Camping in the summer months is relatively easy, safe, and convenient. But a winter camping escape that's even more daunting can also be more rewarding.
The entry load to winter camping is a little bigger and there are some necessary skills that you need to master. If you venture into the great outdoors in the cool winter months, memories will last a lifetime.
Even so, it can be intimidating to get started, but this quick guide to winter camping will help you get outside safely this winter.
Winter camping equipment
Perhaps the most important part of winter camping is making sure you are well equipped for long days outdoors during the coldest months of the year. Some of your summer camping gear may work in the winter, but there are a few things that you need to improve to keep you safe and comfortable in the colder months.
It is advisable to put yourself in the shoes of winter camping by staying near the road and even using your car as a tool if necessary. Half the fun of winter camping is getting to your campsite.
To reach the darkest, quietest and most beautiful corners of the winter wilderness, you need snowshoes or cross-country skis to move through deep powder snow. Depending on the distance and terrain, you will either have to carry your equipment in a backpack or pull a sled behind you. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.
In addition, a small packable shovel is an indispensable tool for winter camping. With a shovel, you can dig out a spot for your tent, put up walls to protect you from the wind, and even create your snow kitchen and fire pit.
If you become a dedicated winter camper, you can even use your shovel to build surprisingly warm and comfortable shelters out of the snow, so you don't have to carry a tent. Playing in the snow is undoubtedly one of the highlights of winter camping. So take advantage of the covered landscape and muffled sound while enjoying the wild winter.
Image credit: Chamelion117
Winter camping tent
In some winter camping scenarios, a reliable three-season tent can do the job, but it may need to be modified slightly. However, you may want to switch to a four-season tent for longer expeditions or trips to incredibly windy or snowy environments.
Regardless of your winter camping tent body, it is important to have a footprint or tarpaulin underneath during the winter months to keep the interior dry. (Tarps are also great if you're using a hammock as a shelter.)
Staying warm at night is arguably the most important component of winter camping, and it all depends on having the right equipment. An insulated sleeping mat is important to stay warm at night. This should never be skipped when camping in winter.
Your sleeping mat forms an insulating layer between you and the cold snow below. Either foam or an inflatable cushion will do.
When it comes to sleeping bags, upgrade from your summer bag to a cold-weather bag. Depending on where you are camping, you will need a sleeping bag that is rated for a temperature threshold of 20 degrees Fahrenheit to the negatives.
Think about where you will be camping and use a sleeping bag that is below the lowest expected temperature. Synthetically filled bags are somewhat heavier and more voluminous than down alternatives, but insulate when wet. The choice between the two bag options depends on your personal preferences.
Another key to winter camping comfort is packing suitable clothing. In general, this means dressing in layers and bringing extra warm clothing in case the temperatures drop.
Also, wear a pair of waterproof boots to keep your feet warm and dry while you hike to camp and enjoy your temporary home in the wild. It may seem counterintuitive, but resist the urge to double up on socks. Instead, get warm woolen socks (or some of them for cross-country skiing) and leave plenty of space in your boots to ensure adequate blood flow.
Tips and tricks for winter camping
Fun and successful winter camping trips depend on systems and equipment being chosen. You will develop tricks of trading with experience, but here are a few to get you started.
Time in the sleeping bag
Plan plenty of time in your sleeping bag on the coldest winter camping trips. The days are shorter (so don't forget to use a spotlight or storage light) and the cooler temperatures mean you'll crawl into your cozy bag earlier in the evening than usual.
So plan to bring books, games, and other activities so you and your roommates can pass the time. And remember, you never want to go into your sleeping bag cold (warm up with some exercise or around the fire before handing in).
Stay warm at night
Staying warm at night is a big concern with winter camping. If your body is getting cold in general, consider filling a water bottle with hot water before bed and holding it close to your core in your sleeping bag or by your feet.
It doesn't stay warm all night, but it does increase your comfort when falling asleep. To keep it warm longer, wrap it in a spare pair of woolen socks or a neoprene sleeve.
If you wake up cold, don't just sit there! Do some situps, leg raises, or other small exercises in your sleeping bag. This increases blood flow and creates heat that warms your body and helps you fall asleep again. Make sure you are only doing enough reps to warm up and not produce a sweat.
Getting warm in the morning
Mornings are always difficult camping and even more difficult in winter. Sleep in your sleeping bag with the next day's clothes to keep them warm and make the transition a little smoother.
After leaving your tent, take a walk or shovel some snow to generate energy and warmth before returning to camp to prepare breakfast and a nice hot cup of coffee or tea.
Photo credit: Paxson Woelber
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