One of the most fun and exciting activities for winter is of course, winter camping! Winter camping is just like summer camping, except that it’s … winter. Winter camping is not that simple though, as winter camping needs careful and meticulous planning as extremely cold climate is the main threat here. With summer camping, there is not much problem with building shelter at night, as a simple fire can warm up the evening. Winter camping on the other hand may require layers of clothing, proper snow quality, fire, snow caves, quinzhees, and even igloos.
It may be snowy and cold but winter camping is the way to go!
Plan the Trip
Before even thinking about wearing your snow shoes and hitting the snow, plan everything first. Like any other camping activity, despite any season (Summer, Winter, Spring, Autumn), camping can post significant danger – you are facing the freezing wrath of nature at its rawest form. Keep in mind that everything you do will be significantly slower compared to summer camping due to the coldness of the climate, and the hindrance thick snow can bring. It is also important to keep in mind that daylight is a lot shorter in the winter, so it is best to finish setting camp before dark.
Research the Location
As with any trip, it is always best to do a little research on where you and your group are going winter camping. For your researching convenience, there is always the Internet. Google the park or resort you are planning to go to. Know the facilities, snow levels, accident history (very important!), etc. Avalanches and deep snow are the biggest threats to winter camping, so it is best to know whether your choice location is avalanche prone.
Snow quality is also very important. know whether the place have deep snow all throughout the season, or whether they have quick melting snow, or thin ice lakes. These locations are not advised.
Take note of how huge your camping group is going to be, so you would have enough food, shelter, shade, fire, etc., enough to accommodate everybody. It is also important to take note how many, if any, are experienced with winter camping, or camping per se.
Hypothermia and Frostbite
Given that it is winter, the key to having fun without making the trip life-threatening is to keep warm. Hypothermia and frostbite are two conditions that are potentially fatal when left untreated. Hypothermia is a condition where the normal body temperature about of 100° F (37.8° C) drops below 95° F (35° C). Hypothermia can cause system excitation such as severe shivering, hypertension, and vasoconstriction. It can also cause cold diuresis, difficulty in speaking, confusion, hypothalamus malfunctions, frostbite, and in severe cases, death.
Frostbite is a condition where isolated parts of the body (more commonly the fingers and toes) suffer from extreme cold temperature which causes the skin, tissue, and blood vessels to freeze. Deep frostbite may lead to eventual amputation.
Dress your [Winter] Best
It is always vital to keep warm during the winter season whether you’re camping or not. As said earlier, hypothermia and frostbite are two conditions that you should be wary about as these can be very dangerous and most of the times fatal.
Layer your clothing
The best method to keep warm outdoors is to layer your clothing. Layer loose clothing over each other. Layering clothing allows you to be versatile by letting you easily adjust your clothing according to temperature, activity level, or precipitation. Several shirts, a sweater, and a jacket is a suitable combination which allows you to adjust your insulation system in more ways than will a single heavy insulating coat.
But remember not to ‘overheat’ your clothing by over-layering. Too much insulation will of course cause sweating, and sweating can eventually cause chilling later on. Adjust your layers of clothing to meet the outside temperature or intensity of activity accordingly.
Wool is an ideal material for cold weather because it is durable and water resistant. Even when soaked, it can still keep you warm. Various clothing items such as blankets, socks, hats, mitten, sweaters, coats, and even pants are available in wool. However, some people have skin that are irritable to wool. You can always use wool blends or simply wear it over another item made of other fabrics.
Synthetic fabric is an ideal material for inner layer clothing because it has the ability to wick away moisture from your body. Remember that dry clothing is warm clothing.
Avoid any clothing made from cotton, as cotton loses its insulating qualities whenever it becomes wet.
Probably one of the most important clothing item for winter camping is durable and insulating shoes. Snow appropriate footwear is essential because it will have the most contact with snow. Snow boots that are moisture proof, waterproof, and of course, warm, are vital.
Mittens or Gloves?
It’s advisable to bring both mittens and gloves. Mittens are more effective in creating and retaining heat for your fingers as it allows your fingers to be in direct contact with each other. Gloves on the other hand allow movement and dexterity, which is necessary for the many tasks around the camp. Mittens may be too clumsy too work with.
Don’t be shy
Don’t be afraid about bringing extra hats, gloves, mittens, sweaters, socks and shirts as you can never know how cold it could get at the middle of the night. Winter camping is not a fashion show, it is always better to be warm and comfy, than stylish and sorry.
Food and Water
Winter camping food should not just be any junk food you could find on your refrigerator, as said many times earlier, it is important to keep warm – so it is best to pack up on carbohydrates. Carbohydrates will not only give you a lot of energy for hiking and other winter camping activities, but it will also give keep your body warm for quite a long time. Proteins like meat, nuts, grains and fish are also recommended. If not on a diet or does not suffer from any heart ailments, fatty foods such as margarine, butter, milk, pork, etc. are excellent sources of warmth (ever wonder why polar bears, dugongs, seals, and walruses survive freezing weather? It’s primarily because of fat.).
It is also essential to drink plenty of water. The dry winter air can dehydrate you faster than you can notice it, so it is best to drink up. Water also helps to keep your body warm. Know when you actually are dehydrated? If your urine already has a vibrant yellow color, and when you pinch your skin and it awkwardly flexes back slower than usual – you’re as dry as a desert.
What’s camping without shelter? Not every tent is appropriate for winter camping, so you better make sure your tent is cold proof. Sleeping bags should also be heavily insulated, it is better to have more than one. It should also be spacious to accommodate you and your gear. For more experienced winter campers, building a quinzhee, snow cave, or igloo is also a viable option, not to mention fun.
It’s best to keep the inside of your shelter dry, for obvious reasons. Candles (for big tents and snow shelters only) are good items that will not only give light and warmth, it can also keep the air dry. Before entering your shelter, try to get warm first. Do some jumping jacks or other slightly vigorous activity just so you’re warm when you enter your tent.
Remember that in winter camping, staying warm is key to have a fun, safe, and exhilarating winter experience.