Camping at a table in a winter forest with a backpack, thermos and a burner.

Every camping ground has a wintry season, and if you’re camping in Ohio that season stretches for several months. A sudden temperature drop can even make a summer evening chilly, so it’s always best to be prepared. While you don’t want to overpack your backpack, there are plenty of steps you can take to make sure you’re prepared for a frosty trip, especially if you’re outside camping or RVing in the winter.

Make sure you’re eating plenty of food.

Hiking and camping burn a lot more calories than usual everyday activities. Even during the summer, hiking guides recommend you drastically increase your caloric intake. This is even more important during cold weather because receiving enough nutrients and energy helps keep your body warm and maintain homeostasis; it also helps ward off illnesses that can plague a winter camping trip.

Keep a mix of snacks that require no preparation and easily cookable meals on hand. Snacks are the perfect thing to eat on the move so you don’t risk deciding that eating isn’t worth the bother of setting up a temporary camp. And preparing breakfast and dinner meals that just need hot water, such as soups and oatmeal, can keep you feeling warm as you settle in for the night.

Packing dried foods and dehydrated mixes also help you carry plenty of food without worrying about the weight. Some campers also recommend having a pre-breakfast snack next to your sleeping bag so you can eat something when you wake up and start the process of getting ready for the day. If you think that will help get you started, make sure you follow safety procedures to keep animals away and check with the local rangers about bears and particularly adventurous wildlife who might be drawn in by the chance of food.

Be prepared for very cold nights.

If you’ve gone on winter day hikes, you already know how cold the days can be even if you keep moving. But nights are even colder because the temperature plummets, your internal temperature cools a bit, and your muscles are no longer moving. Your final meal of the day should always include something warm, even if it’s just a hot cup of tea.

Sleep with your boots on and in a new pair of socks. Circulation in your extremities is potentially low, and keeping your feet insulated against the chill is crucial. On particularly cold nights you might also consider sleeping with gloves on. If you have a bit of extra space in your sleeping bag, stuff the next day’s clothes into the bottom: this gets rid of dead space and warms up your clothes for the next day.

It’s also important to sleep off the ground: all of the cold seeps into the ground, and that chill can reach through even the most insulated sleeping bag. The ground can also wick away your body heat. Bring a sleeping pad to get a bit of distance or, if you can’t bring a sleeping pad, flatten your clothes and backpack under you. In a similar vein, that same cold air tends to settle in valleys and low areas in the terrain.

Find a higher spot for your campground; even ascending fifty feet makes a difference, and keep your tent facing downhill so it doesn’t scoop up the descending cold air.

Bring a heat source.

All camping stores sell hand heaters that you can hold in your pockets or slip into your boots. While insulating your body heat is a far more effective way of staying warm than introducing temporary sources of more heat, it can help you get started on a cold morning. You can also slip them into your sleeping bag as you set up camp so your bed is warm instead of cold when you go to sleep.

If you don’t purchase the chemical hand warmers, you can improvise your own by making a hot water bottle and wrapping it in a sweater so you can put it at the bottom of your sleeping bag. You can also make a heat source by heating up rocks and stuffing them in a sock or a small compression sack to carry around.

Test out your cups and hydration packs before you need them.

The thermos that can handle brisk mornings during the summer camping season might not be up to the challenge, and the same could go for your insulated coffee cup. Test out your thermos by filling it with your favorite hot drink or even just boiling water at home, and then set it outside with a thermometer.

If the contents stay reasonably hot for however long you want, then you know you won’t be unpleasantly surprised on the trail. If you stay hydrated using Camelbacks or other hydration packs, bring an extra bladder in case one freezes and develops a leak. The water can also freeze in the hydration tube after you take a drink, so blow air back into the straw after each drink. Not only does this clear the tube of water, it warms up the plastic a bit.

Girls Standing Near RV at Park On Cold Winter Day, Laughing Together

Make sure you have the right clothing and strike a balance between too much to carry and not enough to stay warm.

Regardless of your preferred camping brand and no matter whether you’re camping in the mountains, in a forest, or on a plain, the old adage holds true: dress in layers. Bulking up in a series of sweaters, windbreakers, and jackets is much less cumbersome than bringing along one coat: it’s even for a single article of clothing, even if it’s well padded, to get wet in a sudden rainfall or if you fall in the snow.

Also, as unbelievable as it might seem, some days in the middle of an Ohio winter just aren’t cold enough to comfortably wear a coat, especially if you’re hiking. Layers let you adjust according to temperature and exertion, and they are also easier to clean and pack away.

Even if you are camping in an RV instead of a tent, layers are recommended because of their flexibility and because they’re easier to clean and dry. If you’re RVing full-time, you can also just pick up key pieces throughout the seasons instead of taking up premium closet space.

It’s also important to get synthetic fabrics when you can. These fabrics are just as breathable as cotton, if not more so, but they wick moisture away and offer more insulation. If you’re on a hiking trip, fabric that can pull moisture away from your skin is important for staying safe: hiking through a forest or up the side of the mountain will make you sweat and that moisture will cool down your body, which is the last thing you need when you’re using layers to keep warm.

These two tips combine to give you a formula for your camping clothes. Experts advise maintaining three basic layers, though each layer might be made up of more than one article of clothing.

The first layer is the base, and this is where it’s critical to have synthetic shirts and underclothes that keep you dry. The second layer, or the middle layer, is to keep you warm and is made up of your jacket and thick pants. The last layer, which is also called a shell, is designed to ward off weather and moisture. Synthetic, laminate fabric that is waterproof and windproof will stop rain and snow from making your insulating layer damp.

Camping and RVing in the winter takes a bit of preparation, but it’s well worth the work. Campgrounds are less crowded, bugs and snakes are far less of a problem, and you get to see a side of nature that few people do.

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