There is a certain beauty to winter. The quiet of a soft, heavy snow begs for a walk in the forest. Big storms yield, and give rise to excellent turns in deep powder. When done right, playing out in the cold temperatures and snow can be wondrous. There are some times; however, when doing it wrong doesn’t seem like such a hard thing to fall into.
With winter season in full swing, we want to share with you some of our favourite winter camping and hiking tips.
1) Canister stoves and the cold. As temperature decreases, so does pressure. What does this mean for your stoves powered by compressed gas canisters? They will be burning very inefficiently. Most of the time, they will still work, but there are things we can do to control the caliber at which they work.
Some quick tips on the matter:
- Choose good fuel. Specifically use only isobutene/propane blends. Avoid straight butane.
- Start off with a warm canister. Keep it in a jacket pocket or a sleeping bag before use.
- Keep the canister warm. If you are noticing decreased performance, put your canister in water, which will keep your fuel above its vaporization point. For added points, make that water hot!
2)Mind your layers. For most of us, it is impossible not to sweat while enjoying our favorite outdoor activity. For pursuits that involve constant motion from start to finish, this may not be the end of the world. However, for undertakings such as skiing or ice climbing, which involve lots of change in activity level, it can make a perfect day turn bone chilling. Take the time to perfect your layering system, and remove layers during motion before you get too hot. We know how hard it is to take that puffy jacket off after a snack break, but if you are comfortable at rest, then you are wearing too many layers to be comfortably moving.
3) Pack extra clothes. On the note of sweating, sometimes it is simply unavoidable, and worth it to pack a second set of base layers to accommodate this. Particularly on overnight trips, or a day of ice climbing with a long approach, we find it useful to bring along a second shirt and an extra pair of socks.
4) Don’t ‘burn’ your snow. Have you ever had a sip of freshly melted snow and thought “Hey! This isn’t mountain fresh!?”. Snow is an insulator, not a conductor. Therefore, if you put only snow in a hot pot, you will burn something first (i.e.- impurities in the snow, food residue on the pot, the pot coating) before the snow starts to melt. Then, upon melting, all of those icky gases released upon burning will transfer to your water. To avoid this, simply maintain a layer of water in the bottom of your pot at all times while melting snow, at least a finger thick.
5) Choose an appropriate bed. Closed-cell foam pads such as the Thermarest Z-Lite, operate just the same in the winter as they do in the summer. However, the increasingly popular inflatable pads do not. Take a standard three-season inflatable pad out in the dead of winter, and you may find yourself colder than if you were to go without. With no insulation, the air inside of the pad will cool itself down after inflation, and take heat away from your body during the night. Pay attention to the R-Value given to the sleeping pad, a statistic which can often be found on the manufacturers’ website. An inflatable pad designed for winter use will be insulated, and have an R-Value higher than 5. Here is a great article with more information on the subject: https://sectionhiker.com/can-you-use-a-winter-sleeping-pad-for-year-round-backpacking-and-camping/
6) Build yourself a castle. Winter camping is the best, given that you can build whatever sort of tent platform you would like. Take the time to either build a snow wall around your tent, or dig it down into the snow (or sometimes a little bit of both). Additionally, it is a favorite technique of ours to dig down the space encompassing the vestibule. This creates the perfect sitting position from which to put on and take off your boots.
7) The hot water bottle heater. A classic, but it would be impossible to curate a list of winter camping tips without including the best one! Anytime you’re feeling chilled, fill a Nalgene bottle with boiling water and let it rest where it is needed most- in the jacket while waiting for dinner to be ready, or by the feet in your sleeping bag.
8) Down or synthetic? Very important, and very variable! Choosing down versus synthetic insulation depends on many factors including the climate you will be in, the activity you will be doing, and your budget. If you live somewhere with wet winters and you don’t want to break the bank, perhaps synthetic insulation is for you. However if you enjoy the dry cold climate of the Rockies, then maybe down is better suited. Check out this excellent article for help making the best choice in winter fluff. https://www.outdoorresearch.com/blog/article/down-vs.-synthetic-whats-the-difference-between-down-and-synthetic-insulati
9) Anchor your tent properly.
-Stomp the snow to compact the area in which you will bury your pegs.
-Dig out a “T”-shaped trench in the snow, either using the peg itself, an ice axe, or trekking pole. The top of the “T” should run perpendicular to the direction in which the guy lines will pull. The depth of the trench will depend on how dense your snowpack is, though a good place to start is by digging down to your wrist.
-Set the stake into the trench horizontally. Connect the guy line to the stake at its middle with a girth hitch, or any knot or hitch that your prefer.
-Cover the trench with snow and pack it down.
10) Sleep with your clothes. Shoving your clothes for the following day into your sleeping bag is a win-win. Not only do you help to fill the dead air space in your sleeping bag, thus making it warmer, but you also are making it that much easier to get up the next morning, knowing that you’ll have some warm clothes to slide into.