Eight Winter Camping and Backpacking Tips
But just because it's cold doesn't mean you have to stay inside. Here are some of the tips we chatted about and have used on our trips!
Keep things warm inside your sleeping bag. In addition to using a warm water bottle as a heat source, which was one of my tips in the Pocket Ranger article, keeping your water in liquid form will make cooking in the morning much easier. Put your bottles in your sleeping bag with you. Also, keeping extra clothes in your bag prevents you from having to don ice cold duds in the morning. Bring extra large freezer bags, put your boots in them, and take your boots to bed with you. They'll be a lot easier to put on in the morning.
Use everything at your disposal to insulate you from the ground. Being cold is generally unpleasant, but not being able to warm up again is miserable and potentially dangerous. You lose most of your heat to the ground overnight, so the more between you and the ground, the better. In addition to your sleeping pad, empty your pack and put it under your feet. A camping chair, (think Crazy Creek style), which is awesome for comfort around the fire, can also unfold to make an extra layer of padding and insulation under your sleeping pad.
|Trails won't look like they do in summer, which is awesome, but you've gotta be prepared! (PC: D. Herscovitch)|
Know how to warm yourself back up. If you are really cold and simply can't warm up, you may have to get moving before you turn in for bed or settle in to cook a meal. Try to find some constructive activity like scouting the area or gathering firewood that will get you active and warm you up. If all else fails, a few minutes of jumping jacks before bed can make a world of difference.
Review the basics of frostbite and hypothermia. I've been lucky to do cold weather camping trips with guides, or with friends who are wilderness first aid certified, in the medical profession, or both. But before you leave, be sure everyone in your party knows how to recognize frostbite and hypothermia, at a minimum. And at least one of you should know how to - and how not to - treat them.
|Tread carefully, getting wet is a recipe for disaster in cold weather.|
Don't underestimate the weather. You may have been camping in warmer weather, even on the same trail or same campground, and been fine. Going to a familiar place for the first time in the winter can be radically different. Steep climbs on backpacking trails can become completely covered in ice and nearly impassable. Being stuck in a place for a couple of days in the summer may be unfortunate, but in the winter, it can be fatal. Be prepared. This includes packing a pair of crampons or Yaktrax should you think you'll encounter ice on the trails.
|Things like camera batteries should be kept in your pocket, as they won't work if they freeze.|
Bring multiple fire-starting options. Butane lighters don't work if they're cold, so bring matches or a Zippo or keep the Butane lighter warm in your pocket. Make sure you are able to light your stove in the temperature you expect to encounter - it may be easy when it's warm, but some stoves are tricky in the cold.
I'm planning a winter camping trip soon and will definitely make use of all of these tips! Do you have any tips we missed? Leave a comment and let me know!