Welcome to our first installation of Ask a Pro, where guides from Wildland Trekking, offer professional advice for life on the trail.
Most of us will camp in a tent in the snow at some point. It might be because we’re backcountry skiing or snowshoeing. High-altitude mountaineering can take athletes to snowfields year-round. Trekking in the early spring or late fall can definitely lead to a wintry campsite. It sounds cold, but it’s actually simple to winter camp in comfort. Here’s how.
The mind and body are connected and if either is weak, it can compromise the other. The clothing and gear you choose, along with good decision making can make the majority of cold environments comfortable.
Manage Gear Properly
How do I keep my boots warm and dry? It depends what activity I am doing. If I am hiking our mountaineering, I will bring my boots into the tent at night. If the boots have inner boots, I usually take them out of the shell and put them in the bottom of my sleeping bag. The next morning I will put them on my feet before I even get out of my sleeping bag the next morning. That way they are toasty right out the gate!
I have a baby Nalgene bottle (16 oz.) that I will fill up with hot water and stick it in my boots if they are really cold. That can really help warm them up and keep your hands warm while doing so. Hot water bottles are the best for keeping you warm in cold conditions. Additionally, if you get wet you can use the hot water bottle as an Iron to help evaporate the moisture.
Pick a Smart Shelter
A 4-season tent is ideal but a mid style tent (circus looking tent with 1 pole) is good as well. If it is snowing, you should get out of your tent periodically and shovel around the perimeter, to let air flow under the fly. If you do not have a tent and there is ample snow, you can dig a Quinzee or Snow cave and sleep in there. Make sure to have a solid sleeping pad.
Don’t Skimp on Insulating Gear
In addition to a solid tent, bring a warm down sleeping bag, shovel (a large cooking pot can work also), sleeping pad to keep you off the snow, 1-2 water bottles, efficient and effective stove for making hot water, lots of coffee.
Winter camping is not the time to cut calories. Bring meals with lots of fat, salt and sugar. Fat will keep you warm. Good options include cheese, bacon, lots of coffee, carbs, complex proteins, and good assortment of sugary hot drinks.
Should winter camping feel like a sufferfest? Not really. Winter camping can be challenging to a person who has never done it before, just like anything new. Being organized, figuring out your ‘systems’ and self-care are important things to consider. Dressing properly in layers, having a set of camp clothes that you can change into. The clothes you recreate in will hold moisture, so changing at camp is imperative for staying warm and dry.
Find a mentor or go on a guided trip. Get with someone who has more experience than you in winter camping and learn from them. Learn their tricks and practice to the best of your ability. Although it may be challenging, it doesn’t mean that you can’t become competent in the future and enjoy the benefits that come with challenge. Oh and eat lots of cheese!
Seth Quigg is co-founder of Wildland Trekking and has mastered the art of eating cheese on all adventures. Follow him at @sethquiggphotography.