Have fun and stay warm winter camping with kids
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How to Have Fun and Stay Warm Winter Camping with Kids

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When you think of winter camping with kids, many people think about the whole family being cold and uncomfortable. Winter camping can be awesome with a few simple tricks!

snow fort building while camping

If you’re not sure if winter camping is for you, try it in the backyard before heading out. Winter camping can be an adventure for the whole family – but it’s important to plan ahead.

Winter Camping with Kids

In this article we’ll cover what gear you’ll need, how to set up camp, how to stay warm, what to eat and fun winter camping activities!

Camping doesn’t have to stop just because it’s winter, not every trip needs to be hot and sunny.

If you’ve planned the perfect winter camping trip, then your next step should be to figure out what kind of weather you’ll be braving on this adventure and what equipment will be necessary.

Winter Camping Gear

Winter offers its own challenges when it comes time to camp. You may find yourself in cold weather, snow, rain or high winds, so make sure you pack the right gear to be prepared for all weather conditions.

4 Season Tents

When you’re going camping in cooler temperatures you’ll want to have a 4 season tent. A winter tent is typically thicker and more durable than your standard camping tent.

Winter tents will usually also have a full rain fly to help keep you dry from the elements as well as vents to help air circulate and prevent condensation. This Marmot Halo is an awesome option for 3-4 people.

MARMOT Halo 4P
$548.95
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You’ll want to set up your tent in an area that will be heated up by the morning sun. This will help warm up the interior of your tent and make it more comfortable.

If possible, you’ll also want to set up your tent somewhere that’s blocked from the wind. If it’s going to be very windy, you’ll want to stake out all of your tent’s guy lines to help make your tent as wind-resistant as possible.

You can also set up a tarp to help block the wind, either from your tent or your seating area.

If the ground is frozen, staking the tent may be tricky, another option is to tie it off to trees or use sand bags instead of tent stakes. You’ll want to bring metal stakes because plastic stakes may break in the cold.

Galvanized Steel Tent Stakes
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To conserve heat, you’ll want to get a tent that closely fits the number of people you’re bringing. We usually say that for tents, bigger is better, but when winter camping, you’ll want a smaller area to heat.

A large screen tent with sides is also a must-have when winter camping. It gives you a place to hang out that isn’t inside your small tent.

We love our Clam Pavilion tent, there is a noticeable difference in temperature between the outside air and being inside this tent.

This will also give your kids a place to hang out and stay a little warmer without constantly going in and out of the sleeping tent.

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CLAM Quick-Set Pavilion
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Sleeping Bags for Cold Weather

A winter sleeping bag will give your family enough warmth to stay comfortable, even when it’s below freezing outside! When buying a sleeping bag, be sure you get one with proper insulation (down or synthetic) as well as plenty of loft.

Woman and child sleeping in a tent in cold weather. Warm hat, mummy bag and sleep sack.

Sleeping bags typically come with a temperature rating that will tell you what temperatures it can be used for. Winter sleeping bags are usually rated at zero degrees Fahrenheit or below.

Keep in mind that these ratings seem to be the temperature at which you will stay alive in that sleeping bag, and aren’t often the temperature that you’ll sleep comfortably.

We recommend using a bag that’s rated for 10 to 20 degrees BELOW what you’ll be camping in, especially for kids. If you’re sleeping in 40° weather, you’ll want a bag that’s rated for 20°.

We suggest mummy-style bags as you won’t need to heat up a giant rectangular bag with your body heat. Winter bags will also usually have draft tubes so that heat is kept in and cold air stays out.

If you find that your sleeping bag is not warm enough for your intended trip, getting a sleeping bag liner is a great way to make your current bag more versatile.

You can also get double sleeping bags that are amazingly warm. Sleeping bags made for 2 people or sleeping bags that zip together are great ways to share body heat and sleep more comfortably.

We have a Kelty brand double sleeping bag and Momma and Daddy critter almost slept outside all night in it when the temperature was 10°. (We did not use the bag pictured for this stunt attempt)

Keeping kids warm while sleeping is similar to keeping adults warm. Have them sleep in layers, make sure they have an appropriately sized sleeping bag or share a bag with them to keep you both warm.

Child camping, in sleeping bag with a blanket and a hat on

You can’t tell in that picture, but Tiny Critter is in his sleeping bag and my sleeping bag on a recent scout overnight. He’s also wearing his one piece fleece dino pajamas (let’s be honest, it’s a costume but who cares?) and a hat for warmth.

If your child has a sleeping bag that is too big for them, pack the bottom with a blanket or clothes to take up some of the “dead space” so they don’t have to heat as much. You can also tie off the bottom of the bag or fold it under them for extra padding.

