Winter Camping : Its Joys and Challenges

Winter Camping : Its Joys and Challenges

Interest in winter camping and outdoor training appears to be growing. Brett Stoffel, who teaches wilderness skills through his company OutdoorSafe Inc. in Washington near North Cascades National Park, sees the increased demand.

"Winter camping is not difficult, but it's also not routine," he said. " Winter camping takes many forms - from a bivy sack to a cabin. It's available at many national and state parks and private campgrounds from Maine to Washington.

"Winter camping in the cold is mostly tent campers," said Jeffrey Olson, a spokesman for the National Park Service. Winter is not the busiest time of year at Illinois state parks, but camping, cabins and lodges at more than 100 parks are open, though there's no water, and other buildings are closed, said spokesman Ed Cross.

Some parks offer popular winter programs, such as guided winter hikes and sled dog demonstrations at Starved Rock Lodge in Oglesby (about two hours southwest of Chicago). Several years ago, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan changed its rules to make winter camping easier, said park ranger Bill Smith.

Winter campers are mostly local college students wanting a weekend getaway and people looking to climb ice columns as high as 200 feet on cliffs along Lake Superior, Smith said. Last winter, Eli Latham and a group of friends backpacked into the snowy Colorado wilderness, becoming lost after about 3 miles.

REI has seen participation in its nationwide winter programs, such as Winter Camping Basics, more than double in the last two years to 6,785 people in 2016. "Everyone's looking for more to do in the winter," said Travis Brown, an REI Outdoor Programs instructor in the Minneapolis area who is an avid winter camper. "

Winter camping isn't a new thing; people have been doing it for thousands of years.

Winter Camping Tips

Communicate: Don't go solo. Tell the park and a family member or friend where you're going.

Orienting: GPS might not work, so carry a map and compass.

Weather: Always check the weather forecast and park conditions before heading out.

Clothing: Wear warm, quick-drying layers and a waterproof, windproof outer layer. Avoid cotton. After activity, replace wet clothing with dry gear. Sleep with clothes — even hiking boots and a water bottle — inside your sleeping bag to keep them warm overnight.

The campsite: Choose a site with wind protection and away from dead trees. Pack down snow before setting up a tent. Position RVs and tents facing east.

Kids: Involve children; teach them to read a compass or clear a campsite. Don't let them wander off alone.

Sleeping: Bring a warmer sleeping bag than you think you'll need. Use a sleeping pad for cushioning and warmth.

Food: Eat plenty because your body burns more calories in the cold to maintain normal body temperature. Don't cook in your tent vestibule.

Hydration: You can become dehydrated in winter, so drink plenty of water or hot drinks.

Skin protection: Bring sunglasses, lip balm, sunscreen and/or Vaseline for sun and wind protection.

Extras: Pack extra money, clothing, food, batteries and cooking fuel (it burns faster at higher elevations) just in case.

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