Winter camping can be tough for the first-timers especially when you don’t know the dos and don’ts of it. When you are out in the wilderness, one of the challenges you face is to keep water from freezing in the near or sub-zero temperature.
You may think that dealing with the cold is all about keeping your body warm, but that’s not it. I mean, what’s worse than waking up thirsty in the middle of the night to have some water and finding a popsicle instead? Or going back to your tent after a long day of the hike and find all your water turned into ice.
Sounds bad. Right?
So, how to keep water from freezing during winter camping? The best way to keep water from freezing during winter camping is to isolate the water from outside temperature using warm layers and covers. Another method is to add additives like salt or a little alcohol to lower the freezing point. Using thermos flasks can also keep water from freezing.
In this article, we are going to explore in details ways of how to keep water from freezing during your camping trip in the winter.
5 Ways to keep water from freezing
#1 Keep water bottles inside an insulated container
This is one of the best ways to keep your water liquefied. For this trick, you might need to pack a few extra things, which may add up weight but will make your life much easier on your camping trip.
When you think of a cooler, you think of it as a device that keeps things cool. But a cooler is also really good at keeping your stuff ‘warm’ as well. It is basically an insulated container that doesn’t allow heat from going in or out.
Coolers usually have multiple inner and outer layers that do not allow the outside temperature to affect the food or drink packed inside.
Before putting your bottles inside a cooler, heat your water up to 70 degrees, put it into plastic bottles and pack them into the cooler and tightly close the lid. The heat from the bottles will be trapped inside the cooler for more than 12 hours, and your water will not freeze.
If an insulated cooler is not an option, the next best thing is to use an insulation jacket for your bottle. This one from Nalgene is a pretty good option and can accommodate most wide-mouth bottles.
#2 Use wide mouth bottles
This tip is for the times you are out there hiking or trekking in super cold temperatures and you suddenly feel thirsty.
Compared to narrow mouth bottles, wide mouth bottles are pretty good at resisting cold. The narrow neck area of bottles tends to freeze first and thus stop water flow out of the bottle (pretty inconvenient for drinking). Wide mouth bottles, on the other hand, don’t freeze at the top first.
Nalgene bottles are pretty good for keeping water. They are temperature resistant and have wide tops to assist the smooth flow of water while drinking.
Bottles that have a wide-mouth opening keeps water from freezing as bottles with narrow mouths freeze faster from the top.
To keep water warm for longer times, you can heat the water in a vessel or pot and pour it into the Nalgene bottle.
The water temperature should depend upon the amount of time for which you need it. I will not recommend putting boiled water in a Nalgene bottle as both the bottle and dry bag aren’t completely insulating and can be uncomfortable to keep inside your layers or gears.
You can also use thermos instead of Nalgene bottles for longer trips as they are more insulated and can keep the water warm for a longer period.
#3 Put your bottles into the ground
Honestly, this sounded a bit insane to me at first. But, it made more sense after I tried it.
The ground below the layers of snow is warmer than the surrounding. Snow is obviously cold but is really good at providing insulation.
If you dig a hole just deep enough to place the bottles in it, the warmth of the ground wouldn’t allow the water to freeze even if you leave it inside overnight.
Pro tip: Keep the bottles with hot rock or coal from your campfire to provide additional warmth overnight.
#4 Keep the bottles with you at all times
This is the easiest yet most used method for keeping water from freezing. Maybe because it doesn’t require a cooler, container, fire, rocks, or anything else.
Every camper equips himself with the gears and clothing before going for a winter camping trip. Clothing usually includes the top, bottom, and middle layers. check this blog to know ways to stay warm in winters.
When you trek or hike, your body tends to dissipate heat to cool it down. Your insulating clothing makes sure that you don’t lose heart. If you keep hot water bottles or even room-temperature water within the top to middle or middle to the bottom layer, the water will never freeze.
Winter clothing layers are quite insulating and don’t allow cold air to pass. So, even if you are not trekking, you can still keep your bottle with you and have drinkable water at all times of the day.
This can be uncomfortable in cases where the condensation makes you feel wet. To avoid this, you can use drybag water bottle covers (like this one) or use a bladder hydration pack. I prefer hydration packs (like this one) because they are more flexible, flat, and don’t make a bump inside your clothes.
#5 Sleeping bag will keep your water bottles from freezing
During winter camping, we are more prone to cold at nights. Because your body temperature tends to fall down at night.
This is why 10 degree sleeping bags are designed in a way that they keep you warm even in the coldest nights.
Now, if you keep your thermos or water bottle inside your sleeping bag, there is less to no chances of it being affected by the outside temperature at night.
To make your sleeping bag even warmer, you can also heat your water before pouring it into bottles. The heat from the water will not only keep the water from freezing but will also provide you additional heat during the night. It’s a win-win for you and your precious water bottle.
Water additives to prevent freezing
Water generally starts freezing below 4°C. To prevent water from freezing, you need to add solvents that decrease the freezing point of water. Table salt and alcohol are one of the best additives.
Will salt keep water from freezing? Yes. Salt when added to water lowers the freezing point to 0° C and keeps water from freezing when left overnight in the cold.
Though adding additives like salt or alcohol will make the water taste a little different but will certainly keep it from freezing. Also, salts are pretty good for your body during prolong hikes in the wild.
But if you don’t want to add anything to your water, here is another useful trick.
Get a larger container, mix a good amount of table salt in it to lower its freezing point to around 0 degrees (normal water freeze at 4 degrees). Now put your tightly sealed drinking water bottles inside this saltwater and your bottles will be safe from freezing.
Pretty neat. Right?
Which water bottle is good for winter camping?
Good water bottles for winter camping are the ones that have wide mouths to resist freezing of water at the top and are made from good quality HDPE material that doesn’t crack under severe conditions. In this category, the best one is wide-mouth Nalgene HDPE water bottles.
The choice of material is important because stainless steel bottles tend to crack when the water inside become ice and expands (see the image below)
As mentioned above, Nalgene makes one of the best bottles for outdoor use equally liked by hikers, campers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. Their wide-mouth bottles are pretty good at keeping the water from freezing at the top. Their choice of material (bio-grade HDPE) can bear extreme temperatures without cracking. My recommended Nalgene bottle is this one.
If you want something fancier, the best option is to get a full-fledged thermos flask. They are pretty insulated from the outside and can keep your liquid warm in winter for hours. In this category, I would personally recommend this one from Zojirushi.
How to keep water from freezing during car camping?
The best way to keep water warm in a vehicle is to keep it in as many layers as one can. Layers provide insulation, so even if the temperature inside the car falls too low, the bottle will still be liquid.
Another way to do it is to keep it inside the cooler wrapped in a Mylar blanket or an extra sleeping bag. The secret again is to provide insulation.
There are a thousand ways to keep water from becoming ice, and it all requires a pinch of insulation. In the wilderness, dehydration reduces your energy and makes you feel. On the contrary, if your body is hydrated, it is way stronger and ready to face the wild.
The only thumb rule is to keep the water bottles protected from the cold temperature, just as you protect your body. The more water you have, the more energy you get to fight the cold every day!
Recommended Camping Gears: I have compiled a list of my favourite camping gear in one place. The selection is based on my own personal experience using them for many years camping as well as feedback from fellow campers. Check them out on my Recommended Camping Gears page