Intimidating for many, frigid for others, winter camping can be tamed with a little preparation and a few insider tips. To make the most of winter in a tent, take advantage of our 10 commandments for winter campers.
- THOU SHALT USE A HOT WATER BOTTLE
This is definitely the most comforting tip of the bunch. Shortly before you go to bed in your sleeping bag, insert a one-litre waterproof bottle – like a Nalgene bottle – filled with boiling water into the bottom of your sleeping bag… and close it tightly!
Even better, use an insulating pouch to avoid burns and maximize the effect.
When it’s time to go to sleep, the sleeping bag will already be warm and you can place the bottle at your feet or on your abdomen as needed throughout the night. In the morning, a warm drink will be ready to drink before you even leave your cozy cocoon!
- THOU SHALT NOT FORGET THE SLEEPING MAT
This is too often the neglected accessory. Even more so in winter camping, when insulation from the cold ground is essential.
Pay particular attention to the type of mattress you use, because the best sleeping bag becomes almost ineffective when the cooling by conduction does its work.
Choose a model adapted to your morphology and do not hesitate to pair mattresses together for more insulation. A closed-cell foam mattress such as Evazote, combined with an inflatable mattress such as Exped or Therm-A-Rest, will prevent you from waking up shivering.
- THOU SHALT CONTROL THE HUMIDITY
The idea is counter-intuitive: leave the tent open at -30°C. In fact, it is meant to ensure that the ventilation of the interior is adequate, to prevent humidity from becoming a problem.
In fact, winter tents often have openings that are carefully placed to allow air to circulate. Also, carry a soft brush (a nail brush works well) to remove ice from clothing, sleeping bags and other accessories as needed. This will prevent the ice from melting and making your life more difficult.
Finally, a golden rule: never fall asleep while breathing in (and especially breathing out) your sleeping bag!
- THOU SHALT CONSUME CALORIES IN QUANTITY
Away from any source of heat, you will have to rely on your activation and food consumption for your body to create heat. Hence the importance of providing your body with plenty of fuel.
Don’t neglect your caloric intake while camping in winter. Fats and carbohydrates will be the essential fuel for your internal furnace!
Adjust your diet accordingly and increase your calorie intake depending on your adventures. Think that if 2000 calories are enough for the average person, polar explorers ingest up to 7000 calories per day, in extreme cold and with effort…
- THE DOWN JACKET THOU SHALT PUT ON
The down or synthetic down jacket is the centerpiece of the winter camping clothing system and is a must-have.
A real “thermos” when not in use, the insulated coat keeps the heat in and, above all, makes it possible to dry the other clothes. Because the real way to do it in winter camping is to dry the clothes that have become wet in the action.
Once at the camp, put on your down jacket; the clothes will dry gradually during the preparation of the camp for the night.
Avoid cotton at all costs and take advantage of the combination of synthetic and merino wool clothing.
- THOU SHALT PROVIDE ENOUGH FUEL
A stove that is efficient in cold conditions (and that has been tested beforehand) will quickly become useless without enough fuel. This is why it is important to do your calculations before leaving and to plan for extra fuel.
In winter, when snowmelt is necessary to obtain water, it is generally necessary to calculate 1/3 of a liter of white gas (naphtha) per person per day.
In general, forget about canister stoves: below freezing, the cold prevents butane-propane mixtures from vaporizing effectively. Liquid gas stoves should be preferred.
- A STURDY TENT THOU SHALT CHOOSE
For an occasional night of winter camping, almost any tent will do. But for more regular use, it’s best to get a true four-season tent, which is much more efficient and comfortable.
This type of shelter is more robust and larger, and offers better protection against the wind, and its surfaces are designed to minimize snow accumulation.
Although more expensive to purchase, these tents have properties that are worth their weight in gold when it’s -40°C or if 1 meter of snow falls overnight.
- PROTECT YOUR EXTREMITIES
When the cold days and nights pile up, frostbite prevention is at the top of the list of essentials.
Protecting your hands and fingers should be a priority, especially considering the many tasks you have to perform while winter camping: setting up the tent, starting the stove, handling the equipment, eating…
Practice before you get into the action in the cold. Then you can test your gloves or mittens – and all your gear, for that matter – to see if they allow you to remain agile at all times without exposing yourself.
- A SHOVEL THOU SHALT CARRY
Without turning it into a Toque Wars fort, you can easily make your winter camp spacious and comfortable with a little imagination.
With a good snow shovel (avalanche safety shovels are great), dig a vestibule or vestibules in front of your tent entrance(s) to save space, or build a large group kitchen, including counter space, inside the cabin.
Need to build a low wall to weather the storm, cut snow blocks to melt, or simply smooth out the ground under your tent? This tool will be a valuable partner.
- GENTLY THE NIGHTS THOU SHALT ACCUMULATE
Before you dream of Antarctica solo, plan your winter nights carefully. Start with adventures near an accessible, heated location, such as in your backyard, on your cottage grounds, or in a park near your home.
Test different conditions and temperatures, as well as your resistance to the cold, and then gradually increase the commitment of your outings and the number of nights, alone or with others.
You can then think bigger and plan independent wilderness trips, far from everything…