14 Terrific Tips For Camping In Winter – With Kids!

a girl dressed warmly for winter reading a map outside a tent- winter camping with kids

Camping and outdoor kids’ adventures in colder temperatures

We have the luxury that winter is our peak season for desert camping adventures here in the UAE, where we live. Nights can be chilly, but it’s still sand beneath our toes and stars above our heads, not ice, snow, or mud beneath our boots while sheltering from the rain!

How on earth is it possible to camp in cold, even icy, conditions?

I’ve turned again to my outdoor expert and friend, Shelley, for some handy tips we can share with you on the best way to tackle cold weather camping with the kids. We share with you today her top 12 tips for not just surviving but enjoying a winter camping trip.

This post is part of our outdoor adventures series

Camping during the winter months will allow your family to extend the camping season and explore the wilderness with fewer crowds and more space around you. Understanding winter camping with kids’ unique challenges and taking the time to plan and prepare will make the experience enjoyable and safe so everyone can have a good time, even in the colder months.

14 Tips To Survive Winter Camping With Kids

Winter camping with kids can be so much fun, but the number one worry that we always have as parents is how do you keep your kids warm while camping?

Below are tips on how to have fun and stay cosy winter camping with your tots. If you have already taken your little one camping during the summer, you can win this, too. But first, ensure that your little ones enjoy the outdoors and you have a battle plan ready for cold nights.

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#1. Check the Weather

The most important thing about successful winter camping trips is to check the weather forecast before you go. There is being hardy and resistant to winter weather, and then there’s just being plain foolish. If high winds, torrential rain, freezing temperatures or thunderstorms are forecast, it is time to reconsider your winter camping plans.

If you do decide to go ahead, winter campers should always have a backup plan. If winds or rain really pick up overnight, can you easily decamp to your car temporarily or head somewhere safe and dry nearby?

And check that the campsite you have in mind is open during the coldest months. Many national parks and state parks will restrict tent camping areas in winter; look for those campgrounds advertised as open year-round.

a family having a picnic behind their car in the snow

#2. Prepare Beforehand For Winter Camping

When organising a family camping trip, there is no better way to ensure everyone has fun than planning for different eventualities. Preparing ahead of time for camping during winter entails having enough food, the correct clothing, and the right gear.

While still prepping for real winter camping for the first time, you can have a test run by camping in your backyard during the winter season. The test run will also help you test your camping gear beforehand.

Basic things that you should pack when winter camping with kids:

  • Water: you should carry plenty of clean drinking water (i.e. at least two gallons of water per person). But before packing your water, you can confirm whether your camping ground has clean water available (some campsites only have potable water in the summer months).
  • Food: you already know far too well that you have cranky tots without food. Deal with the crankiness by ensuring you have enough food and snacks to indulge in during the camp. Remember, body heat is produced frequently during cold temperatures, and we need healthy snacks to replenish the energy used. Go large on the snacks! It also helped to have some pre-made camping meals ready to go straight on the stove or campfire.
  • Firestarter: The chances of the whole family freezing on camp are real without firestarters! Lighters or matches will do as we all want to return home safely. And don’t forget a supply of dry firewood.
  • Beddings: quality winter sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and sleeping bag liners rated for the temperatures you are camping in will help you and your kids keep warm during the looong night.
  • Shelter: ensure that you invest in high-quality weather-proof tents that can handle the cold, and do not forget rainfly.
  • Kids: It’s all about them!
  • First Aid Kit: Keeping our little ones from injuries is next to mission impossible. The first aid kit can come in handy.

We will be diving into each of these elements in a bit more detail below.

#3. Invest In Quality Waterproof Tents

When we talk of a ‘winter tent’, we mean a four-season tent, single or double wall. But since we majorly want to ensure that our young ones have a blast, we should probably work with the double-walled waterproof tent as it is warmer compared to the single-walled ones.

