Brave the Elements With These Cold Weather Camping Tips

January 25, 2016
This is a special guest post from James and Rachel who have been on the road for three years and have become experts in car camping no matter the season. Follow their journey at
Life On The Road

Three years ago, we quit our jobs, gave away our stuff, and moved into Sunshine, our 1976 VW Bus. We wanted to simplify. We wanted peace. We wanted to spend our days outside, in the warmth of the sun, in places that still tremble with wildlife and boast unpolluted views of the Milky Way. We couldn’t do that in the city. So we hit the road and made its remote destinations our full-time home.

Living Simply

We base our journey around wild, undeveloped tracts of land. Each night, we camp in new and unknown places, under a wide sky.

We fund our travels doing farm work, picking peaches, harvesting grapes, and planting kale. It’s rewarding work that connects us directly to the food we eat. Between farm stints, we explore wilderness areas, hiking, watching wildlife, and identifying native plants.

Out here, on the road and off the grid, we’ve found a less civilized and more primitive existence. Living without running water, or grid-based electricity, we have greatly simplified our lives. We’ve learned that we can enjoy a great quality of life without the many possessions society deems necessary.

Whittling our material possessions down to what fits in the bus, it becomes increasingly important to carefully curate our belongings. A Biolite CampStove is one of our must-carry items, because it connects us closer to the land. It is unspeakably gratifying to harvest fallen wood from the forest floor for fuel to cook dinner. Even better, the same wood can simultaneously charge our phones and electronics. Because of BioLite, we are one step closer to achieving our dreams of a sustainable life off the grid.

Off-Season = Best Season

Living on the road, our travels don’t stop with the end of summer. We used to be true snowbirds, fleeing snow and evading below-freezing evenings. Sharing 80 square feet can be tough, especially when days are short and we spend more time inside our tiny home on wheels. But the hardships we endure are well worth it, because they also deliver mountain top highs.

We’ve learned to stay north as the first snowstorms settle in. Avoiding an entire season, we missed an entire side of the natural world. We must experience the extremes of nature in order to live a life that’s fully alive.

Let our experiences be a lesson: cold, short days shouldn’t prevent you from getting out to explore! Winter is a great season for trekking into the snowy outdoors. These long months offer unmatched beauty and solitude. Often, we find ourselves wonderfully alone in destinations that are packed throughout the summer.

Even if we don’t spend the entire winter season in powder, we make sure to slot ourselves into a few snow storms. Waking to a white world is an unmatched road trip experience. 

The Sountern Rockies: A Winter Wonderland

The Southern Rockies are our top destination for winter travel. Remote dirt roads, towering fourteeners, and sweeping mesas offer diversity and solitude, especially off-season. We can spend weeks in a 40-mile radius and never grow bored.

We welcomed the winter season in the foothills of Durango, Colorado and wound our way south to Santa Fe, New Mexico. We got caught in a snowstorm the San Juan Mountains, and barely made it down the slick road.  We stood in still silence as elk pranced across the sagebrush mesas near Taos, their footprints the only sound in the universe. We watched parts of ourselves drift through the rapids of the majestic, stately Rio Grande.

Our favorite detour on our southbound route was The Rio Grande del Norte Monument, our country’s newest Park addition. These 250,000 acres were constitutionally preserved in 2013 to protect the rare, high-desert mesa. Junipers, pinion trees, and sagebrush span broad vistas that reminded us how small and insignificant we really are.

For great views of the Taos plateau, check out the Guadalupe Trail in the Wild Rivers section, a four mile roundtrip hike that’ll warm you up on chilly day. For nighttime accommodations, the primitive campgrounds are a steal! At $7 a night, we had the entire place to ourselves, under the bright diamonds of Orion’s Belt.

A Happy Camper Is A Toasty Campter

Don’t be scared to venture out in cold weather! With some tricks and good packing, you can keep toasty warm and safe, even when temperatures plummet into the single digits.

Here are our top tips for winter car camping:

  • Bundle up Smart. Having the right gear makes winter life so much simpler. Hydroflask bottles keep our beverages hot for hours, so we’re always sipping on warming drinks. Muck Boots are hands down our favorite winter boot. Waterproof and rugged, they get us through single digit days with toasty toes. A good sock wicks moisture, keeping your feet dry and morale high.
  • Keep active during the day. Plan activities that get your body moving; the best natural heater is physical activity. Take a snowy hike. Instigate a snowball fight. Dance. You’ll discover that cold dissipates in the face of pumping blood.
  • Avoid driving at night Curvy back roads become treacherous when melted snow ices at dusk. Limit travel on snowy roads to daylight hours, and drive with care!
  • Sleep in your vehicle. In the winter, we don’t pop our canvas top at night. The insulation of your car will maintain a warm ambient temperature, so all you need is a zero degree sleeping bag to stay toasty.
  • Keep on the Sunny Side. When choosing a spot to park it for the night, look for campsites with full exposure to early morning sun. You’ll enjoy the sun on your face as you prepare your morning brew.
  • Up Your Photography Game. Shooting photos in the snow is tricky. The white reflects sunlight, and creating a disaster out of your highlights. Mediate that issue by investing in a polarizing filter. The filter acts as sunglasses for your camera and transforms a daylight dilemma into a correctly exposed shot.
  • Barbecuing isn’t just a summertime activity! Grilling out is a perfect way to keep warm and enjoy views of the snowy forest. Pick up a bottle of locally grown and fermented New Mexican red wine to sip as you grill; it’ll warm you from the inside out.  A spicy Syrah pairs with grilled ribs perfectly. See below for one of our favorite recipes:
Recipe: New Mexico-style Baby Back Ribs with Green Chile BBQ Sauce


  • Grass-fed Baby Back Ribs
  • 3 cups Grass-fed Buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons thyme
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Homemade Green Chile BBQ Sauce

  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 1/3 cup Roasted Green Hatch Chiles
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 3 Teaspoons salt
  • Empty bottle

Combine ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for 20 minutes. Cool. Funnel into glass bottle and serve immediately. Enjoy with a campfire, a glass of red wine, and good company! 

The night before you grill, slice and remove the tough white membrane from your ribs. Rub the ribs (defrosted) with the salt and thyme. Brush on buttermilk and marinate in a pot or tupperware overnight. This tenderizes grass-fed beef to fall-off the bone status. This is a must, as ribs can be tough cooked over fire.

Heat your BioLite Portable Grill to a medium-high temperature. Stoke that fire! Place ribs on grill and cook 40 minutes on each side. Let the fire die a bit, and baste the ribs with a cup or so of your homemade BBQ sauce. Grill on low fire for another 30 minutes. Let sit 10 minutes and serve!

Hint: for super-spicy, warming ribs, slather more green chiles on top! You’ll be eating like a New Mexico native.