By Jack Berning, Contributing blogger
Looking to get out into the wilderness this winter? Turns out, your favorite summer activity is pretty great in the winter, too. Winter camping is an awesome and creative way to get out of the house and enjoy the great outdoors during the colder months.
Think you’re not cut out for it? Think again. With the right preparation, gear, and camping strategy, you can enjoy the magical winter wilderness to get that escape you crave. Let’s dig in!
Before You Head Out
Just as in the summer, it’s important to be prepared for your journey before setting out for your winter camping excursion.
The first step is picking your destination. You can return to a favorite hiking trail or try some place entirely new, just check local regulations to ensure that winter camping is permitted. Keep in mind that finding a spot with firewood and open water available can make things a lot less intensive. This is much easier said than done in colder, snowy climates where the wood may be damp and the water frozen, so put some thought into this aspect of the trip.
You can always bring firewood with you from town and melt snow for drinking. If you’re going to melt snow, note that you will likely need at least 3x the fuel you would for a normal summer trip.
Remember to check the weather before you go! Blizzards are rarely a good time. Also watch out for significant temperature increases, as thaws can make for soaking wet conditions.
When it comes dressing for winter camping, it’s all about layers.
Base layers are the most important step in insulating the body to keep warm through the experience.
From there, you’ll want to layer up with powerful materials like microfleece and waterproof ski jackets for your outerwear.
Have the gear in place to overdress. It’s always best to over prepare. You’ll need more layers than you would for a daytime winter activity like skiing, for example.
You’ll also want to have a heavy-duty sleeping bag. If you don’t have a winter bag, take two regular bags and nest one inside of the other. Test this set-up at home before you head out!
Warm and waterproof boots are a must. You’re regular hiking boots layered with extra socks won’t be enough; warmth is much more important than support for wintertime activities. A quality pair of wool socks is the best strategy for warm toes without cutting off circulation.
Ski or snowboard boots are an awesome solution. If you don’t have those, consider investing in an inexpensive pair of snowmobile or moon boots that fill well and are durable enough to make the trip.
Some other essential gear to remember:
- Tent: Your summer camping tent is like equipped to handle winter conditions
- Stove: White gas stoves perform best in winter, but alcohol or canister stoves will suffice
- Hats and Gloves: Keep those extremities toasty
- Sunglasses and Sunscreen: Reflective snow can be a menace
- Headlamp: Bring a dependable headlamp with fresh batteries for the long nighttime hours
- Food: Get creative with it! Colder temperatures can help preserve a wider variety of foods than in the summer
- Activities: Cards, books, games to pass the time
At the Campsite
If you’re hiking into your campsite, make sure you are taking frequent breaks to hydrate and survey the trail you’ve hiked up on. Your tracks could melt, blow away, or be covered up by fresh snow. Find your way out on the way in!
Once you’ve arrived at the campsite, layer up immediately. Even if it feels like you don’t need to, preserving that heat you generated from walking to the site will put you ahead of the cold.
Find a dry patch to pitch your tent or stamp out a tent platform in the snow using your boots or a shovel. Your tent platform will need some time to set and harden, so it’s best to do this first. The platform should be bigger than your tent by a couple feet so that you have room to get in and out.
You’ll want to design your camp so that everything can be done from your sleeping bag, including cooking.
Most of the night will be spent in your bag. Make sure you’ve planned for ways to pass the time with a book, cards, or pleasant conversation.
If a chill comes on, don’t panic. Your body will generate metabolic heat: go on a walk or do some jumping jacks to get the blood flowing.
Keep in mind that temperatures will be lowest in the morning. Get up early and go for a walk before you break camp, and enjoy the beautiful rising of the day to stay warm.
Winter camping takes planning, commitment, and a willingness to push yourself.
Just like with summer camping, you can become conditioned to winter camping. Try it out a couple times this winter (we know you’re dying to get out of the house!)
Winter in the wilderness provides some of the greatest beauty that nature can offer. Don’t miss out!
Think you’re ready to get out there? Go for it!