Gearing up for Winter Camping

Sac River in the Winter

Winter Camping Weather

I’ve got a pretty clear idea of the conditions that I’m happy to go out camping and backpacking in. Overnight temperatures down to around 20°F, and daytime temps in the mid to low forties. Anything else and I’m going to stay at home and catch up on writing blog posts.

If the wind is going to be above 10-15 mph I’ll probably stay home too. I’m not particularly interested in being out in single-digit windchill conditions either.

Rain & snow, I’ll try and avoid it, but won’t hold off a trip for a prediction of one wet day in a two-three day outing. I won’t be planning on going out if there’s a lot of snow on the ground though. A thin covering is fine, but tracking through deep stuff — no thanks (well not yet anyway).

Winter Shelter & Sleeping

Piney Creek Campsite – December 31, 2011.

To cope with the lower temperatures I have a Neoair pad and 0°F sleeping bag for tent camping. Our tents are three-season, but hold up well in the temperatures I’m looking at being out in.

I sometimes also carry an inexpensive fleece sleeping bag I bought from Bass Pro. I tend to use it as a wrap to keep my back warm while sitting around, though it doubles as extra sleeping insulation if needed.

Winter cover on my hammock — the tarp is folded out of the way to let the sun in and keep the wind off (26°F overnight).

For hammock camping, I’ve bought a 10°F under-quilt, and top-quilt.

For hammock camping, my current tarp doesn’t have any way of closing off the ends. So I have invested in a winter cover that zips onto my hammock, completely covering it. It works really well. So far I’ve not had any problems at all with condensation and frost forming on the inside (16°F to 29°F).

Winter Clothing

Pretty and Trendy I’m not.

Pretty and trendy I’m not. I’m using the base layers I bought years ago for working outside in the winter. I have a pair of high-quality woolen socks, some kayaking gloves (water-resistant and with a good feel and grip at the fingertips), and I carry a fleece. I wear a synthetic fishing shirt over the base layer, Over this I have a fleece, and a down jacket (bought used), and I either wear my normal hiking pants or a pair of snow pants I picked up in a sale.

Bare feet and hiking huaraches on frozen ground
Hiking in huaraches is fine even when there’s some ice on the ground

Up til now I’ve stuck with my huaraches for footwear, but the lack of heat insulation between my feet and the ground is pushing me to consider something with a more substantial sole. We’ll see how that goes, as I hate enclosed shoes.

For rain I have a poncho that covers me and my pack. It’s only disadvantages are its weight (8oz), and that its voluminous size can get in the way when stooping down to deal with stakes and lines. But as a one-piece item that I could also use as an underquilt protector if needed makes it a good choice. I guess it looks pretty stupid too, but who’s around in woods when it is raining to see and pass judgment? For me comfort is more important than looking cool — I wear a kilt at times, remember?

I have a Thinsulate hat, a shemagh, a buff, and a bandana. The shemagh, buff, and bandana are so versatile that I always carry them regardless of the weather.

For the various hunting seasons I have a blaze orange vest and hat. The vest I wrap around my backpack.

My base pack, as of January 2019

My winter loadout – January 2019.

Winter Cooking

I’ve found that my little Trangia alcohol stove works fine for what I need, so I’ve stuck with that. Melting snow might be a challenge in terms of the amount of fuel it’d use, but beyond that, it’s working for me. Anyway, I have no intention of being out in a large snowfall. A slight dusting will suit me just fine.

Ginger, Gary and Lanie cooking lunch on the Coleman Exponent stove during a day hike on the Sac River Trai
Ginger, Gary and Lanie cooking lunch on the Coleman Exponent stove during a day hike on the Sac River Trail

I must admit that I’m looking for an excuse to carry my Coleman Exponent Multi-fuel stove but it is so heavy and takes up a lot of pack space. I’d also love to take along my Coleman Exponent Dual Fuel Lantern to banish some of the long dark nights, but again its size and weight are against it.

I’ll admit I’m currently fighting off ‘Compulsive Gear Acquisition Syndrome’ which it causing me to look lovingly at the MSR Whisperlite white gas stove. I really don’t need one.

Winter Camping Tips

Here are just a few simple tips that have helped us when it got colder.

  • Tent Camping, pile up leaves under your tent to insulate your tent floor and sleeping pad from the freezing ground.
  • Pick a camping spot that allows you to Align your tent/hammock in the best direction to reduce the effect of the wind. That may mean choosing which side of a ridge to camp. In the winter I like to pick spots that face southeast so that they get the benefit of the morning sunshine.
  • Don’t camp onto of a rock shelf. The cold rock will suck the heat out of you (we know, we’ve done it).
  • Add layers as soon as you stop hiking. It’s essential to keep your core temperature up, don’t wait until you start to feel cold.
  • Have plenty of hot food and drinks. We’ve been known to take a stove with us even when we are hiking in colder weather.
  • Keep dry. That means keeping a balance between the number of layers you wear and sweating and feeling cold.
  • Lighting a fire. Lay down a bed of dry wood – small finger width or slightly larger twigs will do, and build your fire on top of them. This insulates your fire for the cold/wet ground until it can get established.
  • Contrary to popular belief, butane lighters work fine when it is cold — if you warm them up in your hand or in a pocket before you try to use them.
  • Warmed rocks or metal water bottles can be used to warm your bed or hands. Just make sure you’ve not got them too hot, or if they are too hot to touch wrap them in something — another use for a shemagh.

What suggestions and ideas have you got? Let us know below.

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