SUBSCRIBE | NEWSLETTERS | MAPS | VIDEOS | BLOGS | MARKETPLACE | CONTESTS
TRY BACKPACKER FREE!
SUBSCRIBE NOW and get
2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.
Share your tales of travel & adventure with our step-by-step guide. Upload trail descriptions, photos, video, and more. Get Started
THE PULSE - Your source for survival, skills, and more from Rocky Mountain Editor Steve Howe

Beginner's Guide to Winter Camping, Part III: Planning Your First Winter Camp-out

Plan right and you're bound for the best winter camping experience possible.


        High Camp, 17,200 feet, Denali, Alaska.  pic: howephoto.us

Smart backpacking always involves planning, and in winter this becomes doubly important simply because cold temperatures are less forgiving of mistakes than most summer environments (outside of Death Valley, anyway).  In fact, winter is an excellent time to get into the habit of good trip planning, and organize your information resources so you can carry those safe habits into summer. So, class, in preparing for your first winter camping trip, here are your assignments. Suggestions in the comments section below get extra credit:

Pick your area: Choose a destination you’re familiar with, or at least one where trailhead access is simple and routefinding is straightforward. Stay close in to trailhead, you don’t need to go any farther than required for solitude, quiet, and land management regulations. If you need exercise, you can always explore around camp. If you really want a longer trip that gives you a goal and keeps you busy, plan for no more than half the mileage you would normally make in summer conditions. Stick to out-and-back trips you can easily retreat from. Avoid committing yourself to a one-way traverse you might not pull off.

Avoid hazardous access routes:
Swamps and stream crossings can become dangerous in winter. Stay off frozen lakes lest you fall through the ice – a common and deadly winter rescue scenario. If you’re heading into a snowy area, avoid trails or routes that involve steep slopes which could avalanche (more on that below), and trail ‘dugways’ that are cut deeply into side hills, since these often drift in with snow and become difficult traverses.  In short, look for a route that would be an easy stroll in summer.

Plan your campsite: Shoot for a spot near a stream where you can access liquid water so you don’t have to constantly melt snow, burning tons of fuel to get over water’s ‘heat of fusion’ – the 80 calories per gram required to turn frozen water into liquid at the 0 centigrade/32 Fahrenheit mark.  Snow melting is an important part of winter camping, and you may get to learn that anyway if you can’t safely access your planned stream, but try for liquid water on your first outing. You also want a spot with available firewood. Even if you don’t plan to build a campfire, you should have it as a safety back-up on your first overnight forays. Plan for a site with open sky to the east. That way, the sun will hit your camp early in the morning, when warming rays are most welcome.

Pick your weather: Watch the weather reports and choose a time when storms aren’t approaching, temperatures will be reasonable, and high winds aren’t forecast.  Basic TV weather reports are always a good place to start, but be aware that these forecasts are tailored to urban conditions. Nearby wildlands can see significantly different meteorology. Some of the best weather information resources are: Weather Underground, for general forecasts broken down hourly. NOAA National Weather Service forecast site, for more detailed estimates of predicted snowfall. (Note how the forecasts are often different between the WU and NWS.)  The National Weather Service Doppler Radar Site is very useful  to gauge approaching storm and wind patterns (activate the “base reflectivity” animation loop to see cloud movement). Choose your locale based on the nearest town or zip code.

Research the on-site conditions:  Find out about destination details like snow depth and seasonal road closings. Creativity and persistence pay off here, because getting an accurate assessment of distant locations is often difficult. Call or Google up the relevant land managers (Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National, or State Parks) to get current conditions reports and detailed local weather forecasts. The availability and quality of this information varies widely from place to place. Many National Park websites have excellent conditions information, right down to live weather cams, while others go dormant in off-season. Outfitter stores, restaurants, gas stations and nearby ski areas can all be good sources for current conditions.

It pays to keep digging. For example, on remote Boulder Mountain near my Utah home, there’s now a real-time weather cam I can look at to see snow depth atop the mountain, 2,000 feet above me and 25 miles away. But it took a lot of phone calls to find out how to access that information. When I first saw the tower this autumn- replete with solar panel and satellite uplink- I assumed it was a National Weather Service station, but I couldn’t find it listed anywhere. I called several Forest Service district offices and they had no idea what it was either, but eventually one ranger, curious on his own, discovered it was a Utah Department of Transportation “Commuter Link” traffic camera, which is amusing because I doubt that 20 people a day commute over that summit.  The tower has a wind speed anemometer too, but I still haven’t found out how to get that data, just the imagery.  This is typical of the hassle factor in sourcing accurate conditions reports for remote areas, but the advance effort can save you a lot of unpleasant surprises.

