By John Hawthorne
Some of you may think the idea of camping during the winter is insane. Surely only a glutton for punishment or a hardcore outdoors lover would dream up such a crazy scheme. You love the outdoors, but your camping is only going to happen in the summer.
The truth is, winter camping can actually be quite refreshing.
If you are looking for some solitude and snow, a winter camping trip is the perfect getaway. Instead of flocking to the beach to find rest and relaxation, try bundling up and heading north.
However, before you begin your excursion it is important to understand the specific types of shelter, food, and clothing needed to prepare yourself for the adventure ahead. The worst thing you can do is wander into the frigid wilderness unprepared. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Here’s what you need to know before your next winter camping trip.
Having a suitable base camp to return to after a long day of hiking is essential for your safety and comfort during the trip. Your tent must be sturdy and able to protect you from elements like wind, ice, and cold nights.
Can you imagine having your tent ripped off you in subzero weather at 2:00 AM? It’s like something out of The Revenant. The right shelter is crucial.
Three-Season Tents will work for a trip in a mild climate that has stable weather patterns. If you’re heading to places like Colorado or Utah, a three season tent will be the perfect shelter. When using this tent, ensure that you situate your camp in a sheltered area to minimize wind exposure. For extra protection against ice storms, bring a tarp to cover your tent in inclement weather.
And remember the first rule of winter camping: The moment you say, “Surely there won’t be any ice storms,” you’re going to find yourself buried in block of ice.
Four season tents are invaluable when heading to harsher climates. These tents are made with a heavy-duty double walled canvas material and are available in a circle or square shape. Four season tents sometimes have a space for a for a stove to keep your shelter warm. Four season tents are more expensive , but are a good investment for serious hikers and hunters.
If you’re feeling extra adventurous, building a snow shelter is your warmest option. The simplest structure to build is a quinzee–also known as an igloo!
A few guidelines for building a quinzee that would make even the most rugged outdoorsman proud. Katie Roberts recommends:
- Mark a circle in the snow sufficient to sleep in and allowing for the thickness of the walls of your quinzee. Remember, you’re going to be fitting your entire body in this thing. Give yourself enough space.
- Stir up the snow in the center of your circle while adding more snow from outside the circle.
- Continue adding and mixing up the snow until you have a large mound that domes at the top.
- Poke a few sticks into this mound about 12 to 18 inches. This will be a gauge for the thickness of your walls
After taking a lunch break, head inside to smooth the inside walls and get situated. Perhaps consider adding some decorations, such as a few throw rugs, some antique furniture, and a television. Just kidding.
Your sleeping bag is an essential part the shelter needed for your trip. Your sleeping bag will act as an extra layer of protection from the cold while in your shelter. Bags are available in the traditional rectangle sharp and “mummy” shapes.
Mummy bags are available in longer lengths, giving you an extra storage space at the bottom of your bag. Mummy bags also offer superior insulation because of the distinct shape. The top is wider than the bottom, wrapping you tightly in a “mummy” position.
Most winter bags are rated for cold temperatures. Choose the rating of your bag depending on the climate you are exploring.
The final layer of protection is a sleeping pad. Sleeping pads are inserted into your sleeping bag and act as extra insulation for your body. Plus, they keep your body from pressing against the hard ground all night, which is a bonus the more old and rickety your become.
These pads are usually inflatable, designed to make packing a breeze. Typically, the best sleeping pad options include a foam and air core. So essentially it’s like you’re sleeping on a Nike Air shoe. Sort of.
Durable shelters protect you physically, but also act as a place of comfort after a testing day. Preparing your shelter, from the tent to your physical core warmth is important for your safety during your trip. Remember, after a day of hiking, you’re going to be cold and exhausted. You want a place to come back and warm up. If you skimp on the shelter you’re going to regret it down the road.
Once you have secured your shelter, ensure that you have the appropriate clothing for your excursion. Like your shelter, the key to winter camping clothing is layering. You will need layers like long underwear, core warmers, and insulating jackets. It’s always better to overdress for your climate than be unprepared for unexpected cold. If necessary you can strip layers off.
Dry wicking socks will assist in protecting your feet from the sweat produced that can create discomfort. Many seasoned hikers suggest layering your socks. However, if the layering makes your boots too tight do not use this tip.
