There's nothing more peaceful than standing in the woods during a soft snowfall or watching a white hare hop through the snow near a frozen lake. These are just some of the things you can experience on your next winter camping trip. Whether you're dreaming of a camping trip in the deep snows, the dry winter prairies, or a damp coastal forest, don't let fears about cold weather stop you from getting out into nature this winter. With a few precautions and well-chosen gear, you can have the time of your life, camping in the winter months.
What To Do
Winter camping offers a huge number of outdoor activities. If you have the gear, you might bring your cross-country skis or snow shoes with you and take a trip on a snowy trail. In a hilly area, sleds, inner tubes, and toboggans are a ton of fun. You can bring your ice skates and find a well-frozen pond, do some ice fishing on the lake, or look for wildlife tracks in the snow.
On family vacations, one of the best activities is to build a snow fort or snow tunnel. Bundle yourselves up in snow pants, hats, waterproof gloves, and warm coats and use your hands to dig out a tunnel or build a snow wall for snowball fights. You can build snowmen, make snow angels, or borrow a block form and pack in snow to make your own igloo.
What To Bring
Food and warm drinks are crucial to any winter camping trip. Because of the low temperatures and the high calorie-burn of winter sports like cross-country skiing, it's important that you bring a lot of carbohydrates. Drinking water is very important, even if you don't feel thirsty. To help yourself stay hydrated, try making warm drinks that sound good, like hot cider, warm lemonade, cocoa, and hot soup. (Water mixed with Gatorade or a juice mix won't freeze as quickly as water.) You can keep a hot drink in a thermos and take it with you on any day hikes or trips you take.
For clothing, leave your cotton shirts and socks at home and opt instead for wool, polypropylene, fleece, and gortex. All of these fabrics stay warm when they get wet, and they wick sweat away from your body, helping you stay warm even when you're active. Always wear a hat in cold weather. More than half of your body's heat escapes through your head! And make sure your socks are dry (bring plenty of extra dry socks with you).
Dressing in layers will keep you warmer, since the pockets of air between your clothes warms up and acts as natural insulation. Three layers are usually plenty on top: a long-john layer, fleece or a wool sweater, and a wind-proof jacket.
While you're in camp, use your insulate sleeping pad as a seat, since this will keep your pants dry and your rear end insulated. If you can, bring an extra sleeping pad that you can dedicate just for sitting. At night, always use a pad underneath your sleeping bag. Two will keep you even warmer! If you fill a water bottle with warm water at night, you can put it in the bottom of your sleeping bag and use it as a hot-water bottle.
If someone in your group becomes very cold or lethargic (and especially if their speech becomes thick and slow), they may be on the verge of hypothermia. Stop your activity immediately and set up camp. As quickly as you can, get this person into a sleeping bag and give them a warm drink. If they aren't warming up, put another person in the bag with them, ideally in very few clothes. Hypothermia is extremely dangerous, so be sure you know the signs before you go.