When the snow starts to fly, you might be thinking of packing away your camping gear for the season. But if you don’t mind the cooler temperatures and know a few tips, winter camping will reward you.
Insects are non-existent, and few tourists mean that perfect campsite is going to be easier to find. Frozen lakes and streams mean you’ll be able to explore previously unreachable spots, or simply get to them more easily and quickly. However, it takes a little planning to camp when it’s cold, especially if you’re a bit of a novice. You will have to learn how to layer clothing so you are warm but do not overheat, and you will have to bring more food than you need during the summer months, as you burn more calories during colder weather.
With a little extra planning, winter camping can be as good as, or even better than, a summer camping trip. Here are some important things to consider and some winter camping tips to make sure you can camp comfortably and safely during winter!
Let others know where you are going, and how long you plan to be gone. If you share the adventure with others, you can share the load of food and gear, and you’ll have support if you have an emergency.
Before setting up your tent, pack down your campsite. If you have skis or snowshoes, that 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.
Is there natural wind protection (wind chill is a big concern during the colder months) ? Is the site free of avalanche dangers? Is it reasonably safe from falling trees and branches? Where is the sun going to rise (a sunny spot helps you warm up faster)? Does it give privacy to and from other campers? Are there landmarks to help you find the camp in the dark or a snowstorm? Consider these questions when setting up your site.
Sun reflecting off the snow strains your eyes, causing nausea and headaches. Wearing sunglasses will help reduce glare off the snow.
When it’s summer and you’re sweating, it’s easy to remember to hydrate, but we often forget to drink water when the temperatures dip. To make sure you’re getting enough hydration, bring a thermos or vacuum bottle filled with clear, hot beverages without caffeine, like an herbal tea or cider. A good tip: store your water bottle upside down in your pack; water always freezes from the top.
Sleeping with a hot water bottle is a great way to get your cold sleeping bag warm in a hurry! Just heat water in a pan over the stove or fire, and pour it into a hot water bottle. It will radiate heat for hours! Curl up around the bottle, or place it in the foot of your bag will be a toasty way to drift off to sleep.
Winter is no time to skimp on your sleeping pad. Look for a thick pad with a high R-value (you will need one with an R-value of at least 4). An R-value will tell you how well the pad will insulate you from the cold ground. For instance, and R-value of 3 will keep you comfortable until around 20F (-7C), and an R-value of 7 will insulate you against the cold until about -40F(-40C).
Chemical filters take longer to work in the cold, and mechanical filters can crack and fail, so you might want to consider just leaving the water filter at home. Your best bet for water filtration is boiling your water (you probably have to melt snow anyway). Glacial melt or fresh snow isn’t sterile: Snowflakes often form around small bits of dust (nucleation sites) which can include bacteria or viruses floating in the upper atmosphere. Boil it!
If it takes batteries, use lithium in all your winter electronics. Not only do lithium batteries perform consistently down to much colder temperatures than alkaline or NiMh batteries, but they are lighter, last three times as long, and have a flat decay curve.
If you are building a wood fire, keep in mind that the later in the season, the less likely a campground host will be on hand to sell firewood all day. You may be able to purchase a bundle or two of local firewood on your way to the campground at a local store, farm or gas station. If you plan on using a propane campfire, you will be using the fire more frequently than you do during the summer. Consider bringing additional propane or locating a nearby source that can fill your tank for you if required.
Do you have a tip for having a great time while camping during cold weather? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your tips in the comments below!
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