4 IMPORTANT STEPS TO CAMP COMFORTABLY DURING THE MOST DIFFICULT SEASON OF THE YEAR
Camping in the winter is a special experience!
Nature is different – quieter and ever so beautiful.
Before you go winter camping it is crucial to know — How to properly dress yourself in layers — What snow safety equipment you need — How to navigate through unfamiliar terrain. BUT what is even more essential is knowing how to camp in the snow.
1. CHOOSE YOUR CAMP SPOT
When camping in a white and possibly desolate landscape, there are a number of items that you absolutely must keep in mind before you set up your tent.
- FIRST AND FOREMOST, AVOID AVALANCHE TERRAIN – remember, an avalanche terrain consists of three parts: the start zone, the avalanche path and the exit. Be aware of what is above you and what the consequences would be to yourself and your party if caught in an avalanche.
- PUT YOUR TENT IN A PLACE WHERE IT IS WARMEST – cold air flows down, meaning higher areas in elevation are slightly warmer by definition. Also keep in mind the location of the morning sun as it is coldest just before dawn.
- CHECK THE TREES – dead branches and branches that are heavily loaded with snow can easily break. Refrain from setting up your tent underneath those branches.
- SEEK SHELTER FROM THE WIND – trees, rocks, a snow-wall or a tarp suspended between the trees all make great wind buffers. We all know what windchill factor feel like right?
- FIND A RECOGNIZABLE PLACE – unique natural features in landscape can be crucial to finding your tent in a blizzard.
- CAMP NEAR RUNNING WATER – melting snow costs a lot of fuel, therefore save the fuel for preparing your hot meals. Boiling water from nearby creeks streams and natural snowmelt.
2. CAMP SET-UP
In addition to a good camping spot, is it also important to bring the right type of tent. This can be a sustainable three-season tent, depending on the circumstances. When you expect a heavy snowfall or strong winds on your adventure then choose a strong four-season tent.
- PLACE THE TENT NINETY DEGREES TO THE WIND – the entrance side of the tent. In doing so, this prevents snow from piling up against the openings and obstructs snow from blowing into the tent while entering and exiting.
- PLACE THE ENTRANCE TOWARDS THE DOWNWARDS SLOPE – cold air flows from top to bottom. The entrance towards the downwards slope prevents cold air from possibly flowing in.
- ANCHOR THE TENT – in loose powder snow there is a chance that tent stakes will not do their job properly. Pack snow tent stakes for every winter backcountry camping activity. These tent stakes provide extra support.
- PACK SNOW AROUND THE BOTTOM OF THE TENT – snow is a great insulator and can additionally add stability in windy conditions. Form a small wall of snow around the perimeter of the tent.
- CONSIDER USING A GROUND SHEET – your bodies presence in your tent can heat up the snow under your tent. When the snow freezes again, there may be a possibility that sharp uncomfortable edges have been formed. Warming up the snow underneath your tent can be prevented by using an extra ground sheet.
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- DO NOT COOK IN THE TENT – even in a snowstorm. If you have absolutely no alternative, cook your meal in the front vestibule of your tent and ensure adequate ventilation. Stoves give off potential lethal carbon monoxide, which is odorless. In addition, the water vapor from cooking significantly increases the condensation in your tent and living at temperatures below zero, you do not want an ice-cold sleeping bag.
- WATER TREATMENT – no matter how fresh the water from a glacier stream looks like, purify the water and, in particular, use disease and microbiological treatment. Boiling water is the most reliable method of purification but with a cost of fuel. A good rule of thumb is boil water for at least 1 minute, or 3 minutes above 2000 m.
- EAT! EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT HUNGRY – the appetite drops during cold weather activities. Funny enough, in the cold you need more calories to keep your body warm. Therefore, pack meals that are attractive to eat so that you can work them in even if you have little appetite.
- ADD BUTTER OR COCONUT OIL TO MEALS – these two ingredients are bursting with calories and therefore easily fuel your body. Perfect for outdoor winter activities.
- DRINK OFTEN – similar to appetite, your body will not always know when it is cold in cold conditions. Dry winter air can also quickly dry out your body, which in turn, can lead to fading and hypothermia. Dry mouth, dizziness, cramps, confusion, and increased heart rate can be symptoms of dehydration.
- PACK A FEW COFFEE FILTERS – coffee filters are ideal water filters to catch the coarser particles out of the water. You don’t want your cup of coffee to be full of nature bits do you?
- MIX YOUR WATER – drink water mixed with sports drinks or energy flavourings. Drinking mixed water is a lovely treat in the backcountry and it will also lower the freezing temperatures of your liquids.
- GET AIR OUT OF YOUR SLEEPING BAG – during the day, if you are not using your sleeping bag, remove the air from your sleeping bag using a compressiong dry bag. Air contains moisture – the less moisture, the less chance of freezing.
- VENTILATE THE TENT – it is important to limit the condensation buildup in the tent. Condensation is caused by your own breath and sweat but also by any cooking. Ventilate the tent when conditions are practicale.
- EAT PROTEIN OR FAT BEFORE GOING TO SLEEP – for example, eating nuts will help your body absorb calories that burn slowly. This process ensures that your body stays warmer during the night.
- KEEP THINGS WARM – place your shoes, electronics and anything you don’t want to freeze, in a bag, in the bottom of your sleeping bag.
- PEE WHEN YOU HAVE TO – even though it is nice and warm in your sleeping bag at night and you absolutely do not want to go into the freezing cold to pee, go anyway! Your body consumes precious heat to heat your full bladder, and therefore does not hold less. Your body burns calories keeping a full bladder warm – holding t will only make you colder.
- TWO MATTRESSES ARE BETTER THAN ONE – use a closed cell structure mattress for the insulation against cold grounds. Use as a second mattress on top with a built in heat refelector shield for extra warmth and comfort.
- SLEEP WITH A TOQUE AND DON’T BREATHE IN YOUR SLEEPING BAG – a great portion of heat is lost through your head so protecting it when you go to sleep will keep you warmer for longer. It is also important not to keep your head in the sleeping bag. Even though sleeping with your head in your sleeping bag feels amazing, your breath contains condensation, and when the temperatures outside are below freezing, your breath can freeze in your sleeping bag.