16 WINTER CAMPING TIPS
For some Winter Camping is going to a camp heated by a wood stove. For others, it is packing the ATV or the snowmobile and go to a hot tent. For the more adventurous, it means grabbing a pack, snow shoes and hauling in all the gear in a sled to a remote location. No matter how you do winter camping, the following tips are useful.
1. PACK DOWN THE SNOW
Before setting up your tent, pack down your campsite. If you have skis or snowshoes, which means tramping around hard until all the snow is packed. If you’re shod only in boots this will take some time, but if you don’t do this, you run the risk of stepping into a soft bit of snow in your tent and tearing the floor.
2. PACK AN EXTRA HAT, GLOVES AND SOCKS
Always carry spare hat a set of mittens and wool socks. Dress smartly. Wear layers like an onion is always better than having just one bulky parka, starting with underwear, followed by the insulating layer(s), and finished with a shell. Avoid cotton, as it is poor insulator when wet and takes a long time to dry. Wool and synthetics are a better option for winter camping. The rule is if do work example: shoveling, you work regular but to a slower rhythm, if you start to sweet, you take off a layer or more. Sweating is killer in winter. I have seen myself and my best bud Marcel Jagoe working on our camp site in long sleeve t-shirts and it was -10 ˚C or 13 ˚F.
3. DRINK FLUIDS, DEHYDRATION IS HAS REAL IN WINTER.
People often forget to drink in winter, Dehydration is accelerated in cold weather or at higher altitudes because the air we intake is drier. Normally, people lose between one to two quarts of water a day via evaporation from the lungs. When we breathe, our bodies humidify dry air and heat it up to our body’s temperature, which is why your exhalations look like fog in cold weather. In the cold, our bodies have to work harder to humidify the air we breathe and to warm it up, so you need to drink more fluids and eat more if you are outdoors. A good rule is to drink at least 4 quarts a day, but often people will drink double that under high exertion levels or over 10,000 feet of altitude.
Drinking alcohol in cold weather. According to a study done by the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, drinking alcohol in chilly weather reduces the body’s ability and tendency to shiver, taking away yet another method your body uses to help keep warm when it is cold plus, Alcohol will dilate blood vessels, so it works against your body’s natural tendency to contract vessels and capillaries to keep you warm, caffeine will do the same thing.
Bottom line? The age-old practice of drinking alcoholic beverages to keep the body warm in cold weather is the exact opposite of what you should do, it is a myth, sorry guys.
4. BOIL THE SNOW
Leave your water filter at home. Chemical filters work slower in the cold, and mechanical filters can break. Your best bet for water sterilization is boiling your water, as you probably have to melt snow anyway. Don’t be suckered into thinking that fresh snow is sterile, it isn’t. Snowflakes often form around small bits of dust (nucleation sites) which can be bacteria or viruses floating in the upper atmosphere. If you take water from a stream or any body of water, avoid any risk on thin ice “the snow is right there” if it is ok, please still boil the water, it is proven that bacteria still lives in the water even in winter.
5. USE THE PEE BOTTLE.
Being in the cold can cause you to want to urinate more often, and I promise you and some of you will agree with me, it is a pain to undo your sleeping bag at 0 degrees F to urinate at night, a Gatorade bottle work well for this. For women, I highly recommend looking into the various accessories that allow you to pee while standing; make sure your bottle is well identified.
6. STAKES YOUR TENT
If there is snow, you should stake out your tent. You can make dead men out of sticks or fallen trees, use your equipment if there is no wood for stakes, stuff sacks full of snow, buried skis, snowshoes, poles, ice axes, or what have you. There is no excuse for a tent that is staked-out. If there is no snow, plenty of companies make hard tent stakes meant to push through frozen ground, either out of titanium, steel, or aluminum.
7. INSULATE THE FLOOR
Two layers on the bottom are worth one on the top. You lose tones of heat through conductive heat loss on the ground, so winter is no time to skimp on your sleeping pad. Make sure you have one with an r value of four or more, plus, throw a closed cell foam pad underneath. I like to lay down a bed of balsam boughs, as Native people did for so many centuries, to carpet the ground below the tent. Cardboard works well, better a 10$ exercise mat from Wal-Mart plus Duck insulation, you have the r value of a several dollar mat.
8. BOOT LINERS IN THE SLEEPING BAG
Use boots with removable liners, I put those liners at the bottom of my sleeping bag to keep them warm. I do the same with mittens and hat. If you only have single layer boots, put them in a waterproof sack at the bottom of your sleeping bag.
9. CANDLELIGHT CAMPING
A safely hung candle lantern inside of your tent (far enough of anything so as it is not a fire hazard) does wonders to both warm your tent and reduce condensation. A towel for scraping off condensation is always a bonus.
10. LITHIUM BATTERIES
Please use lithium batteries in all your winter electronics. Lithium performs butter in colder temperatures than alkaline or NiMh batteries, they last three times as long, and have a flat decay curve.
11. NUMBER 2
In the summer, comfy leaves or Soft River stones are easy to find, but in the winter they’re few and far between. The best readily found alternative is just plain old snow. It’s effective and leaves behind little residue. If you do bring TP, please either pack it out or burn it to keep our forest clean in the spring.
Cover exposed skin in Vaseline or animal fats. Inuit have been doing this for years, simply slather any exposed skin, your face, ears, neck, wrists, or hands in a thick oil and they’ll be less prone to windburn and frostbite.
13. RESPECT THE WEATHER FORECAST.
It would be disappointing to have to change your plans once there, since winter camping can be truly miserable in bad weather. If you camp in the mountains, please pay attention to avalanche warnings and where you put your camp site.
14. USE A SLED TO CARRIE YOUR GEAR.
The snow can be used at your advantage! It is much easier to pull than to carry all the extra gear required by winter camping on your back. Once you get the strap properly across your chest, it’s easy to move a lot of weight.
15. DON’T GO ALONE.
You should always camp with someone else in the winter, emergencies accidents can happen. Always leave behind a detailed trip plan and do not deviate from that plan.
16. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A GOOD SURVIVAL KIT
Map and compass, sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen), extra clothing, headlamp and flashlight, first-aid supplies, a fire kit (waterproof matches/lighter/candles/tinder), tools like a good knife, axe and saw, extra food, extra water, emergency shelter la a tarp or emergency blanket.
And, of course, ALWAYS remember to Leave No Trace of your presence when you leave!
Give us some love 🙂