Thinking about going camping this winter? You need to know how to protect yourself from the cold first.
Winter camping is attracting a wider range of adventurers in Canada looking for a quiet challenge away from the crowds and bugs. A lot of great resources already exist about how to layer your clothes or what sleeping bag, mat and tent to buy, but it can be difficult to know what comes next—especially when it comes to setting up camp. Being deliberate and managing small details can be the difference between a cozy, comfortable campsite and a cold, wet and potentially dangerous ordeal.
Whether you’re tenting in a campground in Algonquin Park, skiing into the windswept prairies or headed out for a damp coastal hike on Vancouver Island, here are 10 tips to stay cozy, warm and comfortable in camp on your winter trip.
Setting Up Your Tent
Pitching a tent in deep, fluffy powder can be a challenge with tent pegs. In a forest, take advantage of trees or fallen logs. If you’re skiing, snowshoeing or carrying ice axes, tie your guy lines to your skis, poles, axes and snowshoes to use as tent stakes—either buried in the snow and packed down or stuck vertically. You can also bring extra stuff sacks or durable plastic grocery bags and fill them with snow, tie them to your guy lines, pull them tight, bury them in the snow and stomp down on top. Remember to pack them out.Taylor Maavara
Assembling Your Camp
Bring a small, lightweight collapsible shovel and a snow saw to build or dig out comfortable environments in your camp. If the snow is deep, dig out a trench in your tent vestibule so you can sit upright to take your boots on and off. Build a wall on the windward side of your tent to prevent the wind from flapping your tent fabric noisily all night.Daniel Frost
Cooking on a camp stove in the winter often necessitates shelter. Otherwise, you may find yourself burning through a lot of fuel quickly as the elements convect and conduct the heat away from your pot. Plus, the extra time it takes to cook a meal out in the open means more time sitting around idly, getting cold. With a larger group, consider bringing a kitchen shelter with no floor. Dig out a bench and a table in the snow to sit comfortably and cook at waist height. Bring a piece of foam or inflatable seat cushion so you aren’t sitting directly on the snow. If you’re in a smaller group or solo, it can be feasible to (carefully!) cook in your vestibule on a stove while sitting in your tent, wrapped warmly in your sleeping bag. In all cases, make sure you maintain ample ventilation and keep open flames away from tent fabrics and clothing. Taylor Maavara
Preparing Your Drinking Water
It's important to stay hydrated to maintain body heat and stay warm. Many creeks and lakes will be frozen or packed under snow during the winter, and water taps are usually shut off in campgrounds. When melting snow for drinking water or cooking, bring it to a boil or use other filtering methods to ensure that the water isn't contaminated. Put a bit of water in the bottom of your pot to prevent the burnt taste in the water and to help the snow melt faster.Daniel Frost
Keeping Your Feet Warm
Snow usually finds a way to blow into your boots in your tent vestibule overnight, even if you’ve built a wind barrier. If you have space and it’s cold enough that they are dry, bring your boots inside the tent. If this isn’t possible, cover the tops with gaiters, a stuff sack or a plastic bag.Taylor Maavara
Keeping Your Hands Warm
You might find yourself taking your gloves or mittens on and off a lot while setting up camp or cooking. Instead of putting your mitts on the ground where they will inevitably get snow in them, stuff them inside the front of your jacket. I budget for a set of hand warmers for each day to keep in my gloves—so if I do need to go bare-handed, I can artificially accelerate the time it takes to rewarm them.Daniel Frost
Boosting Sleeping Bag Warmth
I’ve often heard the recommendation to boil water and put a hot water bottle at the bottom of your sleeping bag to keep your feet warm overnight. While this method can be cozy, it’s also risky. Filling a cold water bottle with boiling water can cause the plastic to unexpectedly crack or the lid’s seal to warp. A litre of spilled water inside your sleeping bag probably means your trip is over. I prefer to bring hut booties to wear inside my sleeping bag, sometimes accompanied by foot warmers. I sleep with a neck gaiter pulled up to my nose and a toque pulled down over my eyes. I cinch the sleeping bag opening tight around my face and make sure my face is centred in the opening as opposed to breathing through the side of the bag. The moisture in your breath can soak the sleeping bag insulation, causing it to freeze.Taylor Maavara
Adjusting Your Sleeping Mats
Bring a foam mat and an inflatable mat. This adds insulation from the ground and acts as a backup if your inflatable mat gets a hole. An insulated air pad works well with a self-inflating mat. Look at a sleeping mat's R-value—its capacity to resist heat flow. The higher the R-value, the more insulation it will provide to protect you from cold surfaces. Taylor Maavara
Ensuring Water Bottle Insulation
Water in uninsulated bottles freezes. Either keep your water in a vacuum bottle, like a Thermos, or bring an insulated sleeve. If your bottle does freeze and you can’t get the lid off, boil a pot of water and dunk your bottle in upside-down. Backpack and bladder-style hydration systems with a drinking tube freeze very quickly. Even the models with insulated tubes usually freeze quickly if the temperature is consistently below 0 C, rendering them useless.Daniel Frost
Bringing External Batteries
Anything battery-powered will not hold a charge for long in the cold. Keep your headlamp, phone, camera and other electronics inside an inner pocket of your layers throughout the day and sleep with them in your sleeping bag at night.