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Outdoor Guide To: Winter Camping | Duluth Pack

Camping during the winter has a lot of bonuses to it, no bugs, more privacy, and beautiful views. Winter camping can be dangerous if not properly prepared. You'll need to be able to handle the freezing temperatures, snowy conditions, and unpredictable weather. Winter camping is a great place to experience snowy mountains, vistas, or overlooks. It is more difficult, but the reward is worth it!

The Location

The first thing you have to look at is where to go. A popular area is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Your backyard is a great way to try winter camping without being in the remote wilderness. Many State Parks, National Parks, and Campgrounds are open year-round. National Forests are also a great idea because, in most places, you can freely walk and set up camp anywhere. While planning, check the rules. 

 

Pack the Right Equipment

The right equipment will make your trip more enjoyable while keeping you safe. A lot of the gear will be similar to a canoe trip but more rugged.

Tent: The tent is the most vital part of your trip. It is where you will spend the nights, which is often the coldest time of day. There are a few things to look for in a winter tent.

3-Season Tents will work if the weather is pleasant, and you can find a spot sheltered from the elements. If you are camping within the trees and there is not supposed to be a winter storm, then a 3-season tent will work.

4-Season Tent is the best option and what we recommend. This tent will keep you much warmer and block more of the weather.

Large Tents are ideal because you can stash your equipment inside to keep it warmer. If you go too large, you will lose some heat, make sure it is large enough for extra gear but not too big.

Transporting Your Gear

There are two main ways to haul all of your gear while winter camping sleds or backpacks. Each offers advantages and disadvantages, but neither one is superior to the other. 

Backpacks: This is the most common method of carrying gear. However, the pack is often a lot bigger than your summer-time pack. Pack as light as possible but still have all the necessary equipment. For a 2-4 day trip, we recommend having something at least 65-liters. Backpacks are the simple option as they will always be on your back and don't have to worry about dragging them up hills. They will always be on your back, make sure it is still light enough to carry.

Sleds: These are common for longer trips. They are not always an option because of the terrain you will experience. They also require a way to be attached to you and might trip you. If you use a sled, it is crucial to have all of your gear tied down.

Winter Clothing

Base Layers: This is what is next to your skin. This layer keeps you warm while wicking the sweat away for you. Mid-weight options are the best because you can use them for most of the winter.

Middle Layers: This layer goes on top of the base layer. Most of your warmth comes from this layer. It is necessary to make sure you have proper middle layers such as fleeces and sweatshirts.

Outer Layer: This is the final layer, the one exposed to the weather. Its purpose is to block the wind and be waterproof. It is essential to make sure this layer is breathable yet warm. Jackets and snow pants are great examples of this layer.

Hats and Gloves: These items are essential to keep you warm. Make sure the hat will cover your ears and some of your face. Make sure your gloves are waterproof yet breathable. It is smart to have extra hats and gloves in case they get wet while you are camping.

Socks: This is the best way to make sure you have a pleasant time. No one likes to have wet, cold feet. They should be non-cotton material. It is vital to make sure they are snug but not too tight. Remember to pack more socks than you think you will need. 

Boots: You will want something waterproof yet breathable. If there is only a little snow on the ground, you can use our Merrell x Duluth Pack Common Threads Moab Boot, but if there is a lot of snow, you'll want a traditional winter boot. Make sure your footwear is compatible with your skis or snowshoes.

Ways to Travel

When winter camping, you will often be in the wilderness with no maintained trails. It is necessary to plan a way to trek in and not sink in the snow.

Snowshoes: Snowshoes are a popular option because they are relatively inexpensive and allow you to stay on top of the snow. You can use a backpack or a sled with this option. It helps to have poles to help with your balance. 

Skis: This option is great for areas with flat terrain. Skis will also allow you to cover more ground quickly, but they may sink into the snow more than snowshoes. Skis will work better with a sled, as long as you have some way to keep the sled from hitting your skis or running into you.

 

Cooking and Food Tips

If you are planning a multiple day trip, you will need to cook food. There are a few ways you could cook food. You can either use a light-weight stove or start a fire.

Light-weight stove: If you choose to use a stove, be sure that it will work in below-freezing conditions. It is also crucial to consider what fuel it uses and how heavy that will be. It may be necessary to keep the fuel in your sleeping bag at night to keep it warm and prevent freeze-ups. A great option is a backpacking stove because they are light-weight.

Fires: Fires are a great option if you do not want to haul the heavy fuel. Make sure you pack enough fire starter such as a Wax Canvas Fire Starters. You will also need to make sure you have the proper gear to cook over the fire such as, durable pots and pans that resist burning.

Food tips: You will be using a lot of energy while winter camping, so it is crucial to make sure you are taking in enough food and water. Warm and simple meals are the best option because they are easy to clean up and easy to make. Eating hot food is a great way to warm up too. Drinking enough water is also critical. You may not feel thirsty, but you have to keep drinking to keep your energy up. Melting snow is an excellent source for water, you could also drill a hole in a lake for water. Remember to boil the water for at least a minute to kill all of the bacteria.

 

Sleeping Bags and Pads

Sleeping bags are essential to ensure that you will have a good time and not get cold. A cold weather sleeping bag is best. We recommend your sleeping bag be for 10 degrees F lower than the lowest temperature you expect to encounter.

Winter sleeping bags feature a hood, which goes around your head to, prevent heat loss. They are often more form-fitting.

If you think your sleeping bag is not warm enough, you can add liners to your sleeping bag. You could also use two sleeping bags, put your warm sleeping bag inside the other one.

Sleeping pads are great because they elevate you off of the snow. They also provide insulation and make the ground a little softer. Most campers use two sleeping pads. Use a solid foam sleeping pad on the ground. The next one is a self-inflating pad on top of the foam one.  If you do not have two sleeping pads, use only the foam pad.

 

Setting up Camp

Now that you have all the gear you need and have planned your route, the next thing you'll need to learn how to do is picking a great spot for camp. A great place to set up camp in areas that you could not access during the summer. It should be in an area to not disturb any of the natural environment. There are a few key things to remember when setting up camp.

  • Pack the snow: Packed snow offers the best insolation. Pack the snow down in the area the tent will be set up. The easiest way is to use your snowshoes to stomp the snow creating a tent pad.
  • Build protective barriers: Building a wall of snow around your shelter will block most of the wind. Do not completely cover your tent because you will want proper ventilation and air movement. If you cannot build a wall, you can dig down to create a protected area.
  • Use snow stakes: Standard tent stakes will not do much in the snow. They are too short to be effective. It is better to use snow stakes that are longer or use a snow sack, which can be filled with snow to add weight to keep the tent attached to the ground.

 

Winter Camping Safety Tips

Winter camping can be dangerous if not prepared for the elements. The two main things to look out for are frostbite and hypothermia. Take breaks to check yourself and your hiking partners for signs of either of these.

  • Dress right: With the right apparel and with layers, you will be able to stay warm but not too warm.
  • Take breaks: If you get cold, take a break and try to warm up. It is not worth waiting it out until you warm up. During breaks, try to eat and drink water, even if you do not need it.
  • Store your food: Bears should be hibernating, but other animals may not be, so it is essential to keep your food in an animal-proof bin or hang it from a tree.
  • Have fun: Winter camping is about experiencing the beauty of nature during the winter. Plan a safe trip, and you'll enjoy some beautiful sights while making great memories. 

Use #PersonBehindThePack on social media and let us know how you use your Duluth Pack during the winter. We might feature your story on our blog, The Pack Report.

Camp on, friends.