Winter Camping Tips and Tricks
Doug Terry, a Poulsbo resident who has taught winter travel and snow camping with the Kitsap branch of The Mountaineers since 2002, says solitude is the main thing that motivates him to venture out in the Olympics and Cascades throughout the winter.
Although snow camping draws on many of the same skills and knowledge as regular backpacking (don't forget the 10 Essentials), venturing out for an overnight in the winter comes with some added challenges.
1. Navigation, nutrition and hydration, and regulating your body temperature all become more complicated in the snow. Start small by picking a destination that's easy to reach and has plenty of flat, protected terrain for pitching a tent.
2. The setup process has a few extra steps : for the most comfort and stability, begin by stomping out a platform in the snow, bury your stakes "dead-man" style, and use guy lines in windy conditions.
3. Rather than a new tent, if you're going to invest in one piece of gear for winter camping, make it a new sleeping pad. Your body loses heat rapidly when it's lying on snow, and the more insulation you create, the better. When selecting a sleeping pad, pay close attention to the R-value, a unit that refers to the level of thermal resistance.
Terry recommends a pad with an R-value of 5 or higher, although some people pair a less-robust inflatable with a lightweight foam pad, which can also serve as a backup if the inflatable pad punctures.
4. A solid sleeping bag is another crucial piece of gear when camping on snow. Keep in mind that temperature ratings are subjective, and, to be on the safe side, you'll want to choose a bag that's rated 10 or so degrees below the lowest temperatures you expect to encounter. Try stuffing an empty backpack or extra clothing underneath your pad, or heat up a thermos of hot water before bedtime and keep it in your sleeping bag.
5. Terry advises his students to cut out ounces by sharing items such as stoves and tents - which has a dual benefit. "When you're looking at keeping warm, that second body really helps out and might raise the temperature up 5 degrees," he said.
6. In order to get water for drinking and cooking, you'll need to melt snow and then either boil it or filter the cold meltwater to remove pathogens. It's an ongoing debate whether canister or liquid-gas stoves are a better choice for winter camping; whichever system you choose, bring plenty of fuel for melting snow.
7. Prevent liquids from freezing by keeping them in your sleeping bag or using an extra pair of socks to insulate bottles and canisters. The work of melting snow will be less cumbersome if you take the time to dig out a bench, table and "kitchen" countertop.
8. Don't forget about the principles of "Leave No Trace." Be prepared to pack out all of your garbage and solid waste, and use a shovel to cover up whatever snow you dug out for camp.