WINTER CAMPING TIPS
I'm just getting interested in winter camping, and this is a page of tips that I am putting together as I research. This list is just compiled from resources I've read, heard or seen in my quest for winter camping info. If you have any more tips, feel free to e-mail them to me and I'll add them here. Please note that I have very little winter camping experience, and therefore haven't tested many of these tips... so they could be all wrong. I encourage everyone to do their own research on the topic before you believe anything I tell you.
- Staying dry is the most important way to stay warm. Replace wet clothing as soon as possible, and air dry wet items at every opportunity
- Avoid cotton clothing at all costs! It gets wet and stays wet. New synthetic fibres are the best for winter camping (polyester, nylon), but wool is still very effective, although just as pricey as the high-tech stuff!
- Dress in layers so you can adapt to the conditions. Add or remove layers as necessary to keep your body just warm, but not hot. If you're hot, you will be producing a lot more sweat, and making your clothing wet.
- Tight clothing and boots restrict blood circulation, and therefore you get cold (circulation of warm blood is what keeps your extremities warm). Wear loose, non-restrictive layers, especially on your feet. Don't put on extra socks if they make your boots snug - you would be warmer if you weren't wearing them Also, watch for elastic cuffs on parkas and pants - they can often be too tight. Look for clothes with adjustable velcro type cuffs.
- Don't wear waterproof clothing. Waterproof clothing blocks all moisture from leaving, and since it has nowhere else to go, it soaks into your clothing - and remember, wet clothing = COLD! Get a water resistant parka and shell pants, and you'll be much more comfortable.
- Don't cover your nose and mouth with your sleeping bag. Your breath will freeze in the insulation. Get a bag with a good hood, and wear a balaclava, and you shouldn't need to have your head right inside the bag.
- Clean clothing insulates better than dirty clothing, because it can fluff up easier, and therefore trap more warm air.
- Gaiters are necessary to keep the snow out of your boots. If you don't have them, your feet will get wet extremely fast from the snow which enters the tops of your boots and is melted by your body heat.
- Mittens are warmer than gloves, as they allow your fingers to touch each other and share body heat.
- Use layers on your hands too! Light liner gloves are good, because you can keep them on for tasks which require manual dexterity. Then a heavy wool or fleece mitt, and finally a waterproof shell mitt with long gauntlets to keep snow out.
- Attach an "idiot cord" to your mitts. This is a cord that is sewn or clipped on to your mitts and then looped around or clipped to your arm. This way, when you take off your mitts you don't have to worry about them blowing away and getting lost.
- Take a seperate change of clothes just for sleeping. Air them out during the day if possible. This way they'll be dry when you go to bed. A full set of long underwear, thick wool socks and a toque or balaclava should be a good start. If it's really cold, and/or your sleeping bag isn't quite warm enough, take more sleeping clothes. There's an added bonus of this too - wearing a separate set of clothes keeps your sleeping bag cleaner, therefore reducing the number of times you have to wash it. The less you wash it, the longer it will last.
- You lose a lot of heat to the cold, cold ground at night. Make sure you have sufficient insulation between your body and the ground. Many people use two mattresses, one self-inflating air mattress type, and one closed cell foam type. This way you have lots of insulation, and the closed cell foam provides a backup, in case the air matress springs a leak. Don't use a standard air matress - they provide very little insulation because the air inside just conducts your heat from you.
- Drink lots of water! Even cold water will help warm you up. That's because your body operates more efficiently when it's well hydrated. Drink non-stop from your trusty water bottle.
- To test if you're getting enough water, check your urine. It should be clear, not yellow. If it's yellow, you know it's time to drink more!
- An easier way to melt water for snow is to use whatever water is left in your waterbottle to get it started. This way the snow won't burn your pot. (yes it does burn!)
- Ice produces more water when melted than the equivalent volume of snow. Use ice or crusty snow if possible - not light fluffy stuff, when you're melting for water.
- Take lots of extra fuel! Cooking at low temps. and melting snow for water takes a lot more fuel than you would think.. and it always pays to be on the safe side, especially in the winter!
- Always use a lid on your pots to keep the heat in. It makes a huge difference, especially in the winter.
- One pot meals are the best for winter camping, because it's too cold to make anything more elaborate! You won't want to be making a 4 course meal when it's -40 and windy.
- Carry your water bottle inside your parka to keep it from freezing.
- Water freezes from the top down, so placing your bottle upside down will keep the mouth from freezing solid for as long as possible.
- Spend your first winter campout night in your back yard, or close to your car. This way you can retreat to warmth if something goes wrong. Don't undertake a serious backcountry trip without first testing out all of your gear!
- Simple tasks can become not so simple in the winter. Make sure to plan lots of time for things like setting up camp, and remember that it gets dark a lot earlier in the day during the winter!
- The ideal tent site should be sheltered from the wind, yet would still catch the sunrise in the morning to warm you up. It would not be in the lowest area, because hot air rises (and therefore the COLD air is in the lowest areas)
- Tramp down your campsite and tent area with your skis or snowshoes on, then let it set a while before you place your tent on it. This will prevent you from sinking into the snow at night.
- Watch out for the sun! Many people get fooled, and think that they don't need to take precautions against the sun in winter. However, it's actually worse than in the summer, because that nice shiny white snow reflects the sun back at you - effectively giving you a double dose of harmful rays. Wear sunglasses for sure (or tinted goggles). Sunscreen is also a good idea.