Here is what to look for when investing in a quality tent for your winter camping with kids:

  • The tent should be large enough to accommodate your whole family. And because we all know how sleeping with young children is, a tent with separate sleeping quarters will be best.
  • A vestibule: It will help in leaving the wet gear, like boots, out of the sleeping area. This will mean that your sleeping area is free of snow, and your shoes are also safe from the elements.
  • Double-layered tent: Since a double-layered tent is warmer than a single-layered one, it’s ideal. A double-layered tent will have an inner tent and an outer rainfly, which provides additional protection from the elements camping in the rain.
Coleman WeatherMaster 10-Person Camping Tent, Large Weatherproof Family Tent with Room Divider and Included Rainfly, Strong Frame can Withstand Winds up to 35MPH
Wenzel Klondike 8 Person Water Resistant Tent with Convertible Screen Room for Family Camping
Coleman 6-Person Dome Tent with Screen Room | Evanston Camping Tent with Screened-In Porch

#4. Invest in Quality Sleeping Bags & Sleeping Pads

After we have a good 4-season tent, we next need to consider how to insulate it from the ground. Sleeping on the floor of the tent with your tots will not only be uncomfortable but will also be a risk of losing body heat (which is crucial to maintain during the winter months)

The first thing you’ll need is a good inflatable sleeping pad with a high R-value (that’s its resistance to heat loss). Whilst a sleeping pad with an R-value of 2-4 is fine for summer camping, for winter camping, you want to find a sleeping pad rated 4-6.

You can combine two summer sleeping pads to achieve this or use a closed-cell foam pad first, then an air-filled sleeping pad on top. You can also opt to layer some extra blankets under your sleeping area. Remember to take a handful of blankets when packing the right gear for cold-weather camping.

The next essential layer is choosing the right sleeping bags for winter camping. This involves checking the temperature rating; look for sleeping bags described as 3-season (covers you up to cold nights +15° to +30°) or 4-season (+15° and lower; covered frost and even snow).

REI has excellent advice on how to choose the best winter sleeping bags – my kid’s favourite the last few years has been the Kindercone.

Using a sleeping bag liner will help keep everyone warm during the night; they are lightweight to pack and easy to slip into sleeping bags. This will help as the insulation in a sleeping bag does not do as much when squished flat under the weight of your tot’s body (or yours ).

WANNTS Sleepin Pad Ultralight Inflatable Sleeping Pad for Camping, 75''X25'', Built-in Pump, Ultimate for Camping, Hiking - Airpad, Carry Bag, Repair Kit - Compact & Lightweight Air Mattress(Green)
OSAGE RIVER Sleeping Bag Liner, Microfiber Fleece Travel Sheet Sleep Sack for Camping Travel Backpacking, Lightweight Zippered Sleeping Bag Inner Liner, Adults & Kids, Grey
Oceas Sherpa Waterproof Camping Blanket - Extra Warm and Large Sherpa Fleece Outdoor Blanket for Car, Boat, Concert, & Picnic Use - Machine Washable and Windproof Camping Blankets for Cold Weather

Got a little tot? They can get lost inside a full-sized sleeping bag; these are the best sleeping bags for toddlers, ideally sized for their little bodies.

#5. Always Cloth The Kids In Layers

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” – Alfred Wainwright

If space is not an issue when packing for your winter camping, then you can never overpack when it comes to extra clothes for kids in colder weather. You would rather bring clothing that doesn’t end up getting used than not having enough, right?

Having the RIGHT clothes and layering is essential when it comes to dressing for cold winter temperatures. Avoid synthetic materials that are poor temperature regulators. It’s also wise to steer clear of cotton clothes during winter as they readily absorb moisture.

Anything worn directly on the skin is best made from moisture-wicking materials such as merino wool, elastane and polyester. To ensure you do not forget a vital layer when packing, here is a list that will help you:

  • Warm socks
  • Winter jackets
  • Warm boots/snow boots
  • Long thermal underwear
  • Warm gloves (You can also opt for hand warmers)
  • Warm hoodie
  • Warm hat
  • Warm PJs

The same way you dress your little ones during the day, you can also dress them at night (replacing a waterproof external jacket with a warm pullover or jumper); it’s essential to consider that nighttime temperatures could reach below freezing.

parents and a sun wearing warm layers of clothing around a campfire

#6. Keep Them Dry

During the chilly, colder months, you do not want to mix cold and wet as it is a miserable combo, especially when spending time outdoors. Use a vestibule to ensure you do not get any snow in the tent, especially in the sleeping area.