The avalanche thing:  If you’re heading into mountainous regions or steep terrain that’s deeply covered in snow, you should have a basic understanding of what avalanches are and how they happen.  Avalanche.org is a superb online portal for basic avalanche information, and hazard forecasts in those few parts of North America where forecasts are actually available.  For a basic primer book, you can’t beat Snow Sense; A Guide to Evaluating Snow Avalanche Hazard, by Jill Fredston and Doug Fessler. However, for purposes of simple winter camping, you can avoid avalanches entirely by staying off, and out from underneath, slopes (even small  slopes ) of 25 degrees and steeper. Where snowpacks are thin, forests are thick, or terrain is gentle, avalanches are not an issue. For your first winter camp-outs, stick to such places.

Do a trip plan: Buy or print the maps you need. Plot out your route. Estimate the time it will take to reach your camp. Know what time the sun rises and sets, and when actual darkness falls. Find out the emergency phone numbers in your destination area. Make a copy of your itinerary, the emergency numbers, and your route map, and leave it with a trusted friend or relative who can contact authorities should you not return on time. You should always do this when hiking or backpacking, especially if you’re solo. Winter is a perfect time to develop and practice the habit.

Plan a Menu:  Food is a personal subject, and most people have strong opinions about favored dishes or proper nutrition, so we'll restrict this to basic guidelines. As I mentioned in the last installment, if you'll be melting snow for all your water needs, you'll want a large pot to handle the snow volume, and at least three times the amount of fuel you'd use in summer. A second pot for cooking keeps your water cleaner by avoiding macaroni floaters and burnt tastes in your drinks. Keep both food and cooking preparations simple, emphasizing one-pot meals and lots of hot drinks to help keep you hydrated and warm. I prefer breakfasts like oatmeal, hot drinks, and perhaps bagels with cream cheese (you can warm small Kraft packets against your body). For lunch, snacks, and lots of them, are best. I prefer things you can eat with gloves on, like energy bars and gorp poured out of the bag. Nuts provide enough fat to keep you warm towards evening, without piling on the butter.  For dinner, one-pot goulashes work well, but be careful not to burn the dinner, or you'll be chiseling rock hard cheese off your pot until long after dark. Avoid fresh fruit unless you can keep it from freezing. Foods that solidify in cold, like honey and peanut butter, become difficult to deal with.

Contrary to the advice of many winter camping manuals, you don't need to stuff yourself constantly to survive, unless you're laboring hard through deep snow on long approaches, but keep a snack handy at night, so you can refuel your metabolism should you wake up cold in the wee hours.

Pee Bottles: I never used a pee bottle until I climbed Denali  in Alaska. Now, I wouldn't dream of winter camping without one, because getting up to pee at night is one thing; getting out of a warm sleeping bag to posthole through a subzero snow storm and pee is something else entirely. Avoid the problem by using a pee bottle. In most cases this can simply be a liter-ish sized plastic soda bottle with a secure cap, or an old bisphenol Nalgene you don't want to drink out of anymore (wide mouth is better, trust me on this). You want the bottle large enough so you won't overfill it on a well-hydrated night, and obviously, the cap should be bomber strong. When using a pee bottle inside your tent or sleeping bag, accuracy and a systematic approach are key. Keep the full bottle in your sleeping bag, or underneath clothing in the tent, so it won't freeze before you get a chance to empty it in the morning. Sorry sisters, women have it rough here. I'm unqualified to comment on the effectiveness of female urination devices (FUDs or FPDs), but a Google search on those keywords will generate a wealth of information and user reviews.

Assemble and check your clothing, gear and food: Try it all on to make sure layers mesh, everything fits, and it all fits in or on your pack. If your tent is new, pitch it in the yard to become familiar with the set-up. Rig the guylines and figure out how to stake it down in snow or hard-frozen ground.  In deep snow conditions, short wooden dowels, or small stuff bags, work well as ‘deadman’ anchors. Don’t forget to pack sunglasses and sunscreen; Sunburn and snowblindness don’t result from heat, they result from ultraviolet light, which is reflected very efficiently by snow (and water, and concrete).  Throw in some fun stuff too. Star charts, nature guides, binoculars, books or games can all add to your winter camping experience.

