Thinking of going winter camping? Make the most of a magical experience with some tips from bloggers Jenn and Scott Jackson that are sure to help you prepare you for the best trip of your life.
5 Great Reasons to go Winter Camping
Avoid The Crowds
If you genuinely want to get a dose of the real outdoors, then nothing beats camping in the winter when you will often be the only humans around to experience it.
As the temperatures begin to drop, and icicles start to appear, most bugs do a vanishing act. Use this to your advantage and camp safe in the knowledge that you won’t be a buffet dinner for a host of angry mosquitos overnight.
There is nothing quite as ethereal as the landscape and wilderness in the winter – expressly the eery silence as there are no insects, no leaves rustling, even the sound of running water may be muted as it ices over. Both beautiful and dangerous, it’s exhilarating.
Winter conditions tend to favor the sighting of more wildlife as there is less foliage to hide behind, and if it’s been snowing their darker bodies stand out against the white. You may well see things you would miss entirely in the summer.
You’re at the bar, with your friends. After one friend finishes regaling you about what they binge-watched on Netflix last weekend because “it was freezing outside,” you can gleefully tell him about your trip into the backcountry with just your gear and your smarts. Respect.
Embarking on a trip into the wilderness in the winter takes a bit more planning, gear, and preparation than your typical summer foray. With the colder temperatures comes more risks and a thinner margin for error.
With the right foresight and gear, however, you can have just a safe and fun time as you would at the height of summer. In fact, many of the preparation elements such as planning a route, leaving a trip plan with someone or checking the weather will be the same as for a summer hike.
In addition to the above, you must be able to recognize and avoid potential avalanche areas – if you are likely to be near slopes above 20 degrees inclination, we would highly recommend some winter hiking/camping training for you or your group. Also, if this is your first trip out in the depths of winter we highly recommend inviting someone along who has some experience or cold weather skills such as avalanche training, building snow shelters, etc.
When it comes to winter hiking and camping, there is one rule above them all – stay dry and warm!
To do this well you need to choose appropriate clothing that wicks moisture away from your skin, is breathable and water- and windproof. This forms the basis for the principle of wearing three (or four) layers of clothes; a base layer next to your skin that keeps you warm and will wick moisture away from your skin (if it is frigid, double up here). A middle layer that will insulate you such as a fleece. Lastly, the outer shell layer that should be water/windproof and breathable to keep you protected from the elements.
Depending on what gear you have already, your “big 4” may need an upgrade to deal with the harsher temperatures.
A 4-season tent may well be a sound investment depending on the weather conditions you are expecting. These typically come with sturdier (albeit heavier) poles to cope with the weight of snowfall or stronger than usual winds & are usually double layered to provide extra insulation and reduce condensation.
Good winter sleeping bags are a bit more heavy duty than their summer cousins, often filled with goose or duck down to keep you cozy. Check out the bags EN rating, and always pick one rated about 10 degrees F colder than the lowest temperatures you are expecting.
What still comes as a surprise to most newbies, most of your body heat overnight is lost to the ground rather than the air. Therefore, a good sleeping pad (or two) is an investment in getting a great nights sleep. Those in the know often place a closed cell mat on the ground and layer a second self-inflating pad on top for maximum insulation.
With all the above and the extra clothing to take, you may need to opt for a larger bag to cart around your gear.
Tips for the Campsite
Always make sure you reach your appointed camping spot with plenty of time to set up camp – remember it gets dark a lot quicker in the winter!
When choosing a campsite, always remember the following:
- NEVER camp on ridges or other raised areas that could be exposed to high winds.
- NEVER camp in areas that may be prone to avalanches
- NEVER camp under overhanging trees or branches – a broken limb through your tent will make for an unwelcome alarm clock.
- ALWAYS pack down the snow where you plan to pitch your tent if you can let it settle for 30 mins before setting up your tents.
- ALWAYS pitch your tent, so the entrance is at 90 degrees to the prevailing winds.