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Backpacker Magazine – Fall/Winter Gear Guide 2012

Winter Survival Guide: Camp

Humans weren't built to sleep on snow. Defy nature and sleep soundly with these winter camping tips.

by: Kristin Bjornsen

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Tent setup (B. Fullerton)
Photo by Tent setup (B. Fullerton)
Tent setup (B. Fullerton)

Winterize Your Campsite
Follow these steps to create a comfortable overnight spot.
>> Look up. “Make sure there are no widowmakers nearby,” says Ben Shillington, author of Winter Backpacking and an expedition guide based in Ontario, Canada. “Frozen, brittle sap makes dead trees more prone to breaking and falling.”
>> Stomp out a level tent platform with your snowshoes. Give it at least an hour to sinter (refreeze and set solid), and keep your snowshoes on that entire time so you don’t create an uncomfortable posthole where the tent will be, says Shillington.
>> Pack down a potty trail. It should lead to a sheltered area 150 to 200 yards away from the tent and cooking zones, and away from water sources and main trails.
>> Pitch your tent. “Use your snowshoes, shovel parts, or skis like you’d use deadmen, tying your guylines around them. They’re secure, and you won’t have to pack stakes,” Shillington says. Also, face the front door downhill and away from prevailing winds.
>> Use a single door. Plan to cook and organize gear in one of your tent’s vestibules, and use the other side to climb in and out, which will minimize tracked-in snow.
>> Build snow walls around the tent to block wind. The most wind-protected area will be away from the barrier a distance equivalent to five times the wall’s height.
>> Enjoy and explore. After dinner, take a night hike. “The stars are amazing—plus, if you go to bed warm from the exercise, you’ll sleep better,” says Shillington.

Build a Heat Bomb
“Fill a bottle with hot water before bed and put it in the foot of your sleeping bag so it will be cozy when you crawl in. Around camp, you can also tuck one into your jacket; it’ll stay warm for several hours.”
–K. Cordes

Go to Bed on Empty
“Try to pee a lot before settling in for the night. Having a full bladder makes your body work harder to stay warm, so you feel colder. The extra trips will also reassure you that you’re staying hydrated. In case I do have to go at night, I keep a pee bottle—tightly sealed!—in the tent so I don’t have to go outside.”
–Shannon Davis, Climbing Editor

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AZ Hiker
Jan 28, 2014

Don’t forget your compass! When snow cover causes you to lose sight of the trail and landmarks, stay found by using a compass and reading Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon). This book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Before you hit the trail, be sure to calibrate your compass to the declination of where you will be hiking or skiing. Go to: A compass doesn't need satellites, a signal, or batteries and works in all types of weather, day or night, but you need to know how to use it. Learn how to orient yourself using a compass, a compass and a map, a map and no compass, no compass and no map. Look for it on Amazon, "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart". The ability to know your way and know where you are is something we all need in any survival situation not just while hiking and camping. Learn to stay found day or night by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. Learn what to do if you get lost, how to get rescued, and survival packing (for the car and for the trail) just in case you end up unexpectedly spending the night outdoors.


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