Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
Winter Camp 101

If you’re a summer camp enthusiast, you might want to test your skills in a different season. Winter in our parks is a beautiful time. It is calm and still. The air is clean. And everything is covered in fresh snow.

Here are some tips for a safe and fun winter camping experience…

Types of winter camping

There are three options for winter camping: “cold camping,” “warm tent,” or building a “quinzhee” (also known as a snow shelter).

We will mainly talk about cold camping, since it is the most accessible method.

large tentcold tent

cold camping It means there is no heat source in your tent. With the right equipment you won’t be cold!

A four-season tent for cold camping has less protection than a summer tent.

hot tent It involves a specially designed tent and a wood stove. It’s by far the most convenient method because you can heat your tent and dry your gear, but it can be expensive to get started.

Building a quinzhee It gives you a nice, secluded place to sleep, but it’s time-consuming and there are a few tricks you need to learn first. Also, some people don’t like closed spaces.

Be prepared and know your skill level.

Camping in winter is much more challenging than summer, so it is best to go with one or more experienced people.

The trick to winter camping is to stay dry and never sweat.

people throwing equipment

Not only do you need the right gear, but you’ll also need to keep your wits about you to stay warm, dry and comfortable instead of cold, wet and miserable.

Hypothermia is a real risk and can be fatal.

A good place to start is your own patio or balcony. Set up your tent and spend the night outside to check if your sleeping bag and mattress are warm enough. Leave your stove outside overnight to see how well it performs in freezing conditions.

Next, try camping in one of the provincial parks that are open to vehicle camping during the winter.

You’ll be able to practice your skills and test your equipment with the safety of your vehicle as a warming shelter if something goes wrong.

You can also take a winter camping workshop to learn the basics, including trip planning, equipment details, and safety.

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Some of the parks offer workshops, including Frontenac Provincial Park, which also offers an evening out so you can practice the skills you learned in the workshop.

Note: Park events are currently unavailable.

Pack the right equipment

Ready to go camping in the cold? You will need (at a minimum):

  • a four season tent
  • a sleeping bag (with a minimum temperature of -15°C)
  • a mattress or mat (remember: this is what protects you from the frozen ground)
  • a kitchen stove
  • first aid kit

Make sure they are all in good working order before you leave the house.

Some stoves do not work well in cold temperatures; Try yours at home to see if there are any problems. Never use your stove inside your tent (carbon monoxide kills!).

You will also need a waterproof backpack to store:

  • food
  • Cookware
  • plastic cup
  • spoon and bowl
  • toiletries
  • headlamp or flashlight and batteries
  • pocket knife
  • matches and candle
  • clothes

Staying dry is key to staying warm, so bring clothing that can be layered. You will need a good base layer (bottom and top of long johns). While synthetic materials are good, most seasoned winter campers end up using merino wool because it’s soft, warm, keeps you dry, and doesn’t absorb odors.

snowshoe people

You’ll also need good wool socks and insulating layers of different thicknesses for different activity levels (think tights, wool jackets or sweaters, and a down coat).

The most important thing is to wear a waterproof and windproof outer layer to protect yourself from the elements.

If you snowshoe or cross-country ski, you will generate a lot of heat and can shed layers. If you’re sitting around a campfire at night, you’ll want insulated snow pants and a winter coat.

Cotton is definitely a no-no in winter. Wet cotton will absorb heat and can cause hypothermia. Don’t forget your hat and a pair of dry gloves!

Get ready for short days and long nights. You’ll want to be set up at your campsite long before dark.


If you’re going to have a campfire, you probably don’t want your new coat and snow pants to have a lot of spark holes. Bring an old pair to sit around the fire.

mother putting gloves on child

Use caution when drying or thawing gloves and equipment near fire. All winter campers have stories of large pieces of equipment that they accidentally burned or melted in the fire.

Keep your equipment contained. Nothing like a pile of snow to hide all the stuff you left scattered around your campsite. That’s one hide-and-seek game you don’t want to play.

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An insulating pad or blanket will make your garden chair much more comfortable.

Plan your trip

Not all parks are open for winter camping; Check out our park locator or our winter camping page to make sure your favorite park is ready for winter.

couple with map

Check the weather. If it’s going to be 0ºC and rain, don’t go. Winter camping is best when the temperature is below freezing and the snow is dry.

And again: know your skill level. Plan a trip that is safe and within your limits, especially if you are new to winter camping.

Create your menu

You’ll burn calories snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or walking through snow-covered terrain, so it’s very important to bring plenty of food that you can reheat quickly.

Stews, soups, macaroni and cheese, empanadas, and meatloaf are delicious options. Bring snacks like granola bars and bring lots of hot chocolate!

winter menu

Don’t forget to stay hydrated. Check what water fountains are available in your park.

Some parks may have running water at their winterized comfort station.

In other parks, you’ll have to melt snow over your stove or fire and pour it into your (reusable) water bottle or thermos. The snow should be fresh and boil for at least a minute before consuming.

When you arrive, register at the Park Office.

Please introduce yourself to staff and pick up your camping permits.

park office registration

This is also a good time to get the inside scoop on what trails/tracks are open, where to spot winter wildlife, and if any winter programs are running.

Play smart

Arrive with enough time to find your site and set it up while it’s still light.

light in the store at night

During your stay

Put the clothes you are going to wear the next day in your sleeping bag and get dressed under the covers.

When you leave in the morning, make sure you have a detailed map of the park, a first aid kit, waterproof matches, an extra sweater, a windproof outer layer, gloves, hats, socks, a flashlight, fluids, and high-powered goggles. . energy snacks.

Don’t forget your phone and trail map! The cold drains batteries more quickly.

You don’t want to be stuck without a map in the middle of your hike or snowshoe, so always carry a physical map if you’re heading to a less accessible part of the park.

family in front of the tree

Enjoy a few days of peace and adventure in one of our beautiful winter parks.

Let park staff (and your friend or family member) know you are heading home.

Do an equipment check when you get home.

Make sure everything is dry and working before you put it away so it’s ready for your next adventure!

Ready for the challenge? Come out and enjoy one of our parks this winter!

Not sure you’re ready for winter camping? Try a winter glamping trip in a yurt or cabin, or plan some fun day trips.