By R. Maxine Lundquist
Winter camping is different from the other three seasons. Cold is not only a major factor, it is potentially life-threatening if you don’t plan properly for it.
But you also have beauty you don’t get with the other three seasons. When there is snow on the ground, you camp among diamonds.
So below are several hints and tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable winter camping trip:
Starting a campfire where snow is can be difficult, almost as difficult as starting a fire in the rain. but with a little knowledge and forethought, you can get around potential problems by remembering a few things.
- Clear the snow away right down to the ground. Starting a fire with snow underneath is like trying to light a campfire on a lake. Even if you have lots of wood, the melting snow beneath will wick up into the fire and put it out.
- Take a dry stick about 2-3″ long and drive it into the ground where the center of your campfire will be. Make sure you have your dry wood in different sizes ready to go beside you.
- Lay a flat “raft” of small wood around the stake and crumple you paper and pile it on the wood. Then lay thin wood, tee-pee style, up against the stake over the paper. Add thicker wood over that. Poke fire starter in among the paper and light.
- A great tip if you have room to pack them is a firelog, one for each day. They burn for three hours so you have plenty of time to get the wood going. If you take one, just lay that against the stake, and then stack your wood as before.
You can’t take any old tent with you when you go camping in winter. Correction; you can, but if your tent doesn’t have certain features, there will be consequences:
- Make sure it is free-standing. A free-standing tent is built to withstand wind, because it doesn’t depend on guy-lines to hold it upright. They are generally aerodynamically shaped to withstand winds, too, so snow is unlikely to collect on top and weigh the tent down.
- It must be made of breathable material, such as a breathable nylon. If your tent doesn’t breathe, condensation will form inside and freeze on the walls and ceiling of your tent, weighing it down and possibly raining on you, wetting everything inside. Cold + wet = death.
- The fly needs to be waterproof (not water-resistant) and fully cover the tent. A partial fly will leave tent sides exposed to sleet and freezing rain. Again, cold + wet = death.
- The floor of the tent should be waterproof and heavy duty for two main reasons: Your body heat will melt the ground under your tent, making it wet, and a good tent floor will protect you from seepage from below. Also, winter camping means you can’t always clear the ground of the rocks and sticks you normally would have no problem getting rid of, because they are frozen to the ground. So an extra sturdy tent floor will help prevent holes from occurring.
- Even if your tent has all that, complete your protection with two tarps–one for beneath the tent, and another for tarping up over the tent. When it comes to protection and winter camping, more is better.
We already discussed this in Dress Right For Winter Camping but some things can’t be said often enough. Dress in layers. Regular underwear, long underwear, jeans, pullover, vest, coat. Comfortable socks. Waterproof boots, such as Kamiks. Gloves, scarf, headgear. Wool or synthetics made for the cold. Not cotton. Cotton gets wet and retains it. Cotton = wet + cold = death.
Want the perfect winter sleeping experience while camping? Follow these suggestions:
- Lay a sleeping pad on the floor beneath your air mattress. This will prevent cold from seeping up from below.
- Lay an emergency blanket on you air mattress. This will reflect your body heat back to you.
- Lay a sheepskin mattress pad over the emergency blanket. I cannot tell you what a difference this will make to your comfort and temperature level.
- Make certain your sleeping bag is rated for cold weather, and if you are buying one specifically for winter camping, keep in mind that the tag which tells you how cold it can get when you use it is for people who are sleeping with long underwear and heavy socks on, so choose one colder than you think it will actually get.
Normally I like to try gourmet stuff when camping but for the most part during winter camping trips I keep it simple. Prepping food in below zero weather plays havoc on your hands. You can feel like you have icicles instead of fingers by the time you’ve finished chopping the celery.
- Prep as much ahead of time as possible. If you like fresh chopped vegetables, chop them and put them in Ziploc bags before you leave on the camping trip.
- Remember that the whole world becomes your fridge. Not a whole lot of ice is needed for the coolers, except for your drinks, and you’ll probably not have a whole lot of them that isn’t steaming hot either.
- Keep your menus simple–soups, stews, chili–everything easy to make and hot to eat. Serve it with simple sides–buns, French bread and the like. Leave the bannock and grilled food for experimentation only. Once you know what to do to make them turn out well in winter camping, then you can depend on them for part of your meal. But unless you know what you are doing you are risking half-cooked food because of the cold and damp.
- Triple your hot drink supplies. You will be amazed how much you consume just to stay warm. Tea, hot chocolate, coffee–they’re a special kind of good during a winter camp-out. And try this recipe for hot apple toddies–to die for.
Stuff To Do.
Winter camping gives you a whole set of things you should try.
- Your photos will be amazing.
- If there’s snow on the ground, all the snow stuff you do at home can be done camping–snow men, snow angels, snowball fights–the whole world is your playground, and your campsite because no one else is camping.
- Try making flavored syrups and drizzling them on the snow to harden into candy; recipes here.
- Hiking is spectacular–just remember that your legs are going to get an extra work-out because you’re slogging along in the snow, so go slower, take shorter steps, and rest often. And don’t go too far, and never alone. In the winter the landscape changes drastically and it’s easy to get lost. Winter camping especially can be fatal if you’re out alone in the woods at night.