Welcome to our new series, Driver’s Shred, where we help Luno community members turn everyday cars, vans, and trucks into adventure mobiles. Each Driver’s Shred article will focus on tips, tricks, and gear recommendations that enable you to camp comfortably while crushing a specific sport or activity. Simply put, our mission is to help you camp, shred, and repeat. So grab your pens and pencils, because class is in session—and this time around, our focus is on skiing and snowboarding.
Many car campers hang it up as soon as the mercury drops, but not us. No sir. We love winter, especially when we’re car camping in ski resort parking lots, waking up to bottomless powder turns, and shredding all day long.
While winter conditions are certainly more logistically demanding than balmy summer weather, with a little prep work, you can turn your rig into a cozy, ski-in, ski-out cabin on wheels. In this edition of Driver’s Shred, we’ll help you camp comfortably and safely in your vehicle this winter, so you can post up at the resort, make yourself at home, and shred your brains out. Oh–and we’ll help you save a bunch of money, too.
Not convinced? Before we dive into our favorite cold-weather camping tips and tricks, here are five reasons we love car camping come winter.
5 Reasons To Car Camp In The Cold This Winter
- Proximity To Powder: Camping a snowball’s throw from the chairlift makes it easy to beat the crowds on a powder day. Just roll off your Luno Air Mattress, throw on your snow gear, and stake your claim in the lift line!
- Cost: Lodging is often the biggest cost of any ski trip, especially if you’re not paying for air travel, making cost one of the main reasons we love car camping on ski and snowboard trips.
- Adventure: The most memorable adventures are never the easiest. It’s good for you to try hard things every once in a while–it builds character!
- No More Mosquitos–Or Bears: Buzzing mosquitos and hungry bears are two nuisances car campers deal with during the summer that aren’t an issue in the winter. Leaving the DEET and bear spray at home is a treat!
- Quiet Campgrounds and Empty, Beautiful Parks: While many campgrounds are closed in the winter, those that remain open are usually uncrowded (ski resort parking lots aside). Also, popular national and state parks can be virtually empty, too, while the landscapes are especially striking under a blanket of freshly fallen snow.
Car Camping By the Numbers
As we mentioned above, cost is a big reason why we love car camping on ski trips–it cuts expenses by a mind-boggling margin. Check out this example below for a hypothetical three-day trip to Montana’s Whitefish Ski Resort. We break down the cost you can expect to pay as a first-time car camper versus the cost of a slopeside Airbnb.
Car Camping in the Whitefish Ski Resort Parking Lot
A Ski-In, Ski-Out Condo At The Base Of Whitefish
$25 per night x 3 = $75
$225 per night x 3 nights = $675
A Luno Air Mattress (If you don’t have one already!)
A cheap, warm sleeping bag like this one from Mountain Hardwear (no need for an ultralight, expensive one–this is car camping, not backpacking).
AirBnB service fee
Pre-Tax Total Cost
Pre-Tax Total Cost
Even if you’re buying a sleep setup from scratch, you’re still saving a significant chunk of change. If you already have a Luno Air Mattress and a warm sleeping bag, and all you’re paying for is the overnight parking fees, you’re paying 92.3% less than what the condo crowd is paying, saving $895 on a three-day trip. That’s enough to justify chili in a bread bowl for lunch AND a round of après beers for the whole bar at The Bierstube.
Okay–now that you’re properly convinced, here are a few tricks of the trade.
12 Tips For Your Next Winter Car Camping/Ski Trip
1. Do Your Research–And Make Reservations
Most successful road trips start with research, and that holds especially true in the winter. While finding overnight parking can be a breeze in the summer, it’s much trickier once snow cloaks the landscape and buries parking lots in powder. As such, it’s important you research the following:
- Does the resort you’re hoping to visit allow overnight parking?
- If so, do they accept reservations? If they do accept reservations, don’t sleep on it–reserve your spot ASAP.
- If not, research potential overnight parking nearby. It may be possible to camp for free on a plowed BLM road or a campground nearby.
Pro Tip: Keep an eye out for “No Parking” signs and plow schedules–you don’t want to be woken up by an angry plow driver!
