Cold Weather Camping Essentials

What do you want to do this weekend? We could binge watch something, or hit the sales, or… go camping in 28-degree weather!

Cold weather camping is a fact of life for anyone who likes sleeping outside in Oregon. Unless you only camp in August,* you are going to be out on some cold nights. These don’t always go well. My first two February camping trips were miserable, sleepless, ice-fests. A few years and a fierce devotion to a good base layer later, and I now get really excited about waking up in a snow covered tent.

Smith Rock, wearing a light dusting of snow.

The basics of keeping warm are the same found in the Cold Mom post. (Cold Mom Edition: The Art and Science of Keeping Warm) Start with a thin wicking layer to keep moisture away. Add a mid-layer to trap your body’s heat. Finish with a top layer to keep heat in and weather out.

I just want to do all that, and not look like the Michelin Man**. Totally doable, right?

Here’s what I pack for a cold weather camping trip:

• 1 sweatshirt

• 2 dry-fit long sleeved t-shirts

• 1 jacket with insulated core

Quilted through the chest, with stretchy arms, this Title Nine coat has been with me for 6 years and counting.

• 1 pair stretch climbing pants

• 1 pair of insulated leggings

• 1 pair fleece-lined joggers

• 1 down coat

This Stio coat is down filled and waterproof, which is a concept that every Oregonian understands but few coat-makers do.

• Smart wool long underwear top and bottom

• 1 pair tennis shoes, 1 pair warm ankle boots

These boots are easy to slip on and off while climbing in and out of a tent, plus they are cozy.

•Wool socks, wool hat, warm mittens

This list can be added to depending on the length of time you’ll be out, but for our standard weekend trip, it works just fine. Read on for tips on combining these pieces over a weekend.

Ready to go!

Daytime: Hiking, climbing, etc

On my most recent trip, day one saw my Prana Kara jeans, a long-sleeve t-shirt and a wind-resistant jacket with a quilted core. This is a standard Smith Rock ensemble for me. It keeps my core warm but my arms and legs free to hike, scramble, gesticulate wildly as I remarked on the beauty around me.

Day two, when there was actual snow on the ground, I wore insulated tights, a long sleeve t-shirt, sweatshirt and my down jacket. The jacket came on and off with regularity, but I was really glad to have it with me.

Because the days are active, and a little warmer, I don’t include a base layer on my legs.

Margaret and I agree that Misery Ridge is a lot less miserable when it’s not 90-degrees out.

Evening/nighttime/morning: Eating, reading, talking, sleeping

There are no fires allowed at the Smith Rock bivy campground, so once the sun goes down and I become significantly less active, I need my clothes to do the work of keeping me warm. When I finish up my physical activity for the day, I put on my smart wool base layer immediately. Over that I wear lined joggers and a warm sweatshirt. As it gets colder, I add mittens, a hat and finally my down jacket. To go to sleep I strip back down to the base layer and let my amazing sleeping bag trap my body heat for the night.

Base layers do not make great blog photos, but in all other ways they are completely awesome. This is largely Smartwool, and some Northface mittens.
Secondary layers are similarly un-glamourous. Unless you wear them with heals.


As with your workout wardrobe, (Your Workout Wardrobe) it makes sense to keep your cold-weather camping gear down to a few basic colors, and find things that coordinate as needed. Because my coat is black and bright pink, I limit my wardrobe to cool colors. Sticking with black and saturated jewel tones is pretty easy, then I sneak in some grey and olive where it works.

And yes, my orange backpack counts as a jewel tone. I’m sure there are plenty or orange jewels. I just forgot their names.

What I don’t pack

For cold weather camping, I don’t tend to take a puffer vest. Readers of this blog know of my deep and undying love for a down filled vest, but I find they are more useful when it’s kind of cold, as opposed to really cold. The same goes for plaid flannel. Most flannel is cotton, and therefore given to holding on to moisture. While it may look great sitting around the bivy, unless it’s wicking or waterproof, it’s not real practical in the wintertime.

I’m saving you for a cool evening in July, when I know there will be a camp fire.

My favorite thing about these cold weather camping basics is that they open doors for adventure that were previously closed. With very little thought on my part I can head out with my family and rely on these pieces to keep me warm, dry and up for anything.