And because being out in colder temperatures will not allow you to hang things out to dry if your kiddos get themselves wet, you should change them out for dry items—the more reason you must be prepared with plenty of extra dry things.

While this might be counterintuitive, do not layer your kid too much so they start sweating. This sweat can rapidly cool them down as their body temperature cools. It is, therefore, wiser to opt for layers you can easily get on and off.

Remind them to also sleep with their heads out of their sleeping bags. Sleeping with their heads out of their sleeping bags is safer and will also help not trap vapour from their breath, cooling them down.

And use camping chairs! Camp chairs will prevent the need for sitting on damp surfaces and can make a huge difference to their comfort if they have a dry tush!

Disney Raya Camp Chair for Kids, Portable Camping Fold N Go Chair with Carry Bag
Baby Delight Go with Me Venture Portable Chair | Indoor and Outdoor | Sun Canopy | 3 Child Growth Stages | Grey
Melissa & Doug Sunny Patch Giddy Buggy Folding Lawn and Camping Chair

#7. Keep Things Well Lit

Kids can get scared of the dark during your camping trip. It’s normal. But to make sure that this fear does not become a nightmare, make sure that you have some bright lights that they can also wear as headlamps.

This way, whenever they feel fear creeping in, or there is a need to relieve themselves, they can always light it on. Alternatively, you can also have a string of LED lights, which will be great for a nightlight in the tent.

Also, do not forget that the days are shorter in the winter months, meaning that for the nights not to seem long, you need to stay for several hours in the dark before bedtime. We like to use glow-in-the-dark bands on our kids so they are easier to spot in the twilight.

LUX-PRO - Tactical LED Multi Mode Handheld Flashlight, Maximum Brightness, LP395 Gels Glow-in-the-dark 9 LED Flashlight - PINK,PURPLE & BLUE
BLITZU Led Headlamps for Camper, Kids, Family, Adults. Headlights, Headband Flashlights, Led Head Lights, Head Lamp, Camping Essentials Gear Clearance, Purple
Enbrighten Mini Lantern, Battery Powered, Color Changing, LED Lamp for Bedroom, 400 Lumens, 160 Hour Runtime, Night Light, Kids Lantern, 4 Lighting Modes, Perfect for Camping, Bedroom, and More, 61745

#8. Have a Decent Campfire

Whether you choose to have a DIY fire starter or a more modern high-tech option, the fact remains that you can not camp in the winter without a campfire. If it’s wet underfoot, you may need to bring in your own dry firewood.

When making the campfire, remember to wear and clothe your kids in clothes that will be okay if you get some burn holes. This is because sparks from the fire can create tiny holes, destroying the winter clothes.

A campfire is essential and amazing as it helps create memories for your little ones. You can decide to chill and snuggle by the fire, burn marshmallows, or have some campfire songs. And don’t forget the S’mores!

#9. Stay Hydrated

Hydration can not be emphasized enough, especially with your active little ones. Even when winter camping, you need to ensure that everyone is staying well hydrated – often forgotten when its cold.

Hydrating during winter is important, especially if your little ones are all over. Remember that you have clothed them in layers, and all the activities will make them sweat, which might lead to dehydration if they have not had enough water.

small girl holding a water bottle and wrapped in warm clothing out camping

Does taking hot chocolate count? Well, if you say so! You should also give your toddler a warm drink at bedtime. Taking warm drinks will help calm them and warm them up from the inside out.

Remember to go slow on the sugars, though, if you are looking forward to quality sleep, and help them with that one last pee before they climb into the tent – it’s tough work under all those layers!

#10. Keep Your Little Ones Busy

Remember, the whole experience of camping in winter is not a test of your resilience; it’s about to experiencing outdoor activities together. We want our kids to know that we can appreciate nature, whatever the weather, but don’t just expect to turn up and have them magically entertain themselves.