O.K. class. That's enough homework for now. Next up: Taking your first winter camp-out. Until then, have fun, get excited, hike safe. – Steve Howe

READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
POLO
Jan 03, 2014

Gucci Factory Outlet, http://www.guccivshoesfactory.com/
Longchamp Bags Sale, http://www.longchampxmassale.com/
Ralph Lauren Outlet Online, http://www.llaurenralph.com/
Hollister UK Shops, http://www.cheaphollistersale.co.uk/
Polo Factory Store, http://www.polo-outletstoreonline.com/
Polo Ralph Lauren Outlet Online, http://www.ralphllaurenpolo.com/
Marc Jacobs Sale, http://www.marcjacobsonsale.com/
MCM ؔ, http://www.mcmoutlet-jp.com/
North Clearance Outlet Online, http://www.north-clearance.com/
Michael Kors Outlet Online, http://www.mk-outletblackfriday.com/
Gucci Outlet Online, http://www.discountclothsale.com/
Coach Outlet Online, http://www.coachoutletsus.com/
Coach Factory Outlet, http://www.coach-outletfactory.com/
Coach Factory, http://www.coach-factories.com/
Coach Purses Outlet, http://www.newoutletonlinemall.com/
Canada Goose Christmas, http://www.canadagoose-chrismas.com/
Michael Kors Outlet, http://www.michaelkorsr.com/
North Jackets Clearance, http://www.north-faceoutletonlines.net/
Burberry Clothing Outlet, http://www.burbagssale2013.com/
Coach Outlet Online, http://www.coach-pursesonsale.com/
UGG Classic Boots, http://uggsbootsale.tumblr.com/
Coach Outlet, http://www.coach-blackfriday.com/
Coach Purses Outlet, goo.gl/ZO5AjH
Louis Vuitton Outlet Online, http://www.louisvuittonsale.nl.ae/

http://www.michaelkorsoutletr.com/
Michael Kors Outlet
Discount Michael Kors
http://www.michael-korsfactorystore.com/
Michael Kors Outlet
Michael Kors Factory Store
http://www.michaellkorsfactoryonline.com/
Michael Kors Outlet
Discount micheal kors

Star Star Star Star Star
www.jerseycaptain.com
Apr 27, 2013

cheap nfl jerseys wholesale,
http://www.jerseycaptain.com/
elite nike nfl jerseys sale, wholesale nfl jerseys china ,
http://www.jerseycaptain.com/Nike-NFL-Jerseys-c125/
nike 49ers nfl Jerseys, super bowl nfl jerseys, wholesale nfl jerseys cheap,
http://www.jerseycaptain.com/MLB-Jerseys-c94/
cheap MLB Jerseys, 2012 world series San Francisco Giants MLB Jerseys,
http://www.jerseycaptain.com/NBA-Jerseys-c77/
Revolution 30 Swingman NBA Jerseys, Hardwood Classics NBA Jerseys, discount soccer jerseys, wholesale basketball jerseys,
http://www.jerseycaptain.com/NHL-Jerseys-c96/
cheap nhl jerseys, Australia basketball jerseys. Australia soccer jerseys

Star Star Star Star Star
www.jerseycaptain.com
Apr 27, 2013

cheap nfl jerseys wholesale,
http://www.jerseycaptain.com/
elite nike nfl jerseys sale, wholesale nfl jerseys china ,
http://www.jerseycaptain.com/Nike-NFL-Jerseys-c125/
nike 49ers nfl Jerseys, super bowl nfl jerseys, wholesale nfl jerseys cheap,
http://www.jerseycaptain.com/MLB-Jerseys-c94/
cheap MLB Jerseys, 2012 world series San Francisco Giants MLB Jerseys,
http://www.jerseycaptain.com/NBA-Jerseys-c77/
Revolution 30 Swingman NBA Jerseys, Hardwood Classics NBA Jerseys, discount soccer jerseys, wholesale basketball jerseys,
http://www.jerseycaptain.com/NHL-Jerseys-c96/
cheap nhl jerseys, Australia basketball jerseys. Australia soccer jerseys

