Tips for Cold-Weather Camping
Your camping trips don't have to stop just because the temperature has dropped. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the outdoors in cooler months, camping chief among them. Just follow these simple tips for an enjoyable cold-weather camping trip.
Know your Conditions
Knowing the approximate temperature range you'll be camping in is the first step in preparing for your fall or winter camping trip. Not only should you check the weather conditions for the area you plan to visit, you should also call the park ranger beforehand to see if there are any further warnings (they'll likely have some additional tips specific to the area).
Plan Your Trip Thoroughly
In addition to knowing the conditions, you should also be aware of how long it will take you to get from campsite to campsite. In warm weather, setting up camp in an exposed area that you didn't plan on staying in isn't a big deal; however, on a cold weather camping trip, these details matter. Not only are your days shorter, giving you less daylight to hike by, but setting up a hurried camp in an exposed spot can also result in hypothermia or frostbite. Additionally, it will be harder to navigate trails if it's snowy or rainy, so be sure to keep close track of trail blazes and pack a guidebook.
Finding a Campsite
When looking for a place to set up camp, the best spot will be dry, flat, and protected from the elements. If possible, try to find spots that have tent platforms on your map when planning your hike. (Bonus: these spots will likely be less frozen than the ground.)
At night, when you're in your tent not generating the heat you would get from hiking, the temperature will be at its lowest. That's why you need to have a winter specific or four-season backpacking tent.
Having a proper tent is especially important in adverse weather conditions. Snow, wind, and rain will all take heat from your tent, so you need one that isbuilt for the occasion. Such a tent should have double-layer doors to keep heat in where possible. The EMS Traverse Tent features glove-ready hardware that makes it an easy tent to set up, without exposing your hands to the elements.
Sleeping Bag & Pad
In addition to a winter-specific or four-season tent, you'll also need a good sleeping bag and sleeping pad. While it may seem like it's enough to have a really warm bag, the sleeping pad is vital for providing another layer between you and the frozen ground.
Be sure that your sleeping bag has an appropriate temperature rating, and consider also packing a sleeping bag liner to add a few extra degrees of warmth if needed. To eliminate the amount of dead space in your bag, stuff your clothing inside at night—you’ll also appreciate having warm clothes to change into in the morning.
As always, proper layering is key when it comes to winter camping trips. Be sure to use only wool or synthetic base layers; fleece, down, or synthetic down midlayers; and waterproof, breathable outer layers. Avoid cotton! It will only retain moisture as you sweat and contribute to rapid heat loss.
Think of your body as a furnace: the more fuel (food) you feed it, the hotter it will burn. Feeling a little cold as you sit around camp? Have a snack. Shivering in your sleeping bag at night? Have a snack and something to drink. Too cold to crawl out of your bag in the morning? Have another snack!
When winter camping, it's better to eat too much than too little. Since you need to provide your body with food that will keep it warm, think sugars, fats, and carbohydrates. Eating in moderation is still important, but you’ll be burning a lot more calories each day than you normally do, so don’t feel bad about giving yourself a few extra treats!
When it’s cold out you may not think to drink, but staying properly hydrated is essential to staying warm. Drink periodically throughout the day and keep awater bottle with you in your sleeping bag at night (if you leave your water bottle in your hiking backpack overnight, it will freeze).
You should also bring more water than you think you’ll need. Even if there are places to refill along your route, you have to consider that they may be frozen. However, if it’s snowing, remember that you can boil and treat fallen snow to add to your water supply in a pinch.
Be Aware of Medical Conditions
Just as you should be equipped to recognize poison ivy, dehydration, and overexertion during the warmer months, you should also be able to identify cold-weather-related medical conditions like frostbite and hypothermia. Mild hypothermia is characterized by lack of coordination, shivering, a personality shift—namely silence—and a low body temperature. It can be remedied by removing any wet clothing and replacing it with dry items, short bursts of exercise or someone else's body heat.
Frostbite typically affects the ears, nose, feet, or hands. Skin that is grayish-yellow or white can be indicative of the condition; it may also feel hard to the touch, or be itchy or numb. Don't use direct heat (camping cooking equipment or fire) to treat frostbite. Instead, remove yourself from exposure and use warm water or a blanket on the affected areas to gradually bring them back to normal temperature.
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