I think that there are too many out there that give up on backpacking and camping in general because of the colder winter months. As great as backpacking in the warm summer months is, jumping into ice cold lakes in the warm summer sun and everything else that comes with great summer hiking, winter definitely has it's advantages as well! Here are a few reasons why I love backpacking in the winter so much;
1st- you'll likely have wherever you go all to yourself because others don't like camping in the snow.
2nd- I have experienced some of the most amazing sunrises and sunsets while camping in the winter. Try to time a trip a day before a weather system is expected to move in, you'll likely see some pretty epic colors!
These are just a couple of the reasons why I like camping in the winter, but there are many many more good reasons to get out even when it's cold! If you do want to brave the cold and get out there, I want to help you do so and be as comfortable and safe as possible! Below is a list of some tips I've put together that I've learned over the years that enable me to enjoy sometimes very cold winter backpacking trips.
- One of the most important parts of hiking in general but even more so when it's cold is to dress in layers. The last thing you want to do is to wear a t-shirt and a big heavy jacket while you hike. What will more than likely happen is that you'll sweat, and then once you stop you'll quickly become cold and your warm jacket will be wet as well giving you little relief from the cold. Bringing a few layers of different thicknesses, from thin super breathable long sleeve shirts to warm down jackets that you can take on and off will go a long ways to helping you stay comfortable while hiking or hanging out at camp.
- Food is another big thing to help keep you warm. When you eat your body has to start breaking that down to create energy, this will in turn start to heat you up. So not only will a hot meal (I typically eat dehydrated meals) taste really good after a long hike, but it does wonders to warm you up. Try to eat again, a little snack, just before going to bed as this will help warm your body up and will also help warm your sleeping bag up.
Also bring something hot to drink! I typically will bring some sort of decaffeinated tea to sip after I've eaten dinner while I'm hanging out with friends, and depending on the tea I might add a little whiskey (shhh) ha! Here's a cool idea too, if you find yourself in a pine forest or at least near some pine trees, get yourself a large handful of needles straight off the tree, and put them in your cooking pot with some water. Bring the water to a boil and then let it steep for about 5 minutes, it makes some delicious tea and has twice the amount of vitamin C than orange juice (thanks for that tip Bear Grylls :)
- Ok, it's time for bed and the fear of sleeping in below freezing temps starts to scare you a bit, don't worry! Just follow these steps and you'll do great!
- Make yourself a crotch bottle ( sorry for the name lol). This is simply a water bottle filled with really hot water that you can heat up real quick with your stove. Pour the hot water into a water bottle that can handle hot water, a Nalgene or similar will work great! Then put your bottle in between your legs. This will stay warm for hours and will do wonders to heat your body up and your bag!
- Hand and toe warmers are a must! They are super light and are a god send to keeping your hands and toes warm both in your bag or in the late evening and early morning.
- Do jumping jacks!! No, I'm being serious ha! If you get into your bag freezing, it's going to take much
longer for your sleeping bag to do it's job which is radiate your heat back at you! So do 20 or more jumping jacks just before getting into bed. It'll warm you up and quickly warm your bag up.
- The last and most important bit of info is to get yourself a high quality, warm bag and sleeping pad. None of the other tips are going to work out that great if you're laying on the snow along with a 40 degree bag. At minimum for winter camping you should have a 20 degree bag and maybe a liner that will give you another 10 or so degrees of warmth if the temps really drop. You'll also need a thick sleeping pad with a good R-value that will help keep the cold from the snow below you from finding it's way onto your back, stealing all your warmth away.
- Another important piece is camp placement. Try to find a spot to pitch your tent out of the harsh winter winds. Those winds can quickly drop the temp, and make your time there not so much fun. If there aren't any good spots behind trees or or other natural wind blocks try digging into the snow with the snow shovel you brought. Dig a spot big enough for your tent from just a couple feet down to a few feet down depending on the terrain and what's needed for conditions.
I really hope that these tips will help you and encourage you to get out and try some winter camping, there really is something magical about it! Happy warm camping!!