2. Pack And Prep Smart
In the summer, you can often get away with forgetting a key piece of gear, but in the winter, the consequences of every mistake are multiplied. Here are a few pieces of gear we don’t like to camp without in the winter:
- Luno Air Mattress: Many ski resorts reserve overnight parking for self-contained vehicles. That means no tents are allowed. Luno Air Mattresses help car campers camouflage in with the RV crowd!
- Warm sleeping bag. We suggest a minimum of a 0-degree sleeping bag for winter camping. Sometimes, a 0-degree bag isn’t enough, and you’ll want to add a liner, extra blankets, or go with a -10 or even -20-degree bag.
- An efficient, winter-ready camp stove with plenty of fuel. Hot food and drink can be a literal lifesaver while winter camping, and at the very least, it’s a welcome way to start a ski day. Canister stoves don’t perform as well in cold conditions, so we often winter camp with a liquid fuel stove, like the ever-popular MSR Whisperlite. If you are using a canister stove, make sure the fuel is a four-season mix of isobutane and propane.
- Technical clothing. Leave the cotton at home. Pack warm, wicking base layers, insulating mid-layers and puffy jackets, and waterproof shell pants and jackets. With this layering formula, you can take on any weather.
- Warm, cozy gloves, socks, boots, and beanies. It’s critical you keep your extremities warm to avoid frostbite.
- Insulated blanket: In extreme temperatures, we like to add a blanket beneath our sleeping bag, increasing insulation on especially frigid nights.
- Shovel: We always keep a shovel in the car when winter camping. Obviously, a shovel will help you dig out your vehicle after a big storm, but you can also use it to excavate a parking spot in a pinch if you don’t have a place to camp.
We’ll discuss more gear throughout this piece, but those are the bare bones we won’t winter camp without.
Pro Tip: Have you ever worn puffy pants? They’re just like your favorite winter jacket, but in pant form. These will revolutionize your winter camping kit.
3. To Quiver Or Not To Quiver?
Bringing a “quiver” of skis or boards means that you have several options on deck to better accommodate a range of conditions. If you’re rolling solo, bring the lot! If you have a roof box or roof rack, you can certainly afford to bring multiple skis or boards.
However, if you’re traveling with a partner, you will have more limited storage space, so it’s important that you don’t overpack. Go with more versatile all-mountain skis or boards so you can have fun in different conditions!
4. Bring Backups
After you pack warm gloves, socks, and beanies… do it again! We love to camp with backups of these cold-weather essentials. The same can be said for outerwear. That way, if you wake up to damp gear, you’ll still be ready to rip.
5. Keep Your Rig In Ship-Shape
Sailors are notoriously tidy, and for good reason, too: messy, small living spaces are a quick ticket to crazy town. Winter car camping is exactly the same–if your car is a mess, your sleeping area will get wet, your gear will be hard to find, and your sanity will rapidly decline.
The best way to keep your rig tidy is to pack smart, using systems that you adhere to throughout your travels. Those systems can be extremely simple. For instance:
- Your toothbrush and toiletries stay in the driver’s cupholder.
- Your ski jacket and pants hang off clothes hangers on the passenger side grab handle.
- You keep your food in a cooler or bin in the front passenger seat footwells.
6. Use Organizational Gear To Its Full Potential
Using the right gear will help you keep your car organized. Here are a few of the tools we like to rely on while car camping in the snow:
- Clear Plastic Bins: Clear plastic bins are a tried-and-true car camping organization staple. Whether you’re using them for ski gear storage or as a home for your camp cooking kit, clear plastic bins let you keep an eye on your belongings. No more digging through a mountain of gear just to find a headlamp or wax scraper.
- Mesh Gear Duffel: Just like clear plastic bins, the Mesh Gear Duffel is see-through, allowing you to quickly take stock of what’s inside. Crafted from a durable, breathable mesh, the Duffel is also ideal for storing damp gear so that it can air out.
- Seatback Organizer 2.0: We like to call the Seatback Organizer 2.0 the “nightstand of car camping.” It’s perfect for keeping small essentials organized, like your phone, headlamp, car keys, ski pass, snowboard tool, etc.
- Cargo Hammock: The expandable Cargo Hammock turns unused ceiling space into valuable storage. We like to use it for storing bedding during the day, and ski clothes, helmets, goggles, gloves, etc. at night.