Star Star Star Star Star
http://www.yourjerseyhome.com
Mar 30, 2013

2013 nike nfl jerseys http://www.yourjerseyhome.com super bowl nfl jerseys,Nike Baltimore Ravens Jerseys http://www.yourjerseyhome.com/San-Francisco-49ers-s644.html Nike San Francisco 49ers jerseys light out black jerseys
http://www.yourjerseyhome.com/Soccer-Jerseys-c118.html soccer jerseys
49ers nfl jerseys online sale http://www.yourjerseyhome.com Nike San Francisco 49ers jerseys,Nike Baltimore Ravens Jerseys Nike NFL Jerseys wholesale cheap cool base mlb jerseys Revolution 30 swingman nba jerseys wholesale NFL T-Shirt
http://www.yourjerseyhome.com/NBA-Jerseys-c77.html throwback M&N Jerseys, limited nfl jerseys, elite nfl jerseys
elite nfl jerseys http://www.yourjerseyhome.com
http://www.yourjerseyhome.com/NCAA-Jerseys-c114.html bcs patch ncaa jerseys
http://www.yourjerseyhome.com/Nike-NFL-Jerseys-c124.html super bowl nfl jerseys,Nike Baltimore Ravens Jerseys
http://www.yourjerseyhome.com/San-Francisco-49ers-s644.html Nike San Francisco 49ers jerseys,light out black jerseys throwback M&N nfl, limited nfl, elite nfl jerseys

Star Star Star Star Star
http://www.3cjerseys.com
Feb 05, 2013

cheap convenient and creditworthy is our (http://www.3cjerseys.com) service tenet . In our site ,we provide all kinds of cheap nfl jerseys , just as nfl jerseys , basketball jerseys , NHL jerseys , NCAA jerseys , Football jerseys , the new era hats , we also provide jerseys customized service . All the products in our website are from china with wholesale price , so you can buy cheap products wiht high quality ! Now ,you can choose different payment in our website ,just as paypal , western union and VISA credit card . more information please visit http://www.3cjerseys.com
http://www.21elitenfljerseys.com

Star Star Star Star Star
Scouter Ed
Feb 01, 2013

Great article and comments. Best advice is the pee bottle! The older I get, the more I appreciate it, and not just for cold weather. Duh advice - make sure you can easily distinguish your pee bottle from your water bottle in the dark ;)
Ziploc dinners are absolute killer - so important to have 'real' food to maintain both physical and psychological warmth. Chili or beef stew are both easy and tasty and have lots of calories. A dash of cayenne pepper makes most things tastier and is also a vasodilator so increases blood flow.
Probably the most important element to avoiding hypothermia is to stay hydrated, so plan to drink lots of water throughout the day. Even if you don't 'feel' thirsty, make yourself drink every 30 minutes.

Anonymous
Dec 06, 2011

Old plastic peanut butter jars make for excellent GORP containers, you don't need to take your gloves off to eat from them.

pete lamb
Dec 03, 2011

My wife and I use a couple of pee bottles I of course have no trouble with this practice and while I don't know the mechanics of the operation my wife manages very well with no additional equipment than nature provided. She did have to get out of the bag until I had made a Feathered Friends bag that has zips for the arms and a draw string on the bottom, it also doubles for an armless down jacket in camp. just pull the bottom up and tighten the draw string at your waist
Winter camping at 25 below I find that Spam Is an amazing heat source at 3 am put it chopped up in a baggy and keep it in your bag.
Always put some water in your pot before you melt snow otherwise it tastes scorched, yes really.
On a mountaineering trip for 8, I bolted 3 MSR white gas stoves on a piece of triangular plywood close enough together that we could put a couple of gallon pot on it. It looked like a rocket blasting off but melted the water out party needed and cooked up great one pot meals for the whole group.
I have never used a tent for winter camping I use a winter OR bivy or a sill tarp with snow walls around it or both. I have slept through blizzards and temp as low as 40 below N of Lake Superior with this set up, waking to eat my Spam chunks

pete lamb
Dec 03, 2011

My wife and I use a couple of pee bottles I of course have no trouble with this practice and while I don't know the mechanics of the operation my wife manages very well with no additional equipment than nature provided. She did have to get out of the bag until I had made a Feathered Friends bag that has zips for the arms and a draw string on the bottom, it also doubles for an armless down jacket in camp. just pull the bottom up and tighten the draw string at your waist
Winter camping at 25 below I find that Spam Is an amazing heat source at 3 am put it chopped up in a baggy and keep it in your bag.
Always put some water in your pot before you melt snow otherwise it tastes scorched, yes really.
On a mountaineering trip for 8, I bolted 3 MSR white gas stoves on a piece of triangular plywood close enough together that we could put a couple of gallon pot on it. It looked like a rocket blasting off but melted the water out party needed and cooked up great one pot meals for the whole group.
I have never used a tent for winter camping I use a winter OR bivy or a sill tarp with snow walls around it or both. I have slept through blizzards and temp as low as 40 below N of Lake Superior with this set up, waking to eat my Spam chunks

