Jan 24, 2017 12:09PM
Cold weather camping: How you can bundle up and get outside
By Todd Welvaert
Seriously though, if you're getting a little cabin fever after the holidays and need to get a little time away from the hustle and bustle — and you are prepared to put up with a tinge more difficulty — winter camping might be a good fit for you.
The night sky seems clearer in the cold, winter-silenced wood; there's an excellent chance you will have the trails and campgrounds to yourself, and gorging on carbohydrates is almost a requirement — and did I mention the mosquitoes have frozen to death?
Here's a collection of tips that will help your winter camping experience be a good one.
• Check the weather before you go. You really don't want to get surprised out there. A storm might make your camping trip a downer in the summer, but an ice, snow or even wintry rainstorm can create conditions that quickly will threaten your life.
• Speaking of, know the symptoms of frostbite, hypothermia and dehydration, and how to treat them.
• Bring a lot of water — and drink it. Dehydrating while winter camping isn't hard to do. You don't feel like drinking water like you do in the summer. Trying to walk off cramps is no fun in the cold.
• Think layers for tops and bottoms, such as a wicking layer next to your skin, a wool or fleece layer over that, and a water-resistant shell or parka with rain or snow pants. Avoid cotton. Keeping dry is of the utmost important. Make sure you're dry an hour before going to bed, and change into dry clothes before getting into the sleeping bag.
• Boots are a must. Beware of wearing too many pairs of thick socks, though — prohibiting circulation to your feet will get them just as cold as wearing fewer pairs of socks. Instead, get a good pair of liner socks and a good pair of wool socks. Change them during the day, and let them dry overnight.
• Bring a thick hat or two that covers your ears. Sleep in it.
• Mittens or gloves? I have mixed feelings on this. Mittens are warmer, but you need to take them off for anything requiring a modicum of manual dexterity, so I usually wear gloves — and then complain endlessly about how cold my hands are.
• Bring a handful of those eight-hour handwarmers. Activate them and throw them into your sleeping bag and boots before crawling into the sack.
• Bring a flashlight and your phone into the sleeping bag with you. Batteries don't like the cold. Bring a tightly sealed bottle of water into your bag too, but stop drinking an hour before bed.
• Nearly everyone believes mummy bags are the warmest, and I won't argue that, but I don't care to be that confined. I bought a cheap, fleece bag that will fit into my regular bag, and found it probably gave another 10 degrees of warmth.
You also can invest in a bivvy bag, which is a bag that goes on the outside of your sleeping bag. A dedicated winter bag is probably worth it, if winter camping is something you are going to do a lot of.
• Bring a pad to put between you and the ground. I bring two pads — a closed cell pad and a self-inflating pad, and I found this made a big difference in my overall comfort while camping cold.
• If you're tenting it, bring a tarp to stop moisture from getting past the fabric. If there's snow, stomp it down under the tent; don't clear it.
• Always eat hot meals. Oatmeal, soups, hot chocolate, coffee and tea are great, but bring food that doesn't require cooking to enjoy, too, just in case. Be sure to prepare meals at home — it's tough to chop vegetables at 10 degrees.
• White gas stoves are best for winter, but in most conditions, alcohol or canister stoves work fine. For cartridge stoves, avoid 80/20 butane/propane canisters and use isobutane. Warm cartridges in your sleeping bag or parka before firing it up, but never bring a stove into a tent.
• Pick a campsite out of the wind, if at all possible. Pay attention to which part of the campground will get morning sunshine. It's usually coldest right before dawn. Mornings are the toughest in winter camping. If you wake up too cold, bundle up and go for a walk before trying to cook food or pack up gear.
• Check with the campground if pit toilets will be available. Many campgrounds will not offer running water. Bring hand sanitizer and a plan for dealing with your own waste, which usually includes bagging it out, if facilities are not available.
• Check about firewood, too. At this time of the year, some campgrounds don't have a stock of it, which means bringing your own if you want a fire.
• Don't forget sunglasses and sunscreen. Reflective snow can cook you, especially from late February and on.
• If you are going to do any hiking and there's snow on the ground, you won't cover ground like you do in the summer time, so take that into account when planning your hikes. Consider gaiters, the calf-high style nylon ones can really help keep your boots and feet dry by blocking the snow from getting in from the tops.
• Don't let yourself get sweaty. Peel layers if you start sweating, put them back on when you get chilled. When you return to camp, put warm dry clothes on right away; don't lose the heat you spent all the effort building up.
• Let people know when and where you are going, and let them know if the plan changes.
• If it's your first winter camping experience, there's no shame in staying close to the car. Get a feel for it. Test you gear and figure you what you would do different next time. Not working out? Throw your gear into the trunk and take off.
• Slurred speech.
How to avoid it:
• Stay warm.
• Stay dry.
• Stay hydrated.
• Eat well.
• Put on dry clothing.
• Eat and drink warm foods and fluids.
• Put the person in a sleeping bag pre-warmed by another person — a hypothermic person doesn't have enough heat to warm the bag.
• Put warm water in bottles and place them in the sleeping bag with the person.
• Use another person to warm the hypothermic person.
In severe cases, careful evacuation to a medical facility is required.
Tip: Carry a small vacuum bottle with a hot drink or soup — it'll warm you up when you're getting cold.
Frostbite is a freezing of the tissues usually on the fingers, toes, nose or face. It is a result of heat being lost faster than the blood can circulate. In severe cases, appendages may have to be amputated.
Tip: Use chemical heat packs to help stay warm and to avoid getting frostbite.
• Numbness to an area.
• Loss of sensitivity to touch.
• Tingling that feels like burning.
• Skin appears red and then white-to-purple.
• Don't put yourself in that position.
• Be aware of your body signals.
• Stay warm and dry.
• Place the cold/frostbitten appendages against warm skin, such as your feet against a companion's stomach or armpits, or your fingers in your own armpits.
• Use warm water — 99 to 104 degrees — on the afflicted area.
• Do not use fire to thaw area — speedy relief can increase the injury.
• Do not rub because the abrasive action could damage tissue more.
• Evacuate to a medical facility.
Even when the temperature is low, you can still get dehydrated and that's not good for your kidneys, heart or brain. So drink plenty of water — even if you're not thirsty. Drink before you become thirsty.
Tip: Keep the fluids flowing in freezing weather with an insulated reservoir and tubing. In extreme cold, leave the reservoir at home and use a water bottle cover for your bottle. Turn the bottle upside down. (Water freezes from the top down, so by turning it right-side up you'll be able to unscrew the cap and drink.)
A good way to determine if you're drinking enough is to check the color of your urine. If it's dark, you are dehydrated. If it's pale in color, you're doing a good job hydrating!
Other symptoms of dehydration in extreme temperatures:
• Increased heart rate.
• Dry mouth.
• Muscle cramps.
Todd Welvaert is a regular Radish contributor.
Radish magazine is published by Small Newspaper Group and distributed by Moline Dispatch Publishing Co., L.L.C.
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