How To: Winter Camping

Topics in this category pertain to planning. Discussions include how to prepare yourself, your family and your community for catastrophes and what you plan to do when they hit you.

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How To: Winter Camping

Post by Murph » Fri Jan 15, 2010 8:55 am

I've done a winter camps in the past, and it can be a good experience or it can be f'n miserable. Key factor is in how much you plan ahead. I'm by no means an expert, and I'm sure there is plenty that could be added to this so feel free to do so.

In no particular order, the most important things to address are Food, Heat, Shelter, and Clothing.

Food: Due to the fact that your going to be cold to some degree, your body is going to be using up a lot of calories trying to keep itself warm. This means your calorie intake per meal should be more than what your using. Big, hearty, warm meals are the key here. It's also important to stay hydrated, most people wouldn't think it in the winter, but your body needs water regardless to operate right. Warm beverages are a plus, but cold water is better than nothing.

Heat: Your main source of heat will be your camp fire. It's okay to have more fire wood than you think you'll need, it can always be used later, or by the next guy. As a back up small propane heaters work very well. They're easy to use, and you don't have to worry as much about burning the forest down. If you have multiple people try to schedule a rotating fire watch overnight, waking up in the morning and trying to get a fire going sucks.

Shelter: Not much to say here, most everyone has tents. If you have a choice between a larger or smaller one, go large. Chances are it wouldn't need to be staked down (the ground could be frozen.) You'll probably need extra room for larger sleeping bags, blankets, etc. Plus if you need to change clothes, you'd want to do that inside the tent.

Clothing: LOL - Lots Of Layers! A good base layer of long johns/polypros/etc is a must. Build up from there, avoid cotton, prefer wool. My opinion is fleece is a good mid layer. Make sure you have awesome socks, hats, and gloves. Thin glove liners are a plus for when you need to do more delicate tasks without freezing your hands. One overlooked thing is a good neck warmer / scarf /balaclava and one big enough to pull up onto your nose.
Does your BOB at least have: water, basic tools, fire, food, first-aid kit, and shelter?
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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by Rush2112 » Fri Jan 15, 2010 9:23 am

I actually prefer smaller tents for winter camping, simply because you have a better chance of raising the temperature inside the tent with your body heat if you have less cubic feet of air to heat. It's for this reason that people build igloos and not ice palaces.
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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by EricinVirginia » Fri Jan 15, 2010 9:48 am

Also, avoid putting your tent, fire, or activity area under a tree's limbs without first shaking the hell out of the tree. Nothing sucks worse than having to start a cold fire from embers in the morning, as Murph noted, but it's much worse to get it going only to have snow fall off a tree branch and snuff the fire entirely... or fall on your tent. If you can't shake it hard enough to dislodge snow/ice, you're in the wrong area.

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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by mantis » Fri Jan 15, 2010 10:07 am

Good post. I'd add a note about sleeping. You do NOT want to go to sleep all nice and toasty warm. If you do, you will sweat and you will get very cold very quickly. I always advise people to sleep virtually in the nude while winter camping and to ensure that what they go to sleep, they feel slightly (but not uncomfortably so) chilly.
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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by congochris » Fri Jan 15, 2010 10:22 am

Further note on tents: Full fly. Can't stress it enough. Unless you're going single wall with a stove, you'll want a full fly, or you will likely be colder than all get-out. Two successive COZS wintergeddon's have taught me this. Next year, I'm taking my old Kelty tent and to hell with using a huge tent with a propane heater. Without a full fly even a heater that was warm enough to melt the lid of my Nalgene (about a foot fromt he heater, to keep it from freezing) couldn't keep the 8 man tent more than 10 or so degrees warmer than ambient. We brought said tent with my vague rememberances of a full fly which were incorrect; the window side of the fly ended 3 or 4 feet from the ground, providing an easy escape for the heat. The guys sleeping in the pine-bough fire-warmed shelter slept better than us. :roll:

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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by Sinzitu » Fri Jan 15, 2010 10:23 am

I won't sleep nude during a winter camping outing... might scare someone. :lol:

Instead I recommend not sleeping in the same clothes you have worn all day. Any excess moisture will be trapped in them and then in your sleeping bag. This can make you cold and uncomfortable. I change into dry clothes when bedding down.

I 2nd the vote for a smaller tent. Large 3 season tents are good for family outings but a smaller tent will be a bit warmer for true winter camping.
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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by Murph » Fri Jan 15, 2010 10:40 am

The problem I've seen with smaller tents is condensation and frozen condensation. When I said large, I was thinking 3 man tent, not 8 and such. As always, your mileage may vary.
Does your BOB at least have: water, basic tools, fire, food, first-aid kit, and shelter?
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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by cjm3fl » Fri Jan 15, 2010 10:46 am

Foot wear.
Good traction and dry feet are very important during any winter activity like camping, or just trying to get home in a bad snow storm.
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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by Rush2112 » Fri Jan 15, 2010 10:47 am

I don't like bigger than a two man, personally This is especially true when you have a tent like mine. It's almost completely mesh. The only real thing keeping the heat in is the full fly, which also has two large vestibules.