Jeff Dillavou
Dec 02, 2011

I often will take an extra water bottle put boiling water in it and put it my sleeping bag brefore I turn in it warms the bag up a little. I keep in the bag with me as it cools it will will stay warm all night - which the body hyrated better with warm water. I also keep my pee bottle in the sleeping bag bag... guess what- it is warm too :-) - in the morning I slide each bottle into my boots before I put them on and get dressed and then my boots are not freezing cold when I go to put them on


On picking where to go... I want to add Road Plowing.. nothing worst than having a fine weekend camping only to find your road out is not plowed and 3 feet of new snow...

helen
Nov 11, 2010

This conversation is going no where. Its lacking the place of a good leader to head the things to come out on conclusion.
======================
<a href="http://www.caravanmarket.com.au" rel="dofollow">caravans</a>

Traveller
Mar 09, 2010


I love camping out in the wild and over the years I have found that the best thing is always to take a good <a href="http://www.dozentravel.com">travel guide</a> with you wherever you go. Sometimes, the best thing to do before a camping trip is to check out an online travel ort camping site listed on www.dozentravel.com or another travel index. Check out this blog post on an online <a href="http://matadortravel.com/travel-blog/australia/marta-atravelaroundtheworld/the-backpacker-s-secrets-for-travelling-australia-#comment-25190">travel guide</a> I found while surfing last night, it has some great advice on camping.

Todd K. Miller
Feb 18, 2010

If you think having a pee bottle for winter camping in a tent is important, trying doing without one when you winter camp in a hammock. That Zip Lock bag trick has me intrigued though...

Sparkle
Feb 18, 2010

One of the fastest, most fuel efficent, and easiest to eat/clean up in winter camping is the boil in the bag method. Just get yourself one of those 'seal a meal' type devices and you can bring along some of the best grub ever b/c you don't have to worry 'bout it spoiling in the cold temps nor do you need water to hydrate it. I bring soups a lot. Seal 'em up then freeze them by lying them flat...these pack down better than some freeze dried meals I've taken in warm weather. I have done an entire turkey, green beans, and mashed tators meal. You can assemble different bags of each food item or throw it all in one bag (my preferred method). I eat it right out of the bag so clean is as simple as folding up the freezer bag and packing it out. Having a meal like this after a long day on the trail or dealing w/ the other rigors of winter camping is a great psychological booster. Honestly, I eat better on winter trips than summer trips.

Russ
Feb 11, 2010

Re: Pee bottles, I have found that using Zip Lock bags is a much better answer than pee bottles, with the zip lock I am able to relieve myself while still in a lying position -- (as long as laying in a head higher than feet arrangement) -- I usually empty the bag right outside the tent, but if that is not practical, I use some sort of pot or dish until the morning --
If fearful of leaks etc -- then use the heavier freezer variety and perhaps double bag it after each use.
takes up less room in the pack, or one can utilize scrap zip locks that had carried lunch/dinner items in it.

reader
Feb 04, 2010

You know, it's impossible to find Part III of a series when you change the title! Duh, people, "series" means each part should have the same title. Glad the contents make it worth the irritation.

outdoorgirl55
Jan 28, 2010

All great information for beginners (which I am). I just did my first winter weekend in the Sierra, and dug and slept in a snow trench - awesome! You mentioned having your map, and planning your route carefully, but map and compass skills are a must when trails are buried beneath the fluffy white stuff. Anyone with even a glimmer of an idea of heading out into the snow (even for a day hike)needs to arm themselves with a basic understanding of off-trail route finding. GPS is great, but electronics can fail, and you have to know how to navigate without your tech gear if you want to be safe in the snow.

outdoorgirl55
Jan 28, 2010

All great information for beginners (which I am). I just did my first winter weekend in the Sierra, and dug and slept in a snow trench - awesome! You mentioned having your map, and planning your route carefully, but map and compass skills are a must when trails are buried beneath the fluffy white stuff. Anyone with even a glimmer of an idea of heading out into the snow (even for a day hike)needs to arm themselves with a basic understanding of off-trail route finding. GPS is great, but electronics can fail, and you have to know how to navigate without your tech gear if you want to be safe in the snow.

ADD A COMMENT

Your rating:
Your Name:

Comment:

My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

Trailhead Register
Anybody going to watch Bear Grylls tonight?
Posted On: Jul 28, 2014
Submitted By: mtnsteve
Gear
Want a pair of "grippy" rock climbing shoes
Posted On: Jul 28, 2014
Submitted By: fifeplayer
Go
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site MyRockyMountainPark.com.

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
City:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
State:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions