I love winter camping.
I’ve kept cozy inside a quinzee at -20, weathered a few blinding snowstorms inside a flimsy four-season tent and even baked a loaf of bread on a woodstove inside my “hot tent.” I’ve learned the advantages of camping out in the cold, and at times I think winter camping can even be better than summer camping. Don’t believe me? Here are 10 reasons:
It’s rare to hear absolute silence. If you haven’t experienced this, it’s pure bliss. The lack of city noise is obvious on a normal camp-out, but winter camping goes beyond that. There’s no rustle of leaves or buzz of insects. It’s eerie at first, but soon becomes quite addictive. It’s also the number-one reason why I go winter camping.
When winter camping, it’s common practice to avoid pitching a tent in a designated summer site — there’s never enough firewood and the sites are usually too exposed to the wind. This means, of course, it’s a free-for-all. You can camp anywhere you want. I choose lowland swamps. There’s always plenty of dry, standing wood to cut and you’re well sheltered from the elements. The biggest bonus is that you get a chance to sleep in a swamp — something impossible in summer.
Get to Know Your Wood
Summer campfires are nice — but unnecessary. Not having a fire in the winter can be deadly; and knowing what wood burns best is a skill-set that can make you King of Campers amongst your friends. Conifer species (evergreens) such as cedar, pine and balsam get the flames going quickly, due to the high resin content and loose wood fiber, but it’s the dense deciduous species, such as dried maple, oak or ironwood, that will keep the chill out.
Avoid the Crowds
No matter how hard you promote the pleasures of winter camping, the majority of people will still think you’re whacked. That’s a good thing. One of the greatest advantages of spending a few nights in the frozen woods is that you will most likely have the area to yourself.
Keep in mind how bad biting insects can be. A mosquito, for example, pierces its proboscis through your skin and spits saliva into your wound so your blood won’t thicken while it sucks on your capillaries. Nice! The only insect hanging around in the winter is the snowflea — a species of dark blue springtail that is often seen jumping around the snow on a warm winter day, thanks to an antifreeze-like protein flushing through its body. They don’t bite and they’re really cool to watch.
Feel the Ice Crack Beneath You
Have you ever lay flat on a frozen lake, in the darkness of night, while the air temperature drops below -20? You can hear and feel the ice crack. It’s safe — the colder it gets the more the ice expands and shifts beneath you. Mind you, it doesn’t feel safe. The act is actually quite spooky; but it’s a total thrill and should be placed on your Bucket List for sure.
See More Wildlife
This sounds odd, but you’re more likely to spot a furry woodland creature in the winter than you are in the summer. They’re easier to spot and much easier to track. On my last outing, I witnessed a pack of five wolves run along a frozen lake to take down an otter (poor guy didn’t stand a chance). I would have never seen something like that in the summer.
Watch the Night Sky
The days are shortened during the winter months, which means you’ll need to pack a copy of War and Peace to read in the tent. Or better yet, go for a night hike. You’ll see stars like never before, witness a moon dog and perhaps stand in awe under a veil of Northern Lights streaking across the sky.
An Excuse to Buy Good Gear
Anyone can get through a summer camp-out with a cheap sleeping bag and leaky tent. Try that in the winter and you’ll come back with missing digits due to frostbite. Winter camping is a good excuse to either splurge and purchase top quality camp gear — and have a blast doing it — or at least borrow some from a friend. (You'll learn to love sleeping bag liners.)
No one wants to admit it, but one of the true advantages of winter camping is that you’re doing something abnormal — which means when you spin a tale at the local pub, people will listen. After all, anyone can tell stories of summer camping, but share an anecdote of sleeping outside in -20 and you’re a legend.
This article originally appeared in our Winter 2013 issue.