Winter camping – Part 2: Equipment

Learn about proper equipment for winter camping that makes this activity safe and fun.

Proper clothing is essential to staying dry and warm during a winter camping trip as explained in “Winter camping – Part 1: Clothing.” Proper equipment is equally important to insure a successful experience. What follows is a summary of some important aspects of equipment to help you plan a winter camping excursion.

A good sleeping bag is important for a restful night’s sleep. Sleeping bag ratings are helpful, but they typically do not keep you warm to the temperature they are rated. Adding a fleece liner or doubling bags is a very helpful practice to maintaining your body heat in a sleeping bag. A ground pad is critical to insulate you from the cold ground. Without it, the cold from the ground will permeate to your sleeping bag and eventually to you. Synthetic bags still keep you warm if they get wet. Down bags are light and warm, but lose their insulating ability if wet.

Most tents will be adequate for winter camping as they don’t provide any insulation value, but serve to keep out wind and precipitation. Make sure it is a free standing tent as you may not be able to drive pegs into the frozen ground. Try to clear an area free of snow for your tent so your body heat does not melt snow and cause you to get wet. Another shelter option is to build a quinzee. Quinzees are efficient, easy to build and keep you busy!

A good backpack will make hauling your supplies easy. Be sure the straps are large enough to accommodate the extra clothing you will be wearing. A sled with a harness is another good option for hauling any extra gear. A lot of gear can be brought along with a large pack or sled.

Food should be thoughtfully considered depending on the weather conditions and length of trip. Bring plenty of instant foods that are high in calories such as gorp, energy bars, dried fruit and jerky. Liquids will likely freeze and should not be brought. You will have to melt snow for water or find a local source such as a stream or drill a hole through the ice of a lake. Having a warm beverage or soup will help warm your insides. Having a reliable stove will greatly help or try cooking over a fire. Don’t forget the minimum number of pots, cups, utensils and plates.

Miscellaneous items are helpful and sometimes necessary for winter camping trips. Don’t forget a headlight. A small shovel is helpful for clearing snow and quinzee building. A pack saw or small axe will greatly aid in your firewood collection. A lighter may be more beneficial than matches, but having both is a good idea. A small first aid kit is always a good idea too. Bring along a good book. Remember, winter nights are long!

Here are some useful tips that will enhance your trip. Use your sleeping pad as a seat to insulate your bottom from cold and snow. Put your boots in your sleeping bag so they are not frozen when you put them on. Make sure your boots are free of snow and debris. Also, taking a water bottle with you inside your bag will prevent it from freezing overnight. Warming some of your food inside your coat makes it more palatable and easier to chew.

Sitting around a campfire on a starry winter night is an experience that is long remembered by youth and adults. With the right clothing, equipment and preparation, winter camping can be safe, enjoyable and memorable.

Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development incorporates winter camping as one of its adventure disciplines. Contact me at 906-774-0363 if you are interested in getting involved.

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