Winter Camping in the Northern Lights

Winter Camping Tips

My writing has slowed down a bit lately for a couple of reasons; one, I have been out doing the things I write about as much as I can.  And two, I have been very busy with my son’s lacrosse team at Metro State University.  Since I did a lot of work with his lacrosse team in high school, I volunteered to help with the college team, and I kind of over committed, but I like doing it.  I still have a lot of work to do on this, but check out this website I have been working on  Yes, those pictures on the home page are my son.  But I can’t let my obligations to my readers slip, so I will try to keep up with my writing.

My friend who owns Sable Mountain Outfitters told me the other day that she has been busy packing out hunters, elk, and camps from the very snowy mountains in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area in Colorado, my favorite place on earth.  I wish I could have worked with her this elk season, but it just didn’t work out for me, I had my own hunting to do.

But the frigid temperatures are coming, even here already at night, and this time of year a lot of people are spending time in the wilderness either hunting or winter camping.  I thought an appropriate article tonight would be to give some winter camping tips, whether you are out camping, hunting, snow shoeing, or whatever pursuits take you into the wilderness in winter conditions.  Some of these tips may be repeats of others I have written about winter camping, but it has been quite a while since I have written about this topic.

If you know me at all or have read my articles, it shouldn’t surprise you that I start with a simple equation:  Fail to Plan = Plan to Fail. Preparation for any outdoor excursion is the first crucial step, but this step becomes even more important when you are going out into harsh conditions, especially if you are venturing into the wilderness.  So many things can go wrong if you are not prepared, but you can trek into the wilderness in winter conditions and live quite comfortably if you are well prepared.  My first rule is to bring a little bit extra, of everything – water, food, and clothes.  If you are backpacking this takes some careful planning and gear selection, but it can be done, and I have done it many times.


Winter Campsite

Hydration is very important in winter conditions.  Often times we don’t think about staying hydrated if it is cold out, but you will lose a lot of moisture from breathing. Try to avoid sweating when you are out in the cold, but sometimes it happens, and you will lose moisture in that manner as well.  Make sure that you have as much water as you can carry, and water purification means for when you need more.  This can either be a filter, water purification tablets, or a pot to boil water, ice, or snow. One important tip that I learned over the years is that before you go to bed, fill pots and pans with water.  They will likely freeze over night, but it is much easy to turn that ice into water while it’s in a pot than if it’s still in the water jug.  Just be sure to drink lots of water when you are out in the cold.

While it is good to have food that doesn’t require heating for snacks or emergencies, it is always best to eat warm meals as they will heat you from the inside.  Meals that can be made in one pot are best because that minimizes cleanup, and keep the meals simple.  I like to precook meals before a trip so that all I have to do is heat them up.  Chili, stew, and spaghetti are my favorites.  It’s also good to keep a pot of hot water ready (or close to being ready) for a cup of hot chocolate or soup to warm you up in between meals.  Freeze dried foods can be good if you need to be conscious of weight, and there are some on the market that taste reasonably good.

Finally, your clothing is very important. Remember the 3 W’s of layering – Wicking inside layer, Warmth middle layer(s) and Wind/Water outer layer. Wicking should be a polypropylene material as long underwear and also sock liner. Warmth layer(s) should be fleece or wool. The Wind/Water layer should be Gore-Tex or at least 60/40 nylon. Do not bring cotton clothing, it is not good in cold weather situations. Staying dry is the key to staying warm. Air is an excellent insulator and by wearing several layers of clothes you will keep warm.  The discussion on clothing can get very in-depth, there are so many options out there these days, I wouldn’t even know where to begin other than telling you these basic concepts.


Snow Shoe Camp

I will be writing more about this topic as there is so much more to write.  Had I drawn that deer tag that I hoped for this year, I would be heading up to the Rocky Mountains this time of year on a mule deer hunt, but that will likely happen next year.  I definitely have plenty of bird hunts ahead of me in the coming months of winter, and for waterfowl I will be out in the cold long before sunrise setting decoys, and then sitting in a cold blind waiting for ducks and geese.

I’m not a big fan of the cold, but if you prepare for it, it is really not that bad.  I think some of my coldest times spent outdoors were watching my son’s lacrosse games in the cold Colorado spring time, especially the night games.  Some of the other parents probably thought I was a little strange as I stood on the sidelines in my fully insulated camo hunting gear, but I’m sure I was warmer than they were.