A great way to ensure they’re not cold and bored is to pre-plan your winter camping activities that will keep your younger kids moving and entertained, or all they will be thinking about will be the cold. Literally!

Hiking with kids is the most obvious way to keep them warm and active in the winter weather. You could combine this with a winter nature scavenger hunt to use on the trails and around camp.

Will there be snow in your camping area? Simple activities can involve making snow angels and building a snowman. If you want to up your game, bring the right tools for making snow forts and igloos. Don’t forget toboggans for snow sledding!

kids playing in the snow

Many kid’s camping toys will also work great in the winter months. Think walkie-talkies, binoculars, fun ball games, cornhole and frisbee sets (anything glow in the dark, even better!)

#11. Pack Plenty Of Winter Camping Food

While cooking outdoors during summer camps can be sooo much fun, winter camp cooking and eating is a different ball game. It comes down to eating simple. Think of foods you and your family can eat comfortably without taking off your mittens.

You can also opt to carry freeze-dried house meals; fulfilling and energizing snacks should also be included. By planning ahead of time, you can also carry along your good camp stove or dutch oven to ensure that hot chocolate does not run out.

We have a great selection of “ready to heat” camping meals over here, perfect for those winter camping trips with minimum fuss

#12. Make Up Hot Water Bottles

Camping with toddlers in cold weather makes hot water bottles a necessity. To avoid accidents that the hot water bottle poses, you should use mini hot water bottles with covers that cover the opening completely. Do not choose a hot water bottle that is too small, as it will not retain heat for long.

Place the hot water bottle with hot water in your kiddo’s sleeping bags about 15 minutes before they retire for the night. This will ensure that their sleeping bag is cosy by the time they get to bed.

While getting the right temperature might take some time, you can also let your kids guide you. But always monitor your little ones’ heat levels so they do not get too hot and sweat.

HomeTop Premium Classic Rubber Hot and Cold Water Bottle with Cute Stuffed Triceratops Cover (2L, Purple)
CHDN Rubber Hot Water Bottles Pain Relief with Cute Faux Fur Cover
Qomfor Hot Water Bottle with Soft Cover - 1.8L Large - Classic Hot Water Bag for Pain Relief, Neck and Shoulders, Feet Warmer, Menstrual Cramps, Hot and Cold Therapy - Great Gift for Girls - Pink

#13. Let People Know Where You Are Heading And When You Will Be Back

When you decide to go winter camping with kids, it is always advisable that you let people know where you are going. This is important because time will be of great essence if things ever go south.

And also, most probably, you might be out of your phone network, and you do not want people to worry for no reason if they can not reach you.

#14. Know When to Call It a Day

Back to my initial point on checking that weather conditions are conducive for a camping trip, our kids don’t come with such a handy built-in barometer and forecasting function.

Things can and do go wrong out on camping trips. Kids’ moods – especially our younger tots – can be hard to predict and can make or break our enjoyment. The key to any family camping trip is knowing when to call it a day.

We can battle through the cries of “I’m bored“, and ‘I’m cold“, but if it truly becomes a miserable experience for you all and you’ve played all your cards in keeping them entertained, layered, warm and well-fed, set a point where you may be better packing up then bearing through.

If you don’t think your clan is quite ready to tent camp in the coldest months, why not reach a happy medium and opt for caravan camping or a glamping experience instead? Tent camping with kids can be challenging at the best of times, so do ease yourselves in gently and be kind to yourself if things don’t go exactly to plan.

Undoubtedly, though, winter camping can lead to some magical memories.

A family camping in a tent in the snow

With thanks again to Shelley for sharing her outdoor adventure hacks. You can also read her advice on the best hiking gear for hitting the trails with family and tips for making hiking fun for small kids.


More Winter Travel Inspiration

Resisting that urge to crawl under the blankets for a few months, here are some more fabulous ideas to get the family out and about and still exploring in the northern hemisphere winter months:


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A family sitting around a camp fire captioned Winter Camping Trip Tips with Kids

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