If your boots become too tight, layering your socks works against you by cutting off circulation – you need blood flowing to your feet to keep them warm.
The most important layer to consider is your boots. Light hiking boots will not work on a winter excursion. Those Uggs your mom bought you for Christmas? Leave them home. Winter boots need to be waterproof and insulating.
Crampons are a tool that attach to your boots to offer stronger traction. Many crampon options are available for moderate to extreme terrain. Be sure to ask an expert which style suits your trek the best. Crampons are especially important if you’re going to be hiking over ice.
Snowshoes and Skis are used when trekking through snow deeper than one foot. They assist you in staying on the surface and allow you to maneuver through both soft and hard packed snow. Trying to hike mile after mile through knee deep snow will exhaust you in a matter of moments.
The human body burns more calories when it’s cold, simply to keep warm. According to Princeton University, a person on a winter backpacking trip needs 4,500 to 5,000 calories a day.
This means that your diet for the trip must include high levels of carbs, fats, and protein throughout the day to keep your body fueled. Luckily, it is much easier to pack perishable foods during winter trips because the outdoors is your refridgerator! This allows you to bring things like meat, cheese, and butter– foods that will work to keep your body fueled.
This is also your excuse to double down on all those foods you normally don’t eat. Consider your entire trip one long cheat day on your diet!
For breakfast, double down on protein. Try spreading peanut butter on an english muffin for a quick and easy meal. Also, enjoy your cup of coffee to start the day off warm.
Lunch should include more protein and carbs. Because you can pack meat, it’s easy to make a sandwich with lunchmeat and cheese to refuel.
Dinner should balance protein, carbs, and fats to keep you warm overnight. Try cooking some chicken and rice smothered in butter.
Snacks are easy for winter trips. Bring along things like nuts, almonds, cheese sticks, and chocolate filled gorp (your chocolate won’t melt).
Also, anything you cook with a stove in the cold will use three times the fuel it would during the summer.
Finally, the most important part of your diet on the trip is water. Because your body is burning so many calories, you dehydrate faster. It is easy to forget to drink water when you’re cold, but you must be consciously drinking throughout the day. Drinks like hot cocoa and tea should only boost your calories.
Tips for Trekking
Many other factors, including navigation and downtime, play into the safety and success of your trip. In addition to your three basics needs, mind these factors while you prepare:
- Don’t rely on your tracks to lead you back to camp. Wind and snow will wipe them away.
- You will be in your sleeping bag most of the time in your tent. Bring activities like cards that you can play as a group to pass the time.
- Keep your blood flowing even during downtime. Periodically do jumping jacks, sit ups, or go for a walk to stay warm.
- Most importantly, it is easier to STAY warm than to GET warm. Check your weather forecast daily and plan your layers accordingly.
Where Should I Go?
With so many beautiful locations for a winter camping trip, it’s hard to decide where to explore! Start by visiting these 5 beautiful parks in the United States:
- Mt. Hood National Forest
- Located in Oregon, east of Portland
- Large forest is often overlooked for winter trips with lots of trails for skiing and snowshoeing.
- National Lakeshore
- Located on Lake Michigan
- Plan to visit Pictured Rocks, a popular summer destination is even more beautiful in the winter
- Yosemite National Park
- World famous park located in California
- Easy access to campground during winter months
- View its sequoias covered in snow from the Wawona Meadow trail or Glacier Point
- Adirondack Mountains
- Located in New York
- Lakes freeze and give access to places you can’t reach during summer months
- Acadia National Park
- Located on the Maine coastline
- Climb up the Gorham Mountain trail for spectacular 360 views
Visiting any of these locations during the winter is sure to keep you wanting more!
Winter camping isn’t just for extremists. As long as you know what you’re doing, and don’t do something stupid like hike in only a t-shirt for hours on end, you can thoroughly enjoy your trip.
During your trip, ensure the fulfillment of your three basic needs: food, clothing, and shelter. Before embarking on your journey, ensure that you have the proper supplies to meet you needs. By taking care of these essentials, you will free yourself to enjoy the world you are exploring and have a successful winter camping trip.