It was so beautiful!

Do you have favorite pieces for cold weather camping? Let me know in the comments below.


Margaret gives cold weather camping the thumbs up.

* And there is nothing wrong with only camping in August.

** Did you know the Michelin man is named Bibendum? It’s true. Plus he’s super old, born in 1894.

The Art of Schlepping

Love running out the front door with your arms full of 60 million* different things that you inevitably drop or lose? Me neither.

Whether or not I need my wallet/phone/bike helmet/change of clothes/climbing shoes/ cup of coffee / the book I’m reading/sunglasses/snacks is up for debate, but so long as I’m carrying it all, I may as well be thoughtful about what I’m carrying it in.

For years I made do with a bag for work and my son’s old Lands End backpack that he’d outgrown in the 2nd grade. Finally, after a lot of thought, some trial and spectacular error, I have a schlepping system. Here are the tools I use:


The backpack truly is the secret weapon of busy women. Free your arms from the tyranny of bags and just say no to juggling! From a sporty pack to a hip, versatile knapsack to a sleek leather case, you can bring everything you need and have a place to stash your sweater when it gets too hot. A great backpack is my go-to bag of choice.

This is my go-to pack, from Patagonia
Kate Spade makes an elegant leather backpack.
Something like this would be perfect for travel. Just imagine you, and this bag, traveling together on a train through the south of France…

Cross-Body Bag

Those of you who have followed this blog for sometime know my feelings about the glory that is a cross-body bag. There is no slipping of purse straps off my shoulders, no shifting of handles from hand to hand as I deal with my coffee, phone and life. Plus I just love the way a cross body bag looks. It says, “I’m grown up enough to own a nice bag, but that won’t stop me from breaking out into a dance should the occasion** arise.”

I love my Patricia Nash cross-body bag.
I also love my other Patricia Nash bag, which enjoys snuggling up to my boots.
Some more Patricia Nash, just in case you were worried she didn’t have a bag with coins running down the side…

Activity Bag

When I was growing up, my mom had what we called the string bag, a generous bucket of storage made of natural fibers that she used for every fun outing. The beach, the mountains, the park, the pool: when the string bag was packed up and waiting in the hall, it meant we were about to do something fun.

Your activity bag should be something you don’t mind getting dirty but still be respectable. It should look like you on the 5th day of vacation, relaxed, a little messy, and ready for anything.

This Hat Attack bag is relaxed and classic.
Another Hat Attack bag. I’m pretty sure snacks taste better coming out of a bag like this.
OK, I need to find a way out of the black hole that is googling images of raffia bags…

Evening Clutch

There are, of course, some situations in which you really can’t tote a backpack or string bag. For more elegant situations, a simple envelope clutch that is small enough to rest on a table next to you, or easily in your lap, is good to have. Or, my sister has a slim little case that carries her phone and credit cards that she can wear on her wrist. Perfect.

Summer wedding?

Any given Saturday evening.



Two things to consider when choosing a bag or backpack:

Compartments or no?

Some of you love having a million little compartments in your bag or pack to tuck specific little items into. Others like to drop things into a deep well of space and sort it out when you get to where you’re going. You bag is basically your desk on the go, and you know how much organization you need, or how little you can tolerate. Your stand on bag compartments is one of those important questions in life that you need to answer.*** Leave your strong opinions about this in the comments.

Eye Candy or Camouflage?

I have owned some wildly bright and fun totes in my life. Right now most of my bags are in subdued browns and navies that coordinate with my shoes. A mix of the two would probably be the most sensible, but you should grab the bag that calls your name.

While most of my bags are pretty mild, the notable exception is my bright orange climbing bag. I never get it mixed up with anyone else’s bag, and it alerts everyone to my presence. Where are we climbing this weekend? Just look for the bag…

Hey, is Anna here? Yep.

Mud and Grace readers have a lot going on. Some of us carry the weight of the world; others of us just show up with the snacks. Whatever your load, take time to organize the gear you need to run your life in a great looking bag. Then head out for your adventures without a second thought to all you carry.


* rough estimate

** Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go comes on

***Will you have children? What are your political beliefs? Where do you want to live? Do you want a compartmentalized bag or the freedom of a big open tote?