It's not supposed to be used as an all-weather tent, but it's quite warm if you use the full fly and it can support a good deal of snow as well.
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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by offcamber » Fri Jan 15, 2010 11:02 am

Some things I've learned over the years:

1. Get a good thermarest to insulate you and your bag from the ground
2. Drink lots of water
3. Don't put your tent too close to the fire.. we burned one down.
4. You can boil water and put it in a Nalgene and tuck it in your sleeping bad about ten minutes before bed.. makes it nice and cozy.
5. You can put Nalgenes with water/drinks in them inside the middle of your bag, or put them in a couple of wool socks to keep the contents from freezing at night..
6. Filtering water in sub freezing temps is a pain in the ass and can wreck filters, best to boil water or melt snow.
7. Wear a hat! I usually use a hat and a military neck gaiter b/c I can turn it into a balaclava or wear it as a hat and scarf.
8. Keep track of your gloves.. I lost a glove on a trip one time, it fell out of my pocket. The rest of the weekend sucked.
9. Keep your boots laced snug, but not too tight.. also don't wear too many pairs of socks.
10. Gaiters, Gaiters, Gaiters! And Gore-Tex Boots!
11. Waterproof pants and Jacket.. You may be sitting around in the snow a lot. I've found that the "water resistant" stuff for snowboarding etc.. doesn't work all that well for sitting around in the snow.. you still get cold/wet.
12. Get a good packable snow shovel. I like making snow furniture, especially a snow throne to over see my camp.
13. Build your fire with some kind of reflector, it sucks having your back freeze all night by the fire.
14. Eat lots of warm food/drinks. Coffee, Cocoa, etc.. with a good hot meal definitely raises the spirits.
15. Avoid drinking excessive alcohol.. you may feel real warm and toasty, but its deceiving, and you can end up in trouble.

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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by Rush2112 » Fri Jan 15, 2010 11:16 am

offcamber wrote:15. Avoid drinking excessive alcohol.. you may feel real warm and toasty, but its deceiving, and you can end up in trouble.
SO true. My grandfather was a very eccentric man. His signature piece of clothing was an Izod sweater, which was as warm as he ever dressed. He loved extreme weather (he would watch tornadoes from his porch when he lived in Illinois while my mother and her siblings and my grandmother hid in the basement), and he was an alcoholic.

One day, while he was living in New Hampshire, he got cocked, and went out in the middle of a blizzard to go for a walk. Nothing abnormal about that (for him, at least). Nor was the fact that he was still only wearing an Izod sweater. Long story short, he was found several days after the storm in an alley near his apartment. Literally, human Popsicle. I'd like to add that this was DOWNTOWN in a town of 80,000 people. Just think what can happen far away from help.
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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by wyominglostandfound » Fri Jan 15, 2010 11:42 am

want a fun and warm winter setup? get a tent that you can put a small woodstove in.

pack some steaks to fry up on that puppy.

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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by roOism » Fri Jan 15, 2010 12:21 pm

When I was in scouts up in Idaho we'd do an annual winter camping trip at some local sand dunes. For shelter we'd lay a tarp on the snow, scatter a thick layer of straw on top of that, put our sleeping bags in the straw, then another top on top to keep the wind out. Best I've ever slept on a snow trip.
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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by bonanacrom » Fri Jan 15, 2010 12:30 pm

I think the sleeping bag might be the most important thing after food and water. I also stuff my boots in there before I climb in to make sure they don't freeze over night. Camp placement - snowmobiles will go where you don't think they will, think of this. You don't want one driving through your tent in the middle of the night - trust me.
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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by sherlockbonez » Fri Jan 15, 2010 2:43 pm

We usually just bring a tarp and use it as a lean-to. We tie them up to our skis. Tents are way heavy for long treks.

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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by LunarYoma » Fri Jan 15, 2010 8:14 pm

in boyscouts i did a lot of winter camping. sleeping bags for subzero temps' are your friend.

what i learned was with deep snow & expecting more deep snow during the trip do the following:

pick a spot between 2 trees(3 is even better) that is about 8-12 feet apart.
clear the area if possible(if not, pack the snow down real good)
place a small tarp down on ground.
put up tent on the tarp.

put up rope up between the 2 trees(about 1-3 ft above top of tent) & place a much larger tarp over it & steak down the sides.


from all this i learned that keeping the snow off my tent made it a lot warmer for me inside.
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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by Hannibal » Fri Jan 15, 2010 8:38 pm

Question: How do people prep their campsites?

