Introduction to Winter Camping
Winter camping is great — not only is the crowd thinner, with fewer pests interrupting your stay, but the snow also means you have a lovely snow-glazed view of the scenery. However, if you are unprepared, the cold will pose a challenge for your trip. There are a few main things to consider when camping in winter. These are, namely, picking safe spots sheltered from the wind, ensuring you stay warm and hydrated, and avoiding the significant risks of frostbite and hypothermia. You can get more tips on winter camping at Expert Camper.
Camping in Snow
First, considering that you will be camping on snow, it is necessary to take some time to find a good camp spot. A good winter camping spot will have the following: wind protection, a water source, a good view of the sun, and surrounding landmarks.
Your camp must have adequate protection from the cold winter winds, like a clump of trees or a mountain. It is necessary to scope out the risks of a specific campsite, such as whether the spot is more susceptible to avalanches or falling trees. It is also good to try to avoid camping on vegetation and instead opt for patches of bare ground. In addition to all of this, it would also be recommended to find a spot with enough privacy away from the prying eyes of other campers to make the experience more intimate.
How to Set Up a Tent on Snow
Though it’s certainly possible to build a snow shelter, like an igloo, the more common approach for beginner campers will be to set up a tent. We have some tips to make the experience of setting up a tent in the snow a little less painful for you.
Firstly, pack down the snow — as loose snow is more likely to melt according to your body temperature, and you definitely do not want to sleep in a puddle, we suggest first walking around in your snowshoes or boots to stomp down on the surrounding snow.
Secondly, build a fort around your tent to shield you from the snow. If this is too daunting a task, you can also dig out some snow for your tent to help reduce the impact of the wind (and even act as some space for stowing gear). It is also important to allow for your tent to be sufficiently ventilated by never sealing up your tent completely, and leaving some room for the passage of air in and out.
Thirdly, use snow stakes instead of tent stakes. You can also bury stuffed sacks filled with snow to make sure your tent is securely staked in the ground so it doesn’t fly away with a particularly strong gust of wind.
Lastly, make sure you are safely away from sharp objects that could tear your tent — this includes tools like ski edges and icepicks. A rip in your tent could have devastating results.
Cooking in Snow
The snow gives you a once in a lifetime opportunity to sculpt the kitchen of your dreams out of snow. With a trusty shovel, you can carve out seats, tables, a storage cabinet, and even a little cooking station.
If you have a floorless tent, you can even create a shelter for your cooking space to make your makeshift kitchen even cosier.
It is important to follow the Leave No Trace principle when eating at your campsite. This dictates that you dispose of all your waste and scraps in a plastic bag and bury it in the first at least 8 inches deep to prevent animals from getting to it. If you are setting up a fire, use dead wood and do not cut live or existing trees to prevent damage to nature. Lastly, you must respect wildlife and observe creatures from a distance, as winter is a vulnerable time for many of the animals out in the wild.
Food and Drink Tips
Some recommendations for winter camping would be to prepare hot and simple meals, to ensure that you have a hearty meal but also avoid cleaning dishes in the cold. We suggest looking at calorie-dense and one-pot foods, as well as freeze-dried breakfast and snack options.
We also suggest taking short lunch breaks and have simple sandwiches on the move. Next, food storage is an important consideration, as though bears are hibernating, many other creatures will happily steal your food if you leave it out in the open. You should stow food securely in a backpack or hang it up to make it less accessible for your hungry wild peers.
It is necessary also to remember to hydrate, especially in the dry winter. We suggest taking small sips regularly throughout the day to warm up and stay hydrated. For this, it would be good to carry around an insulated water bottle with some warm water and attach it to your backpack for easy access.
You can melt snow for drinking water, as streams are likely to be frozen over in the winter. to do this, you must first designate an area for clean snow, light your stove, then put this snow along with a small amount of water in the pot, and slowly add the snow until you have enough water to fill your bottle.
Camping gear for winter is generally similar to usual camping gear, but with a much heavier emphasis on warmth and durability.
In the selection process for your winter camping tent, we suggest looking at three-season backpacking tents if you will be setting up camp below the tree line and if you are not anticipating heavy weather. Alternatively, for higher winds and heavier snowfall, we would suggest four-season tents, which have stronger poles and thicker fabrics that allow them to better withstand strong gusts of wind and other difficult weather conditions. They also prevent swirling snow from making its way into your tent.
You will likely want extra space, and thus it is always a good idea to get a bigger tent than you need, giving you extra room to stow gear inside with you.
Winter camping generally requires more gear and bulkier clothing to keep you warm in the harsh cold, so it is a good idea to get a larger backpack than you would typically buy for use in the summer. Though packing light is always important, it is also crucial to make sure you are prepared for winter. The rough guidelines for a three-day trip would be a pack with a minimum of 65-litres for a pack on the lighter side, or a minimum of 85-litres for a bigger pack.
In general, skis and snowshoes can be used to help you traverse the snow surrounding you, and aid you in hiking in cold weather. You could also look at a sledge as an option for longer trips, to help ease the weight on your shoulders and carry gear (for this option, it is necessary to do some reconnaissance beforehand of the terrain).
If skis or snowshoes are on your packing list, it is important to make sure your pack has lash points or can hold these bulkier items.
It is always good to use a bag that’s rated at least ten degrees Fahrenheit lower than the coldest temperature expected. You should consider cold-weather bags that have a large amount of goose down or other means of insulation (though goose down is a highly favoured choice, it is important to keep it dry).
If you aren’t sure about whether your sleeping bag is sufficiently warm, you can also add a sleeping bag liner for extra protection, whilst also minimising wear on the sleeping bag itself.
As for your sleeping pad, which provides extra insulation and cushioning, we suggest using two pads (one on the ground made of foam, and a self-inflating pad on top) to get the best insulation from your cold surroundings. This double layer is sure to keep you warm, and the foam pad is extra protection in case the self-inflating one is damaged.
You should also consider ranking pads by R-value, which is a measurement of their insulation. We suggest looking in the range of R-values of about 4.0 or higher for winter.
You can consider either liquid-fuel stoves or canister stoves as an option for cooking. Each has its own perks, but liquid-fuel stoves are better recommended for cold weather. Regardless, we suggest always bringing backups and extra fuel to keep you safe in the event of a mishap.
What to Wear
In general, we suggest having three layers on to combat the cold: this comprises a base (underwear) layer of polyester or wool. Over this, there should be a middle insulating layer that is to help you retain body heat— for this, we suggest having a puffier material like a synthetic insulated or fleece jacket. Lastly, your outer or shell layer should be made of a waterproof and breathable layer protecting you from snow, rain, and wind.
Accessories like winter hats, gloves, goggles and socks can also be used to build onto the warmth and comfort of your winter outfit.
For shoes, we suggest either using hiking boots for thin snow or winter (mountaineering boots) for deeper snow, which are waterproof and insulating, to make sure your feet stay warm and protected from frostbite.
To protect yourself from frostbite or hypothermia, we suggest that you stay warm. This precautionary measure is much easier than warming yourself up after getting cold. It is also important to try not to tough it out — being aware of your boundaries is important in making sure you are kept warm when you need it. Lastly, you should always check in with your travel companions to make sure they are safe as well.
To finish off, here are some final tips for your winter camping trip: eat plenty of food to keep your energy up, and always be attuned to your bodily needs — be very careful not to work yourself out too much, especially in the harsh cold winter. A good way to keep warm is to always be on your feet, so get plenty of exercise on your trip. We hope you enjoy yourself on your winter adventure!