There is something special about winter camping. Whether it’s the hush of a snow-covered world or the glint of sunlight reflecting off icicles, winter camping shows you things you could never see in any other season. In the winter you can see farther through the woods without leaves to block out the light, you can step onto frozen waterways, and spot winter migrant birds looking for seeds on the white-packed ground. The air often feels cleaner in winter, and outdoor athletes definitely feel more virtuous after a day in the wintry elements.
The best way to enjoy these rare experiences is to go camping! Below you’ll find a few suggestions for making your all-season camping trip more pleasurable, along with safety tips and techniques. So read on, then head out into the snows for a winter day of frolicking fun.
Before you get started, be sure to check the weather report. Dramatic winter storms can be dangerous with the threat of blizzards, ice storms, freezing rain, and avalanches. Get your trip off to a good start by planning to go when the weather is calm and, ideally, clear. If you’ll be driving to your campsite, consider putting on snow tires or carrying tire chains.
Next, turn your attention to packing your clothes. If you’ll be camping in snow, it’s important that your outer-most layer be something water and wind resistant. Gortex jackets and pants are best because they wick moisture away (and it’s moisture that will do the most harm while winter camping, keeping you from warming up). Alternatives to Gortex include waterproof windbreakers for the upper layer and snow pants or baggy wool pants for the bottom.
Below this top layer, be sure to dress in layers of wool and synthetic fibers. As your body warms up, it gives off warmth that heats the air around the skin. If you’re wearing layers, this warm air gets trapped next to your body, keeping your skin warm. More layers create more pockets in which warm air can be trapped, so you can stay nice and toasty during your walk through the woods.
Dampness, however, is the enemy in your effort to get and stay warm in winter. Once you start to sweat, the moisture cools your body down. If you’re wearing wicking layers next to the skin, like polypropelene or wood, the moisture will be carried away from your skin and will, ideally, evaporate in the air. If your upper-most layer is too waterproof, the moisture will have trouble escaping. If that’s your situation, then be sure to travel with extra dry layers, so you can change your undershirt when it gets damp. If you’re hiking, it’s best to change your under-most layer whenever you stop for a long break.
Ground cover is also important during winter camping. Damp ground and rocks (even dry ones) can sap your heat away, so carry a piece of waterproof foam pad or other layered sit-upon for enjoying picnics outside. Tent campers will also want to store their water bottles inside the tent, and possibly even inside someone’s sleeping bad, to keep the water from freezing completely at night.
Once you’re well-dressed, with water-proof footgear on your feet, you’re ready to tackle the wintry world. Put a wool hat on your head to preserve your heat, then head for the trail! And remember to bring lip balm, sun glasses, and sun screen (yes, even in February) with you on your all-weather adventure.