. Forget game pieces? No problem – you’re ibuprofen tabs and your tent mate is sticks.  Add a warm drink and it’s a party.

Bored of sitting in the tent? Head out on an evening snowshoe; if it’s a full moon, you’d be foolish not to. Keep your exploits mellow and hang some reflective material so you can spot your camp from a distance if you loose your tracks. Moving around will stoke your oven, warm you up, and you’ll get to experience the pure magic of a silent, cold winter night in the backcountry.

winter camping attitude

Myth #5: Camping in the cold isn’t very fun.

Like most things in life, attitude is everything. Therm-a-Rest makes gear that allows you to pack up your backpack and head for the hills, no matter the season. They’ve got you covered in comfort, but you need to bring the stoke.

While many are counting down the days until summer as their backpacks gather dust in the gear closet, you’ve got the power to get out on the trail, even if it’s snow-covered. So whether you’re climbing the skin track and camping high in the mountains, car camping near your favorite frozen lake or walking a mile down the road, don’t let these winter camping myths keep you from enjoying the wild spaces we all have the privilege of playing in.


Updated. Originally Published February 25, 2020.