Clear snow down to the ground under all structures? Snow windbreaks? I'm a winter camping novice, and I've seen it done many ways. Pennsylvania winters aren't as harsh as some areas, so I'm interested in the folks who do this often.

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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by Rush2112 » Fri Jan 15, 2010 9:02 pm

Hannibal wrote:Question: How do people prep their campsites?

Clear snow down to the ground under all structures? Snow windbreaks? I'm a winter camping novice, and I've seen it done many ways. Pennsylvania winters aren't as harsh as some areas, so I'm interested in the folks who do this often.
I don't do this "Often", but I can tell you you will be better off prepping your site by packing down the snow in your tent area. I've done both digging down to bare dirt and packing down snow and I prefer the latter. Your BEST bet, though is to pack the snow and then lay down some pine boughs before putting your ground fly down.
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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by Bubba Enfield » Fri Jan 15, 2010 11:02 pm

sherlockbonez wrote:We usually just bring a tarp and use it as a lean-to. We tie them up to our skis. Tents are way heavy for long treks.
This is pretty much the way I winter camp. The lower the roof is, the better. I bring my 3season sleeping bag, plus a wool blanket to throw over it. A sleeping pad underneath and a wool hat and I'm good. You definitely want an empty bottle in your bag if you're one to wake up for a whiz. Keep a handy stash of nuts mixed with whatever you personally like; raisins, chocolate, whatever. If you start feeling cold, a handful of that stuff will really get the fire burning in you. I like to boil water and get it into a thermos, and put it away for an emergency.

Be sure before you go that all your clothing layers work together. Work gloves are cheap and awesome, and can be used alone or with a warmer layer underneath. Have one spare sweater tucked away for just-in-case. Don't pick wood from a circle one hundred meters diameter from your fire. That's your stash for if you need it in the dark.

Remember, the treatment for mild hypothermia is to eat and get moving around. "Feed'em and beat'em". You can administer this treatment to yourself with no fear of being sued.
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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by sherlockbonez » Wed Jan 20, 2010 3:52 pm

We pack it down as well. There could be 5-10 ft of snow in drifts here. Just pack down a large area and sleep in it. Snowshoes are great as e-tools when you have to dig.

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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by MyDogMike » Thu Jan 21, 2010 9:57 am

As nasty as it sounds (and depending on your aim), I always bring some kind of container into the tent with me to use as a pee bottle. Nothing sucks worse than having to exit the tent in the middle of the night to tinkle.

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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by sherlockbonez » Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:10 pm

Bubba Enfield wrote:
sherlockbonez wrote:We usually just bring a tarp and use it as a lean-to. We tie them up to our skis. Tents are way heavy for long treks.
This is pretty much the way I winter camp. The lower the roof is, the better. I bring my 3season sleeping bag, plus a wool blanket to throw over it. A sleeping pad underneath and a wool hat and I'm good. You definitely want an empty bottle in your bag if you're one to wake up for a whiz. Keep a handy stash of nuts mixed with whatever you personally like; raisins, chocolate, whatever. If you start feeling cold, a handful of that stuff will really get the fire burning in you. I like to boil water and get it into a thermos, and put it away for an emergency.

Be sure before you go that all your clothing layers work together. Work gloves are cheap and awesome, and can be used alone or with a warmer layer underneath. Have one spare sweater tucked away for just-in-case. Don't pick wood from a circle one hundred meters diameter from your fire. That's your stash for if you need it in the dark.

Remember, the treatment for mild hypothermia is to eat and get moving around. "Feed'em and beat'em". You can administer this treatment to yourself with no fear of being sued.

Hey, I'm from Ontario too. Must be the way it's done here. Make sure your pee bottle is different shape as your drinking bottle as to not get confused at night. I like the old square wide mouth nalgen.

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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by AZMedic » Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:16 pm

MyDogMike wrote:As nasty as it sounds (and depending on your aim), I always bring some kind of container into the tent with me to use as a pee bottle. Nothing sucks worse than having to exit the tent in the middle of the night to tinkle.
I ran out of my car twice on this most recent AZ winter outing. Once in long Johns and once well in less. Wasn't too bad but ya your gunna be shivering for about ten minutes when ya get back in. The person I was with wouldn't let me pee in a bottle....
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Re: How To: Winter Camping

Post by Risc_Terilia » Thu Jan 21, 2010 7:49 pm

Me and a mate went camping 2 nights ago. We were on top of a hill with a serious wind coming onto us and it started snowing in the small hours. During the night I wasn't to cold (was using a cheap tent, this sleeping mat, fleece blanket (courtesy of Singapore Airlines) and a British Army 6 season sleeping bag. One thing that I did find is that my fingers became to cold to do anything with within practically seconds of trying to do any kind of manual manipulation even with 2 pairs of gloves on (one generic thin woven style and the other thicker fleece lined fingerless thinsulate). I guess I should have taken my waterproof gloves.

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