Camping in the winter is an exhilarating experience. The mountains, woods, brooks, birds, and the animals present a different picture and you’re spared the pesky bugs. But hiking, camping, and backpacking in cold weather presents some challenges. The weather conditions are extreme and may even turn worse. Be informed about what it takes to camping out in the woods when the mercury really drops and enjoy your time in communion with nature.
1. High vs Low Ground
Set up camp on high ground. Low-lying spots are colder. This is basic high-school physics, hot air rises and cold air sinks. Use it to your advantage. Avoid pitching your tent near ponds and lakes because areas around water bodies are invariably colder than those at a distance. The best site for setting up camp would be one on higher ground, away from water bodies, and sheltered from the wind. The last-mentioned point makes a big difference. Chilly winds can make the cold very uncomfortable. A stout tree, a cluster of rocks, and sloping ground are natural wind blockers that you should look for.
2. Warm Clothing
Dress for the occasion. Take particular care about protecting your hands, feet, head, and chest. Layered clothing is a good idea. It’s not as bulky as compared to heavy jackets. Layered clothing takes less space, you can wear as much as you want and remove a layer or two when you begin to feel warm. We lose nearly half our body’s heat through our heads. Insulate your head with a snug woolen cap, especially when retiring for the night. A neck warmer and finger gloves are essential. Sheath your feet with woolen socks. Ensure that these are dry. Another consideration regarding clothing before you slip into your sleeping bag is that your night clothes should not be too tight, else they will interfere with the body’s blood circulation and its ability to supply heat to all parts.
3. Sleeping Bag
Choose the right sleeping bag for the cold weather. The importance of a good sleeping bag cannot be overstated. Check bags for temperature ratings. This rating informs you of the lowest temperature at which the bag will keep you warm, provided you’re wearing warm clothing and there’s an insulating sleeping pad between the bag and the cold earth. Check user reviews for bags. Bags may perform differently even when displaying the same temperature ratings. It is a good idea to ask for opinions. A bag rated for 10° Fahrenheit and lower is a fair choice for winter camping. Sleeping bags are usually made of synthetic materials such as polyester. Goose down is another alternative. Its insulation powers are superior to those offered by synthetic sleeping bags, but you don’t want to get these bags wet. Bags made from water-resistant down are perhaps the best option for those who can spend a little extra.
4. Sleeping Pad
Your sleeping bag is only as good as the sleeping pad beneath it, which cushions and insulates the bag from the cold and hard ground. Air pads that can be inflated by blowing air into them, through your mouth or a pump, are a good choice because they are easy to carry and they take less space. Self-inflating pads are an alternative. You’re saved the bother of having to inflate these. Open the valve and step back. These bags are also sturdier than air bags. Closed cell foam pads are the most rudimentary type of sleeping pad. They are bulky but they come without the risk of puncture that accompanies air-filled bags. For camping during winter, it’s best to use two pads – a foam pad below a self-inflating pad.
5. Winter Boots
Cold weather footwear must keep your feet warm and dry. It must be made of durable material and be as light as possible without affecting its functionality. There are pros and cons to the designs and styles on offer. For example, taller boots will insulate your ankles and calves, these will also prevent snow from entering your shoes; however, taller boots are bulkier and will tire your feet as you trek across the wilderness. Leather uppers with rubber underneath, and a breathable lining is a tried and tested design for winter boots. It works to keep wetness out and your feet dry. Choose boots that provide good foot and ankle support so that you can hike up and down the trails in winter with minimum fatigue to your feet and calves. Boots with removable liners give you the option of wearing those snug liners to bed. Removing the liners also allows wet boots to dry faster.
6. Warm Socks
When on the subject of footwear, it is worthwhile to understand the role of socks and the best types for your need when you’re out in the cold wilderness, especially at night. As far as possible, keep your feet dry. Before retiring for the night, change into a fresh pair of dry socks. Synthetic insulated socks and woolen socks are your best bet for cold weather camping. If it’s colder than usual or if you know the temperatures will drop as the night progresses, you can wear two pairs. If you’re layering socks, then let the innermost one be such that it wicks perspiration away from the skin. Fine woolen socks should do the job satisfactorily.
7. Warming Up Exercises
Warm up your body before you slip into the sleeping bag. A few push-ups, bodyweight squats, some quick stretching, or a jog will get the blood flowing and your body heated up. Insulated clothing will trap the heat within. It’s far easier to fall asleep quickly when you’re comfortable and feeling snug as against when you’re feeling cold and you have to wait for the air inside the sleeping bag to warm up. Remember, do not exercise till you begin sweating. Perspiration cools down the body.
8. Warm Gloves
Buy a good pair of gloves that keeps the fingers and your wrists insulated. We lose a surprisingly large amount of heat through our hands. Extremities, hands and feet, can quickly become cold if not supplied with sufficient blood. Our core supplies heat to the rest of the body. And if the core is not protected then blood supply to the hands suffers. Therefore, ensure that your torso is well protected against the cold. Consider a base layer glove made of polyester, fine merino wool, or polyester. These gloves are lightweight, they dry quickly, and keep the hands free of sweat. Consider mittens over regular gloves because they offer better heat-retention properties. Mittens are made from materials such as fleece, wool, or lined with synthetic insulators.
9. Tent Insulation
Do what you can to improve insulation within the tent. Pull sleeping pads close together. Place your gear along the inner perimeter of the tent to prevent heat loss. If you’re carrying a mylar thermal blanket, tape it to the ceiling of the tent. The blanket will reflect most of the heat generated and contribute to a warmer ambient temperature. Keep some space for ventilation. Without ventilation, the heat inside the tent and the breath occupants exhale will result in condensation. If you’re camping at a place where overnight condensation is an issue, then do not tape the blanket to the ceiling. It will only exacerbate the problem of condensation.
10. Create More Warmth
Add stuff to the sleeping bag that you want to warm or keep dry. A water bottle kept inside the sleeping bag won’t freeze. Socks and inner gloves that may have become damp can be stashed inside the sleeping bag. They’ll be dry when you wake up in the morning. Light a fire, melt snow, add the hot water to a bottle and place the bottle inside the sleeping bag.
11. Calorie Dense Food
Eat calorie-dense food. You need the calories to stay warm. You need more fuel inside you during the cold season. Ensure that your body gets a good mix of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats during the time you’re camping out in the cold. Consider snacking frequently to keep your energy levels up. There are many things that you can consume during a winter trek and camping holiday. Energy bars, dried nuts, cheese, and jerky are items to munch on when on the move. Take a break for a cup of hot cocoa. Choose food items that won’t freeze rock solid. As far as possible, pack serving-sized portions at the beginning of the trek. You don’t want to spend a lot of time readying the food for cooking.
12. Drink Water
Remember to drink water. Staying hydrated is important. Water acts as a temperature regulator. In the cold weather, losing water through perspiration may not happen in a very evident manner, but it will happen. Keep your insulated water bottle handy for sips every now and then. If there’s snow around then it’s only a matter of lighting your camp stove and boiling the snow to obtain potable water. The volume of water required when exerting out in the cold can be up to 5 liters per day for an adult. Soups, warmed lemonades, and cocoa will provide both hydration and warmth. Avoid alcohol. It dehydrates.
As you can see, when it comes to camping out in the cold, you can only enjoy it if you stay warm. And it’s not at all difficult to do so when you know how. Happy camping!