How to Overland During Winter: Keeping Warm

Photo By: Photo by Kezadri Abdelhak on Unsplash

How to overland during winter: Stay warm.

Not surprisingly, staying warm is the name of the game when it comes to overlanding during winter. As a person who overlands and camps year-round, I’ve come to rely on a handful of habits and pieces of gear to ensure that I remain comfortable (i.e. warm) during my winter excursions. By no means should my recommendations be taken as the final word on the subject of winter overlanding, though. Rather take my lessons and preferences as recommendations and jumping-off points for your own experiences.

With that caveat in mind, let’s break down the best ways to stay warm overlanding during winter.

Fire

Again, this should come as no surprise to no one. But having a fire will be your best bet to not just surviving but enjoying winter overlanding. And there is a lot to enjoy about overlanding during the winter.

Snow Peak Pack and Carry Fireplace | Photo by Snow Peak

Despite the challenges it poses, I love winter overlanding because of the solitude. There are a fraction of the number of overlanders out during the winter months than there are during summer. That means you’ll have the best tracks mostly to yourself.

What’s more, cold, wet weather means there are no restrictions on fire. So you can make a roaring fire every night at camp without much worry of starting a wildfire. That said, if there’s not an established fire ring at your campsite and the ground is too frozen to dig in, you may want to bring a portable fire pit like this one from Snowpeak.

Actual heaters

Since it’s not advisable to carry fire into your tent, you may desire a way to create more heat inside your tent or off-road trailer than your body heat trapped inside a zero-degree bag. In that case, you’ll want to look at a gas-powered heater.

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Before I recommend in-tent heaters, please know that unsafe use of a gas-powered heater can be deadly. From fire risk to carbon monoxide poisoning, there are real dangers in using an in-tent heater. Be very careful and these can make winter camping great. But if you’re not diligent, they can be a nightmare in the making. So, please use abundant caution if you decide to use an in-tent, gas-powered heater.

That said, I use the Mr. Heater Buddy as well as the KOVEA Cupid heater.

I run the propane-powered Buddy in my OZTENT, which is much larger than my rooftop tent. The Buddy is powerful enough to heat the large OZTENT while also giving me enough room to distance myself from the Buddy itself.

These heaters put off a lot of heat and can easily burn you and your belongings — believe me, I’ve singed a sleeping bag with a Buddy heater. So, in addition to ensuring you have a good, continual source of fresh air, you’ll also want to keep your distance.

I use the butane-burning Cupid in my rooftop tent. That’s because it’s much smaller and also puts off a lot less heat than the Buddy. The only issue with the Cupid is that it only lasts three to six hours. So, even on a short night, you’ll blow through a butane bottle before sunrise. If you’re OK waking up cold at 3 a.m., fiddling with the Cupid, and installing a second butane bottle, the Cupid is a great option for smaller tents.

Warm clothes

Dressing warmly for camping is different from dressing for skiing or another aerobic activity. That’s because when you’re at camp you’re mostly sedentary — that is after you’ve unpacked and chopped your firewood. That means you’ll want to dress warmly and then layer. Overdoing it with layers will never be a bad thing. Get too hot and pop a layer off. You’ll be far happier losing a layer because you’re too warm than wishing you had one or two more warm pieces of clothing.

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You can’t go wrong with a down-filled parka, like that from Patagonia. Set that as your top layer and add wool, fleece, and more down layers beneath it and you’ll be a literal happy camper.

Another great piece of winter overlanding kit is a set of down pants. Yeah, you may look like a dork. But, boy, will you be happy you popped these bad boys on. I used to mock my buddies when they’d arrive at camp in down pants in the winter. Then I’d singe my knees by the fire while they relaxed in warmth. I learned my lesson and joined the down-pants gang.

Hearty meals

Let’s say you get to camp late and in the dark, which isn’t difficult in the winter because the sun goes down at 4:30 p.m., and you need a hot, hearty meal to sustain you through the night. I recommend a high-calorie freeze-dried meal, like those from PEAK REFUEL.

PEAK REFUEL Sweet Pork and Rice | Photo by REI

Designed for backpackers, these meals pack 40 grams of protein per pouch and only require a bit of boiling water to be prepared. I personally recommend the Sweet Pork and Rice meal. It’s a little bit spicy, a little bit sweet, and all the way filling. They’re so good that sometimes I make them at home when I am feeling exceptionally lazy.

Keep moving

Last but not least, I recommend you keep moving to stay warm. It’s the oldest method for ensuring your core temperature stays up and extremities stay flush, too.

Cut firewood. Haul gear around. Walk the dog. Whatever you can come up with, generating your own heat is a great way to stay toasty.

If all else fails, get inside your truck and fire it up. But don’t make the mistake of wearing all your warm gear inside your warm truck. Your body will acclimate to the gear and then when you get back out of your truck in your gear you’ll be extra cold. Strip off your layers if you’re going to warm up in your truck. You’ll thank me later.

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