Monday, November 15, 2010

Winter Camping

The first time I went winter camping I was understandably wary. I am not really a cold-loving gal (although the first snowfall every year always excites me), and brief thoughts of black, frost-bitten toes and fingers, and brief mental pictures of doomed arctic excursions would come to mind from time to time.

I wanted to be camping in snow, however; that was my big goal. One year we decided to camp for the weekend up in Hope sometime around the end of March. In the lower mainland all hope of snow camping had melted away with the little tiny bit of white we had that winter; however, as we turned off on to the logging road leading to Caroline Mines, my brother said, "Oh, Row, I think we got snow." And sure enough, we did--tons of it. We had driven up late afternoon and now it was night, and the pristine, sparkling white blanketing every flat surface was post-card perfect. Absolutely beautiful.

And cold.

One of the really beautiful facts about winter camping is that no one camps in winter. Wherever your favorite camping spot is, when it's cold and snowy out, you have your pick of sites. This is one of the sweetest advantages of camping in the winter months. We honestly didn't know which spot to choose. We finally all flapped our arms up and down and said, "Well, what about here?" There was a cottonwood sapling sticking up out of the ground--they're the equivalent of dandelions and buttercups for invasive growth--about two feet high. We stuck dry kindling we had brought with us (clever newbies!) around it, with paper at the base and set it ablaze in a kind of sacrifice only vegetarians would think of. We soon had a wonderful blaze going because most of the wood was not touching snow.  The fire didn't end until our camping trip did.

Here is what I learned on my first--and only--winter camping trip:

1.  Do not scrimp on the price of your sleeping bag. The ones that let you sleep comfortably in minus multi-degree weather will cost more. PAY IT.

2.  Make certain the floor of your tent is waterproof. Mine was by a happy accident; when I began to pack up I discovered I was sleeping on a lake, because the heat of my tent melted the snow underneath.

3.  Sleep in your long underwear (mandatory to have this), and stuff your clothes for the next day in the sleeping bag with you when you go to bed. Jeans, socks, shirt, coat--everything. The last thing you want to put on in the morning is ice-encrusted clothes.

4.  Invest in a tent heater. These are safer than propane lamps, and I can't even begin to describe the relief of reaching a hand out from under your sleeping bag to turn on the heat, to warm up the tent a half hour before you stick a timid toe out.

5.  Always, always, always, keep an extra pair or two of dry winter socks on hand. The temperature of your feet becomes ultra-important when you camp in winter.

6,  You will need coolers to keep your food in, but not ice. The whole outdoors is your refridgerator.

7.  You can't layer your clothes enough. Thin socks under thick socks in winter kamiks; long underwear under tshirts under shirts under down vests under coats. Long underwear under jeans. As the weather changes, you can peel off or put on those layers.

8.  Invest in three pairs of gloves--those cheapie dollar one size fits all, a pair of half-finger gloves(that can be worn over the cheapie ones or by themselves, and a good pair of winter mitts.

9.  Have a cook-shack (a kitchen tent) erected in case sleet becomes a problem. If worst comes to worst, you can all sit inside it while one of you makes yummy stuff to eat, to pass the time away.

10.  Take plenty of camera film. You're going to need it.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you have decided to brave the elements and get a taste of winter camping. HOWEVER... you should probable take a few more trips before feeling qualified to give advice... as you made several cardinal mistakes that could have ended your trip 'poorly' if you werent near a vehicle.
#1: A good sleeping pad wasnt mentioned. This is just as important as a good bag, but even the best bag wont keep you warm laying on the snow.
#2: Your "highly recommended" tent heater is why you packed up 'in a lake'. Air in the winter is cold and dry. This is not a bad thing. If your layers (no cotton remember) are dry when you put them on it only takes a few minutes in even the coldest of temperatures for you to start building heat. A few jumping jacks outside the tent works to. Clearing a spot (down to ground level if practical) for your tent so you are not sleeping on the snow is very advised. The hole also creates a wind barrier that will help keep inside the tent warmer.
#3: The last thing you want to sleep with are clothes wet enough to “get encrusted with ice” and NEVER take jeans and t-shirts camping in the winter. Cotton layers will hold moisture againts you and wet = cold. Fleece is inexpensive and a much better choice.
#4: Having extra dry layers are very important; avoiding getting wet is equally as important. I like to say “you have to be cold to keep warm”. If you are overly layered and active you will sweat in your base layers. Feeling just a ‘tad cold’ will ensure you are properly layered and keeping dry. Remember wet = cold!
So try these few tip on your next campout. Enjoy the outdoors! R-

Maxine said...

Hi Anonymous! Thank you so much for your helpful tips and comments. I mentioned at the beginning of my blog that the hints and tips I gave were a few things I learned on my first and only winter camping trip. They were never meant to be taken as advice from a qualified winter camper. I would hope that anyone planning to camp in winter would do more research than just my blog, or your comment.

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