Winter camping may be a stretch for some and an adventurous cold weather outdoor experience for others. The shift in seasonal camping can be made in increments from the milder shoulder seasons of late fall and early spring. As one gains more experience, overnight camping trips in the middle of winter can extend your camping adventures throughout the entire year.
Check out these tips below, from how to make simple, inexpensive change-overs from summer gear, to winter tent pitching tips, to how to stay comfortable and warm in your sleeping bag.
Other tips include how to make adaptations to your liquid containers and how to use snow to keep things from freezing.
Lastly, consider spending your first winter campouts in a camper cabin. It’s a warm, cozy base for sleeping yet lets you venture outside to cook, enjoy the campfire and explore on foot, XC skis or snowshoes. It also helps you try out different types of layered and insulated clothing that you will need to wear during your future winter camping adventures.
As aways, Be Smart; Be Safe; Have fun!
Going through some old camping supplies I came across an old tube of fire starter paste I hadn’t even used beyond a field test or two. It was at least five years old. I split open the metal tube and crumbled the dried, yellowed gel into granules and sprinkled a little onto a surface where I could throw a spark onto the “crumbs”. It ignited instantly! I then used a cotton ball to wipe the film of powder from the inside of the tube and then worked a few crumbs/powder into the cotton ball. Again, the sparks ignited the cotton instantly. It’s common to incorporate some vaseline into the cotton to extend the burning time (it’s not needed for the spark to ignite)…Using the crumbs of the dried fire starting paste was simply an aid to ensure a quick light and good burn with the cotton. These can be kept in a waterproof container as part of your fire starting kit.
You should never go hiking with a brand new pair of boots without breaking them in first. Likewise, you should never expect to rely on any survival tips you’ve read about but never actually have practiced. It’s always best to check out gear or new techniques in a controlled environment before you go afield and may have to rely upon them in a real, less forgiving situation.
Whenever I am going to be out enjoying the outdoors, be it on a car camping trip or even an afternoon hike, I try to practice a survival or back-country skill that I might need to draw upon in a critical situation. I also like to try out new or improved pieces of gear before I have to put them to a more rigorous, extended test.
Walking sticks/staffs provide additional, stable flowing support to one’s hiking gait. The smooth, wooden tip of the shaft can sometimes skid upon contact with rocks or used to balance support over larger logs. They are mostly useless without grabbing/biting power on bare ice.
An easy solution is to attach some form of ice cleat to the tip. I added a triangle of Ice Spikes
to my staff and used it against rocks and logs on a recent hike and found that the staff bites firmly into both surfaces allowing me secure support and increased balance when leaning into the staff as I walk through or over such obstacles.
Using a watch face to find North is a classic, almost parlor trick, technique familiar to most back-country adventurers. What many don’t quite understand is that it doesn’t matter if your watch is analog (with hour/minute hands) or a digital read-out. All that matters is what time it is.
On a recent outing, I had a notebook in my pocket, and knew the time from an old flip-phone style cell phone. By drawing a circle on the paper, using a stick to cast a shadow from the edge of the circle so it fell through the center of the circle, I knew that the stick marked 3 pm on my dial face. Knowing the process of halving the distance between the current hour and noon, I could create a south to north line from that point on the circle. This entire process took about 30 seconds.
I carry a minimalist survival kit with me at all times, and I mean bare essentials only: a Swiss army knife, a very simple ‘flint’ and steel fire starter, and a signal whistle, all coupled together with a small carabiner. These tools would enable me to crate a shelter, light a fire and sound a signal when rescuers are within earshot.
Oftentimes while relaxing while on a hike, I’ll look around for potential spark-catching tinder, testing various
dried leaves and seed tuffs to see what catches the tender sparks thrown from the fire starter kit. Practice honing your fire-starting skills while learning what natural resources (mixed with the lint from your pockets, perhaps) makes the best tinder.
Even your backyard can be the testing lab for new products or recently-learned methods. The key is to be prepared, knowing the limitations/challenges of a technique you expect to rely upon and then honing your own skills to a level you can count on when it really matters.
Be Safe; Be Smart; Have Fun!
An alternative to a bird “house” in winter is a “roost” structure that provides protection from the elements. Designed like a house with a few important differences: 1) a lower entrance hole prevents rising warm air generated by the birds from flowing out from the hole; 2) Using styrofoam panels as a liner helps insulate the structure; 3) perches within the interior gives birds room to utilize the space without crowding too tightly on the floor area only.
You don’t need to have any backcountry experience to know – “Don’t eat the yellow snow!” But what about snow in general – particularly in winter emergency/survival situation? The partial answer is “No” and “Yes”!
Caution reigns for both options. Because snow is about 70% air, a fist-sized clump of snow is only going to yield about one-third that volume in liquid. That meager amount will require an expenditure of calories that could be used more efficiently for other metabolic bodily processes – especially in a cold environment.
Swallowing clumps of snow or even repeatedly drinking very cold melted snow water tends to cool down your core temperature, too – readily contributing to the onset of hypothermia.
From those perspectives: “No”, do not eat snow!
However, in terms of protocols for consuming snow that do work, “Yes” you can eat snow – figuratively – in a couple of ways.
Compacting the snow into tight balls to the point they are semi-frozen spheres, you could literally let one melt in your mouth while you were exerting energy around your camp – generating heat to compensate for the loss of heat due to the oral snow-to-water conversion going on in your mouth.
The melting of snowfall from accumulations of ice on branches and other surfaces often produces icicles that contain more water than a clump of snow of the same volume. While your body must use up calories to melt the ice, the volume of water converted is much greater.
It’s important to treat melted snow water before drinking it. Because some chemical and mechanical purification processes/appliances don’t work so well in cold conditions, boiling is the best way to decontaminate water – even water from fresh “pure” snow as particles of dust and other airborne contaminants are often attached to the snow crystals.
It’s not necessary to stoke up a camp stove or build a fire to melt snow into water. For a large volume around camp, sure – add scoopfuls of snow to a big pot and melt and decontaminate at the same time.
However, in the field, snow added to your partially-filled water bottle will melt as it is dropped into that already liquid water (presumably kept from freezing by being stowed in an inner pocket). While this refilled water should be boiled, it nevertheless can be collected and melted without an external heat source.
Remember, too, stow your water bottle upside down. Should the water start to freeze, it does so from the top down meaning your screw-on lid or spout is at the bottom and not prone to icing up on you. [TIP: wrapping duct tape around a metal/plastic container reduces the ‘sting’ when grabbing with bare fingers]
Snow is a good source of water in the winter, the key is processing it properly. It’s vital to maintain hydration in cold weather, so making snow a water resource just requires safe and efficient protocols.
Blisters manifest themselves due to several different medical factors. For the outdoor enthusiast, however, it’s usually an external irritation that gives rise to a blister from ill-fitting footwear (material rubbing against skin – referred to as “shear”, not actually friction) or using a tool (axe handle, canoe paddle, etc.; or a thermal blister from grabbing a hot pan handle from the campfire. In each case, a painful, bubble-like swelling erupts on your skin as a blister. In most all cases, treatment is the same.
Initially, the best way to deal with a blister that is unbroken, is to carefully wash the area and apply a gauze pad over the area. You can then apply a couple of friction-eliminating treatments to the blister (and to the area of the footwear creating the friction).