Winter Camping 101

winter campingDon’t let the cold months keep you from sleep­ing in the moun­tains! Win­ter camp­ing requires more plan­ning and prepa­ra­tion than sleep­ing out­side in the sum­mer, but with these sim­ple tips you can avoid the shiv­er-bivy and camp in style all year round.

Plan Ahead
A suc­cess­ful win­ter camp­ing trip begins long before you hit the trail­head. Pick a mod­er­ate des­ti­na­tion, stay­ing close to a road if it’s your first time sleep­ing out in snow. Watch the weath­er fore­casts care­ful­ly, and con­sid­er being flex­i­ble with tim­ing or hav­ing a Plan B in case of an apoc­a­lyp­tic storm front. Learn to rec­og­nize and avoid avalanche-prone areas, and check the local fore­casts before you go. If you’re trav­el­ing through or camp­ing on any snowy slope that’s pitched more steeply than 20 degrees, your crew should have avalanche training.

Plan Your Site
Once you get to your camp­site, look around before you pitch your tent. Where will you be the most shel­tered from the wind? Is there any over­head hazard—snow-covered tree limbs, ice, or rocks that could fall? When the team has agreed, pitch the tent togeth­er, mak­ing sure that some­body always has a hand on every piece of the tent so noth­ing blows away. And be very care­ful about where you put things down in deep snow, because it’s eas­i­er than you might think to lose a glove, tent pole, or camera.

Get Off The Ground
If there’s one key to stay­ing warm while camp­ing on snow, it’s this: do what­ev­er you can to insu­late your­self from the cold stuff, which sucks the heat of your body. Con­sid­er bring­ing two sleep­ing pads—an inflat­able pad for com­fort and a closed-cell foam mat for insulation—and make sure your sys­tem has an R‑value of at least 5. Try not to sit direct­ly on snow or ice either; opt to sit on a back­pack instead.

Make Water
It seems counter-intu­itive, but when you’re camp­ing on snow it can often be hard to find run­ning water. If you’re not pos­i­tive that you’ll have access to a lake or stream for potable agua, be pre­pared to melt your own. If there’s enough sun­light, you can make a solar still out of a black plas­tic trash bag; oth­er­wise, crank up your stove. Just be sure to put a lit­tle water in the pot before you add snow, because—believe it or not—it’s actu­al­ly pos­si­ble to scorch snow and ice, which will leave your water with a burned taste.

Keep Elec­tron­ics Warm
Any­thing with a lithi­um-ion battery—including smart­phones, cam­eras, tablets, recharge­able GPS devices, GoPros, etc.—will lose charge when exposed to cold tem­per­a­tures. To pro­tect your battery’s usable charge, keep small devices and extra bat­ter­ies in a chest pock­et where they’re close to the warmth of your body, and tuck them into your sleep­ing bag at night. Min­i­mize expo­sure to cold air, and car­ry back-up bat­ter­ies for any­thing essential.

Always leave a detailed trip plan and emer­gency con­tact infor­ma­tion with some­body at home. Dou­ble-check that you have the ten essen­tials. And always be extra cau­tious when you’re out­side in the win­ter months.