1) Research Weather and Avalanche Conditions
Even if the forecast doesn’t call for avalanche warnings, if you’re planning on touring, snowshoeing or camping in a potential “at risk” area, be sure you book avalanche kits well in advance – especially if it’s a weekend. In peak season, sometimes MEC (or other outdoor stores) can run out last minute. You can also download smartphone apps that can track avalanche conditions. As bulky as beacons are – they can save a life!
2) Store your Electronics & Camera Batteries Inside your Deepest Pocket
To preserve the battery life on your camera and phone, store them in the deepest pocket you have. When I sleep, I put both items inside the chest pocket of my down jacket, and wear another down vest on top of that. Also, keep your phone on airplane mode.
3) Take Out your Sleeping Bag Right Before you Head to Bed
To ensure you sleeping bag is less chilly before you jump into it, be sure to take it out of the bag right before you plan to get into it. This way, it won’t fill up with cold air!
4) Pack Down a Tent Spot
Use your skis, snowshoes or a shovel to do this work. It’s pretty self explanatory, but simply pack down the snow where you’re planning on pitching your tent. Make sure it’s nice and solid so no potholes form when you move around inside your tent.
5) Build a Tent Hole/Wall or Position your Tent in a Sheltered Area
This is more for situations where your tent is unprotected by the wind. If you set up camp in a sheltered forest, then you might be fine without a wall or having to dig a hole. Wind in the winter is kind of a bitch. If the skies are clear before you head to bed, be prepared for an even colder breeze. The idea here is to build a structure to omit wind from hitting your tent as much as possible. When I hiked in Yosemite, the view we wanted from our tent came with great sacrifice – we battled the winds for it!
6) Sleep With Hot Water Bottles
Surprisingly, I just figured this out on one of my past trips. It’s genius and everyone should do it. I simply boiled water before bed, filled up my two Naglenes with it and threw them in my sleeping bag. Bliss, I tell you. Better yet, throw it in your bag about 15 minutes before you plan on entering your warm, cozy heaven sack.
7) Wear ALL of your Clothing at Night
I should really take a picture of what my body looks like in my sleeping bag during the winter. I can tell you one thing..I’m usually quite cozy…Mangled, but cozy. How does this happen? I wear every single article of clothing I packed. Yes, even my eight socks.
8) Avoid Bring a lot of Alcohol
I won’t lie here. I usually bring along some alcohol on a trip. If I do, it’s no 80 year old scotch. I’m also guilty to have been a believer that you should drink alcohol when winter camping to keep warm. The truth is (from my experience) is that yes, after you finish that mickey of fireball you will probably feel very warm and comfortable, but just wait about 1 hour – you will be cold, again.
En Breif: Alcohol causes the peripheral blood vessels in your body to dilate (expand) and increase blood flow to the skin, which eventually leads to a warm feeling — but not your inner organs. It’s the body’s way of tricking you. This is what’s decieving and pretty dangerous.
9) Pack (healthy) High-Caloric Foods
When you’re cold, you burn calories quicker than if you were warm. It’s important to replenish your energy by intaking high energy food like oatmeal, nuts, protein bars and…you know it…jerky. You can easily bring those high calorie potato chips…but those won’t last you long.
Freeze-dried meals bought at outdoor stores are great for calorie feeding, and are a super lightweight meal to bring…but, they can get pretty pricy. Try an alternative like cous cous! It’s what the mountaineers eat (apparently) and that’s what I’ve been bringing on my past couple of trips! It tastes great and fills that empty hole in my stomach at the end of the day.
10) Sleep with Hand Warmers at Night
At night, I like to wear a thin pair of gloves as well as my hut booties. I actually stuff each glove with a hand warmer and stick another two in each bootie. It’s like heaven. If you want an extra “oomph” of warmth, buy those feet warmers. They have an adhesive on one side that you stick to the balls of your feet!
11) Leave the Water Filter at Home
If there is snow around you – you can drink it. Just boil it first. The thing about water filters, is that they are at risk of freezing if there is water increments left inside. You’re going to spend more time defrosting the ice that formed in the tube than actually using it. You can also save space in your pack for other things like socks! Be sure to bring the snow to a boil and let it bubble away for at least 1 minute.
12) On That Note…Drink Water!
Coming from a horrible water drinker myself, it’s so important that you do. I thought I was bad at drinking water in the summer…well winter is worst. You don’t feel thirsty most of the time (unless you’re physically active) because it’s so cold. The truth is, drink the same amount of water you would if it were 30 degrees out. Weather it’s plain water, tea or hot chocolate, it’s fluids. Drink ’em.
13) Bring More Fuel Than you Anticipate on Using
You will burn through more fuel in colder conditions, so make sure you bring extra.
14) Optional (but suggested): Purchase Some Gear Including a Good Sleeping Bag!
Think of it as an investment instead of a splurge. Pretty much all outdoor gear you will find might scare your wallet – but have no fear. Yes, the pricing may look outrageous, but think about it. If you’re carrying all your gear up with you, you want it to be two things. Compact and incredibly useful. Unfortunately, those two things are what make equipement expensive. Simple as this: if you see yourself in these outdoor, cold situations within the next few years, why not purchase a nice down jacket or those good quality waterproof pants? I don’t usually use the term “yolo,” but in this case I am.
When It comes to sleeping bags, be sure you buy at least a -5 – -7 or lower one. Personally, I’ve been happily warm with my -7 bag (and I’ve slept in it through -15 nights). When In doubt, save your money on those -12 bags and buy a fleece liner instead!
If committing to such gear is on the iffy side for you, have no fear. Check your local outdoors store. They quite often offer rental equipment like tents and sleeping bags.
15) Just Try It!
Because then you can take photos like this! No really, try winter camping one time in your life. Be sure to find a buddy (on the same terms as you) and be prepared before you tackle this challenge. Do your research and stay warm. After that it’s all smooth sailing from there. Then you can say you’ve done it, and brag to everyone how hardcore you are (but seriously…it’s awesome!)
Happy adventuring, happy exploring!