The camping season does not end with the arrival of winter. With the right equipment and preparation, savvy outdoor enthusiasts like yourself can plunge into nature all year long - and enjoy the peace and quiet of a winter region almost entirely to yourself. By this period when most campers have left, snow camping is quiet and peaceful and moves at a slow, even introspective pace, but the sunsets are just as incredible, and the open fires at camp are even more pleasant.
Yes, it is cold outside. But it's also breathtakingly beautiful and bug-free. You'll also discover that popular or no-camping-allowed destinations make excellent snow campsites. Here's how you can do it without splurging on equipment.
First and foremost, stay away from avalanche terrain. Remember that avalanche terrain is divided into three sections: the start zone, the path, and the runout. Keep an eye on what's above you and consider the consequences of a slide.
Camp in the warmest spots because cold air flows downward, settling in low areas. Benches and rocky outcrops above valley floors will be warmer. Because it is coldest just before dawn, the morning sun is beneficial. South-facing areas also provide more light for longer hours.
Examine the trees. Dying branches, as well as those strongly burdened with snow, have the potential to fall and cause injury or harm.
Take refuge from the wind. Windbreakers can be a tarp hung in between trees or boulders.
Look for landmarks. Distinctive natural features can help you find your camp in the event of a storm.
If possible, camp near running water. Melting snow consumes 2 to 3 times the amount of fuel required for a summer trip.
When you've found your location, pound a platform into the snow. Set up stomping grounds for your camp and communal areas while wearing your equipment. Then, allow the snow to refreeze and reform for 30 minutes to make walking easier.
For protection against the stronger gust of wind, dig down a foot, perhaps two, for your tent at higher elevations. Alternatively, construct a wind wall by cutting bricks from consolidated snow and stacking them at least 2-3 feet high and a few feet past the camp on each side for additional protection against blowing snow.
Start by packing the appropriate tent. Depending on the weather, this could be as basic as your sturdy three-season tent. If you expect blizzard conditions or high winds, opt for a four-season or mountain-climbing tent. It's a good idea to review the advantages of single-wall vs. double-wall tents.
Set up the tent at 90 degrees against the wind. This keeps snow from blowing inside your house or heaping back against the wall.
Face your tent's doorway downhill. If your camp faces uphill, cold air flowing downward can enter.
Stakes may not work in loose snow, so anchor your brightly colored tent securely. Blizzard tent stakes are intended for use in consolidated snow, but they can also be used as deadman supports in loose snow.
Rocks, sticks, or liter-sized plastic bags filled with snow can also be used as deadman anchors. Add a wire to each of your tent's stake-out points to secure them. Then, without tying a knot, wrap the wire around your selected anchor. Bury the anchor 10-12 inches underground. Then stack snow on top and compact it. The snow will freeze and become solid.
Aim to keep the tent as snow-free as possible. Brush off your clothes and boots thoroughly. As much snow and moisture as you can keep out of the tent will help to lessen condensation and refreezing.
Cooking should not be done in your tent. Stoves emit potentially lethal carbon monoxide, and that is odorless. Additionally, water vapor from cooking can contribute to condensation buildup inside your tent, and you don't want that happening. Where can you cook, then? Let's go to the kitchen.
Create your supreme dining hall outside. This is where you can be creative. The rectangular pit is a tried-and-true design: Make a 6-foot-long, 5-foot-deep, 4-foot-wide hole in the snow. Leave a 3' long X 3' high X 2' wide countertop in the center and snow along the inside walls for 2' high benches.
Carve and structure other kitchen features to your specifications, such as a competent stove platform. Cover it all with an A-frame tarp for weatherproof dining.
In below-freezing temperatures, it's always a good idea to have foot traction devices on hand in case you encounter icy or hard snow. To build a level tent platform and remove snow for melting into water, you'll also need a lightweight avalanche shovel. Last but not least, buried snow anchors are required rather than summer tent stakes.
Now let's talk about water. Take a long, deep breath.
FILTRATION AND WATER TREATMENT
The process of treating winter water involves melting and boiling snow for at least 2–3 minutes. This is due to the fact that water boils at a lower temperature at altitude, requiring a longer boil time to kill bacteria. A water purifier is a good alternative because it only requires melted water and is very effective against protozoa, bacteria, and viruses.
Bring your water bottle to store water, as the hydration pipes on water bladders become unusable when they freeze. Remember that ice forms from the top down, so store the bottles of water upside down as well. Flow-through water filters should also be left at home. By bringing a ceramic filtration system into snowy conditions, you risk the water freezing and expanding, potentially destroying it.
Let's head along to the most important part of camping.
STAYING WARM AND SLEEPING
Staying warm is easier than getting warm. This means you'll want to avoid sweating - getting wet in freezing temperatures is never a good thing - so follow the "be bold, start cold" rule when hitting the trail, then layer up as soon as you're at rest. Always ensure that you eat and drink each hour to keep the tank full.
Staying warm and consuming a steady supply of high-quality calories is particularly important before bedtime, which makes it the perfect time for some chocolate-fueled partying.
Sticking to this four-way tip makes sleeping and keeping warm even better and easier.
- Get a warm sleeping bag
- Sleep with dry socks and down booties on.
- Prevent moisture from entering your sleeping bag by putting on a balaclava and breathing outside of it.
Before going to bed, consume some protein or fat because the slow burning of calories will keep you warm.
Exercise before going to bed. Before you hit the hay, try some jumping jacks to rev up your body's metabolism.
Boots should be packed in a stuff sack and placed within the foot of your bag to keep your equipment warm. Add socks, clothes for the next day, electronics, and anything else you don't want to freeze.
Go. Don't keep it. Your body expends calories while keeping a full bladder warm. Keeping from easing yourself will only end up making you colder.
You've been working up a sweat while hiking, snowshoeing, or skiing. Remember to change into dry clothing as soon as you get back to your camp and get ready for the chilly evening. You run the risk of becoming chilled if you stop moving while sweaty. It gets harder and harder to warm back up once your body temperature drops. Carrying a few hand warmers is a good idea, and after changing clothes, put them on your chest. This will leave your core warm as you dry off and unwind for the day. A cup of tea, some hot soup, and a good book round out the recipe for a nice and comfortable winter night.
CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF
You have to always pack away your waste after camping. In the snow, catholes don't count. Your trash will become visible once the snow melts. Always bring sanitary waste baggies with you. Snow is also an excellent substitute for toilet paper!
Winter snow camping poses its own series of Leave No Trace challenges. All year long, our duty while traveling and camping on durable surfaces is to properly dispose of waste, respect other users, and respect wildlife.
The use of a blue bag poses the most significant challenge. In areas with snow cover, solid human waste must be packed out using a blue bag, which is a double-bag technique. Always remember to place solid waste directly into your blue bag rather than scooping it out of the snow. Yes, it's exactly what you're thinking, pooping into a bag.
The snow is contaminated by the scoop method, and your blue bag is filled with meltwater. Therefore, be awesome and fill them back in. Tent pad pits can also turn into terrain hazards for backcountry skiers.
Winter camping, like summer camping, includes a variety of activities in addition to the camping itself. Winter camping also necessitates more gear than you'd normally need in the warmer months, so as long as you're armed with useful information like this, as well as necessary and required equipment, you'll do fantastic at your snow camp!