- Gear Tote 50L: Need a place to store damp ski and snowboard boots? Say hello to the upcycled, exceptionally durable Gear Tote!
7. Keep Wet Gear Out Of Your Sleeping Area
One of the best tips we can give you is this: keep wet skis, poles, and boards out of your sleeping area. Stashing them in a locking roof box or roof rack is always a smart idea, but at many resorts, you may be comfortable sliding them under your car or sticking them in a snowbank next to your vehicle.
Pro Tip: If you stick your gear in a snowbank, do so vertically so it doesn’t get lost and buried.
8. Manage Condensation
Hot breath, cold temps, glass windows, and damp gear–that’s a recipe for condensation. Here’s how we avoid it as much as possible:
- Crack a front and back window. A little airflow goes a long way.
- Again, keep wet gear out of your sleeping area. Roof box and roof racks for the win.
- Use a “utility towel.” Keep a packable camp towel on hand, and use it to mop up moisture from the windows as needed. This will help keep condensation from spreading onto your sleeping bag or dry clothes.
9. Be Strategic With Time Spent Inside
Take advantage of your time spent indoors. If you’re heading into the lodge for some hot chocolate, or grabbing dinner in town after a day of riding, be smart. Charge your electronics, or wear a damp jacket just to hang it up in the toasty restaurant.
10. Try To Dry Your Gear As Much As Possible
Drying gear in your vehicle is one of the toughest aspects of winter car camping, but here are a few helpful hacks:
- Lay out wet gloves and socks on the dash and crank heat when you’re driving.
- Bring a compact boot dryer and a portable battery.
- Put damp boot liners and gloves in your sleeping bag. It’s not super comfortable, but this old mountaineer’s trick works well, and your body heat will dry your wet gear surprisingly quickly.
- Hang outerwear and base layers using clothes hangers. You can also tie a mini clothesline between the grab handles, or use the Cargo Hammock to help hang gear!
11. Use The Hot Water Bottle Trick (And Be Smart About Managing Water)
Speaking of mountaineering tricks, this classic hot water bottle hack will help you pre-heat your sleeping bag before bed. Boil water, then pour it (carefully!) into a leak-proof Nalgene. Then pop the Nalgene into your sleeping bag. We like to sleep with the water bottle between our thighs, or down between the feet. You may want to wrap the bottle in a buff or beanie at first so you don’t burn yourself.
An added benefit of this trick is that in the morning, you’ll have drinkable water. With temps well below freezing, it’s easy for water to ice over overnight, and having a little water in the morning will make it much faster to melt snow.
Pro Tip: Insulated jugs, like this one from Yeti, can also help keep water from freezing overnight. Plus, the gallon size makes collecting water from the lodge much more efficient.
12. All Praise The Pee Jar
Our last tip is one we recommend to anyone who is car camping in cold conditions: embrace the pee jar. Peeing in a jar allows you to skip 2 AM trips into a raging snowstorm just to use the bathroom, and we can’t recommend it more highly. However, using a pee jar for the first time is admittedly overwhelming. Here’s some advice for greenhorns:
- Ladies, you’ll need a pee funnel–and you’ll want to practice with that funnel outside of your sleeping bag at first to get the hang of it.
- A wide-mouthed, sturdy, leak-proof pee jar is your best bet. We like to avoid flimsier plastic in winter, as it can freeze and crack. Sounds just like a Nalgene, right? Well, a Nalgene is a perfect pee jar–but you have to be careful not to mix it up with your water bottle. Wrap your pee jar in duct tape, or tie a bandana to the lid–something that will help you avoid a sleepy mistake.
- Dump pee respectfully. The best place to empty your pee jar is a toilet–bring the jar to the bathroom with you and dump it discreetly. If you have to dump it outside, try to dump it at the base of a tree a fair ways away from the parking lot. People may be collecting snow for drinking water, and they shouldn’t have to deal with your yellow snow.
Scope Your Line–Then Send It!
Winter car camping is just like freeriding on the slopes. It’s important to be cautious, smart, and patient as you scope your line. But eventually, you’ll have to count down, drop in, and send it! We hope these tips and tricks help you do just that and execute successful car camping/ski trips this winter.
Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you in the lot–and in the liftline!
Ski Ya Later,
The Luno Crew