For toddlers and infants, we’ve heard rave reviews for the Little Mo and Big Mo sleeping bag sleep suits.

It’s a sleeping bag in the shape of a suit, so your little one can’t slide down and get turned around like they would be able to do in an actual sleeping bag.

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They have amazing padding, and a double zipper to make diaper changes a cinch!

Blankets and other sleeping bag alternatives are also a great way to keep kids warm (toddlers and older) when they won’t stay in their sleeping bags.

We love our rumpl down blanket as it keeps us amazingly warm and packs down small for portability.

Blankets are also awesome for layering on top of sleeping bags for extra warmth.

Insulated Sleeping Pads

When you’re sleeping on the ground in cold weather, your sleeping pad is very important. With a good sleeping pad, you can insulate yourself from the ground and keep your body temp up.

There are two basic types of sleeping pad that works for winter camping, closed cell foam, and insulated air mattresses.

Closed Cell Foam Pads

Closed cell foam pads are typically the least expensive and most durable. They can be folded up to fit in your pack easily, but do not offer as much comfort as air mattresses.

Insulate Air Mattresses

Air mattresses for winter camping are typically less durable, but offer a lot more comfort and insulation.

My favorite is the Exped synmat, they come in single and double wide options and have great insulation. We originally bought the single 3 season version, and those are amazing.

Recently we bought a Deep Sleep Duo and now 2 or all 3 of us can snuggle up for more extreme weather.

Exped DeepSleep Mat

This double mattress is a MUST for all campers. At 3" thick it will keep you comfortable and warm all night long!

Amazon ExPed.com

We learned about the exped brand on a camping trip to Glacier National Park. Even though it was August, the nights got pretty chilly. One guy out of the 6 of us slept well, and it was because he had an exped mat. I bought one within a week of getting home.

Kids can use adult sized sleeping mats, the extra length won’t be an issue and they can grow into them as they get older. Currently Tiny Critter sleeps on my original ExPed SynMat and it keeps him toasty warm.

Tent Floor Insulation

If you’re camping in cold weather, insulating the floor of your tent is essential. It will keep your tent warmer, more comfortable and also protect your tent floor as well.

Underneath the sleeping mats we use foam floor mats to help insulate and add comfort.

We also tried putting moving blankets on the floor of the tent one trip, and while it helped keep the tent a little warmer during the cool evenings, I don’t think it did much for comfort.

If you’re winter camping in cold enough weather, the foam mats under the moving blankets are the best option.

Foam puzzle mats for insulating a tent

Bring your normal pillows from home when you’re winter camping. Inflatable pillows are going to be very cold and you’ll want to keep your head as warm as possible.

We have fun flannel pillow cases that go camping with us.

Have a sleep system for smaller kids and toddlers to ensure they’re not going to slide off of their sleeping mats and become cold. We used a Pack ‘n Play but there are plenty of portable bed options for toddlers.

Keeping Warm

The most important part of camping in the winter is staying warm. If you’re not warm, you’re not going to have a good time.

Campfire

Winter campers may have to deal with snow-covered ground which makes it difficult to build a fire. The following are some tips on how to start a fire in the snow:

1) Make sure you have very dry tinder like pine needles, birch bark, or cedar wood before starting your fire. If you can’t find dry tinder, try to make it by shaving the logs of your wood into fine pieces so that there are more surfaces for the fire to catch.

Bring along tried and true fire starters. This isn’t the time to use your new ferro rod and striker, this is the time to get the fire going, now. Blackbeard fire starters have always worked for us, wet or dry. If all else fails, a propane torch is always an option.

2) Find a dry spot to start your fire. If your site has a fire pit, clear away the snow with a shovel and move it off to the side. Remember that surrounding snow will melt and run into the fire, so you don’t want to start your fire way down in the snow.

You may want to start your fire on a flat piece of bark or wood to keep your tinder and kindling dry at first.

3) Start your fire and keep it well stoked at all times. Starting the fire back up after the heat has melted some snow may be tricky.

Your other option is to get a stand-alone fire pit like the solo stove. We know many people who swear by theirs.

It will keep your fire up out of melting snow and off of the cold wet ground. They are designed with the proper airflow to keep a fire burning and you can buy a grate for the top that allows you to cook amazing camping meals with ease.

Make sure you bring your camp chairs for sitting by the fire, you don’t want to sit on the cold ground to enjoy the fire.

Hand Warmer Options

When you’re camping in the winter, it’s important to remember that your body is working extra hard just to stay warm. A great way for kids (and adults) to keep their fingers and toes from getting too cold while they sleep or play are hand/foot warmer packs!

HotHands Hand Warmers
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Safety precautions to keep in mind: keep tabs on how warm they’re getting, don’t use with infants and never sleep with them. Use them to help your kids warm up before sleeping and then set them aside before falling asleep.

Zippo also makes an awesome hand warmer that doubles as a battery bank!

Zippo Green Heat Bank
$54.95


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So you can use it to pre-heat your child’s sleeping bag and then turn off the heater and charge your phone overnight.

Zippo hand warmer and battery bank for warming your hands and charging your phone

Another way to warm up your sleeping bag is to fill a Nalgene bottle with warm/hot water right before bed time. Close the lid tightly and cuddle the bottle for extra warmth!

The bonus of this is if you get thirsty, you don’t have to crawl out of your sleeping bag to find your ice cold water bottle! This trick is safe for kids too, because the bottle can’t get too hot.

Stay Dry

Change into dry clothing before going to sleep, especially the kids who are more likely to have been playing in the snow. (Be sure to bring waterproof boots!)

Winter camping can be very wet, so staying dry and changing into warm clothes before bed will help keep you comfortable throughout the night. Sleep in layers to avoid sweating while sleeping.

If you got sweaty while sleeping, change into dry clothes in the morning. You don’t ever want to be wearing wet clothing for longer than you have to be.

If you feel like you need to de-stink yourself, it’s going to be unlikely that you’ll be able to take a full shower. Instead just use some no-rinse bath wipes and dry yourself right away.

Pro tip: Keep your clothing for the next day in your sleeping bag so it’s pre-warmed! Do the same thing with your child’s clothes, it’s like wearing clothes right out of the dryer!

Exercise

If you or your kids are starting to feel cold, do some light exercise. You do NOT want to get sweaty, but a few jumping jacks or 5 minutes of playing tag should warm everyone right up.

Small Heater

If you can’t stand the thought of crawling into a cold tent, bring a small heater. Safety always comes first so keep the heater away from flammable materials and NEVER sleep with an open flame heater in your tent. A Jackery power bank will power a small heater that will take the chill out of your tent.

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Another option is a buddy heater that runs off of propane.

Please read all safety instructions for using this heater properly inside a tent. Ventilation is key.

Peeing Options in the Cold

Eventually you’re going to need to use the bathroom. If you’re remote camping, this means finding your own spot to go.

When it’s too cold to want to remove half of her clothing, Momma Critter trusts her P-style to help her pee quickly while staying warm.

pStyle - Stand to Pee
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With a little help, even small kids (male or female) can use one of the many options they have for urinating in the cold outdoors.

Practice using the bathroom outside in warm weather so they know what to do when it’s colder out and you want to move fast.

There is a lot of debate on whether it’s better to hold your bladder at night or get up and pee while camping in the cold. I’m not sure either option keeps you warmer, but we do know we sleep much better when we don’t have to worry about wetting the bed.

The Camping Critterz vote you should get up and get it over with. Be sure to shut your sleeping bag once you get out of it, as we DO know that will save some of your heat for when you get back inside the tent.

It’s also an option to use a small bucket, potty seat or cup with a lid inside the tent instead of going all the way outdoors when nature calls. We know people who use a 5 gallon bucket with kitty litter in a garbage bag inside and it works well.

Just make sure what ever you’re using has a solid lid. This is also a great option for toddlers who may be potty training, as peeing outside in the cold will be tricky to maneuver.

Diaper Changes While Winter Camping

Make them as quick as possible, we used overnight diapers to avoid diaper changes in the middle of the night. Momma critter also tucked a few wipes in her sleeve before starting the diaper change, to at least warm them up to body temperature to make the diaper change as comfortable as possible for the baby.

Sleep sacks and PJs that unzip from the bottom were also essential for cold weather diaper changes. You do not want to get your infant entirely naked to get at their diaper. Sleep dresses and socks are a better alternative to footie pajamas that have to be unzipped all the way down.

During the day time, make use of the shelter, whether it’s a tarp, the sided screen tent or your sleeping tent. Your little one isn’t going to want to be half undressed out in the elements for a diaper change.

Warm Foods and Drinks

When you’re hanging out in the cold all day, you’ll want to have warm drinks on hand to help you and your kids keep warm. Some options are hot chocolate, coffee, tea or broth. Just make sure you have mugs or a thermos that will keep it warm for hours.

Thermos or Yeti brand are our 2 go-to options. Momma Critter made chai before an ice fishing camp-out and it was still warm in her thermos after spending 24 hours in the ice house.

The best way to make warm meals while camping is to start with boiling water. Get a jet boil or similar kind of stove so you’re kids aren’t waiting too long for hot cocoa.

To help replace calories burned staying warm, adults and small kids alike will need some extra calories and easy to eat snacks. Our favorite calorie dense camping foods are: Jerky, trail mix, peanut butter crackers, cheese sticks and yogurt covered raisins.

One of our other camping secrets is adding protein to every meal possible. If you’re taking dehydrated meals, add a packet (or two!) of bone broth when you add the water. It blends in well with almost any meal and adds important protein with zero extra effort.

Beef Bone Broth Powder
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If you’re making hot chocolate, add in part of a chocolate protein shake as a substitute for the milk, and never make hot chocolate with plain water! (Not only because you’re missing out on extra protein, but also because hot chocolate made with water is never as good.)

Don’t forget to make smores while sitting by the campfire! It’s the best part of winter camping!

Clothing

Hard core campers say, “There is no bad weather, only bad gear” and that mainly refers to clothing.

If you have the right clothing to stay warm, winter camping will be an amazing experience.

Layers

Winter campers often refer to the “Three Layer System”, which consists of these three layers: a base layer, an insulation layer and an outer layer.

You should always have a thermal base layer, and then add or remove layers as needed.

Winter camping in cold weather is not the time for cotton, as cotton holds moisture instead of wicking it away. We love merino wool, it doesn’t feel like wool and it’s warm without being sweaty.

Be sure to bring more clothes than you think you’ll need. Changing into a dry set of clothes after getting wet is essential, especially with kids.

Hat and Gloves

A good hat and gloves are essential clothing pieces for winter camping. There’s no point in trying to stay warm if your head and hands are freezing.

Spring for quality gear that will keep you and your kids warm and dry. Also remember you’ll likely be sleeping in your hat, so try to get a non-bulky one that covers your ears.

Mittens

Another great option to keep your hands warm are mittens. Mittens are warmer than gloves because your fingers share warmth inside the mitten, whereas each finger is on its own in a glove.

We bring both gloves and mittens because they serve different purposes.

If you’re just sitting around drinking hot chocolate by the fire, or you’re exploring and taking a hike, mittens are perfect.

You’ll want to switch back to gloves if you’re trying to set up for dinner or anything else that needs more dexterity. Little kids can wear mittens the whole trip.

Socks

Socks are the base of any winter camping outfit and will go a long way to keep your whole body warm. Winter campers should have multiple pairs of socks to avoid wearing damp or sweaty socks for too long.

Darn tough or smart wool socks are both amazing options. Darn tough socks dry fast and are made of high quality merino wool.

Smartwool is also a great option, they have some merino wool socks and some with a high synthetic content, which is good for moisture wicking.

Be sure to grab some warm socks in fun colors for your kids!

Boots (with liners)

If you’re camping with kids in cold weather or snow, you’ll need a great pair of winter boots. Our favorite hack is to get boots with removable liners and then wear the liners while sleeping.

This way you won’t have to put on freezing cold boots in the morning, the liners will be prewarmed while you sleep!

For younger kids you’ll also want a good pair of gaiters or some other kind of boot cover to keep snow out. Winter boots are made with waterproof materials, but they aren’t immune from snow coming up over the top of them.

Winter Camping Activities

There are less activities to do while winter camping with kids, so you need to be a little creative and think outside of the box. A lot of activities that can be enjoyed in the summer will work in the winter as well, some just need a little tweaking!

Ice Fishing

If it’s cold enough where you live, ice fishing is a fun way to spend an afternoon while winter camping. You can use special ice fishing tents or just sit on a bucket near a hole in the ice.

Stomp Rockets

Stomp rockets can be used in any season and Tiny Critter had amazing fun playing with his on a frozen lake while ice fishing. Around here there are less leaves on trees as well, so you’re less likely to get one of these stuck somewhere you can’t get it back.

Stomp Air Rockets
$24.99


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Story Telling

Gathering around the campfire and telling your favorite stories is so much fun. Winter camping is all about making memories, and story telling is a great way to do that.

Reading

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
A great book to read while winter camping

Curling up in your sleeping bag with a good book is a great way to end the day while winter camping. Pick a book the whole family can enjoy and read it out loud at bedtime. Books about snow are always fun to read, like The Snowy Day or The Hat.

Snow Fort Building

If you’re lucky enough to have snow where you’re camping, then building a snow fort is the best kind of winter fun.

snow fort building while camping

You can even try to build a wind break for your sitting area or have a snow sculpture contest! Playing in the snow is the best!

Read 17 more Winter Camping Activities –>

Frequently Asked Questions:


Winter camping with your kids is an amazing experience for the whole family, and it’s so much fun to do together. Remember to wear layers of clothing that are appropriate for cold and possibly wet weather conditions.

For all activities involving snow (like snowball fights), make sure you have gaiters or boot covers to keep snow off your feet. Winter camping is a great way to build memories with your kids, if you make sure you’ve got the right gear.

Stay warm and go scurry around!

Happy Camping!

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