HOW TO GET STARTED WINTER CAMPING
Getting outdoors in the winter can seem like a daunting task for some people, but the skills it requires to spend a few nights camping in the cold are not all that different from the skills it takes to camp during the other three seasons of the year. All you need is the right gear and proper planning to tackle your first winter camp.
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear”- Atmosphere Assistant Store Manager and avid winter camping expert Dillon Lowen
Most people will never muster the courage to brave even one night at -25 C but those who do know the benefits are many: fewer people camping means your solitude is greater, there’s a large range of winter activities you have access to such as Snowshoeing, Ice Climbing and Nordic Skiing, and the views are enhanced by light reflected off the snow (some people say it’s like waking up on another planet).
CHOOSING A TENT
All-season or four-season tents are designed to withstand heavy winds and snow, and create a balance between trapping warm air within the tent while also allowing moisture to vent outside.
In order to choose the best tent for your winter camping trip, first ask yourself:
Where will you camp and what are the conditions?
The temperature drops around 10 C every 1000 feet of elevation gained. If you’ll be camping at a high elevation and you know the forecast calls for a storm, you’ll need the highest rated winter tent you can find.
How many people are in your party?
Picking the right size of tent will require finding a balance between having enough space for everyone in your crew to sleep and move around comfortably while also not having so much extra space in the tent that it’s hard to warm it up.
How heavy is the tent?
This is an important factor to consider if you’ll be trekking across long distances, but the weight of the tent also has an impact on its temperature rating.
CHOOSING A SLEEPING SYSTEM: SLEEPING BAG & PAD
Your sleeping system refers to a few different elements that combine to make a comfortable, warm, and safe environment for you to sleep in when the temperature outside your tent is well below zero. First we’ll cover your sleeping bag and sleeping pad, then we’ll address the type of clothing you should wear to bed and other tips for making your sleep better.
Again it’s important to ask yourself a few questions before buying your sleeping bag for winter camping:
Where will you camp?
Match the conditions you’ll be sleeping in to the temperature rating of the sleeping bag and sleeping pad.
How long will you camp?
Down-filled sleeping bags have been the go-to winter sleeping bag insulation for decades thanks to their ability to keep us warm at extremely low temperatures while not significantly increasing pack weight.
Down is lightweight and creates a great amount of loft (space for warm air to get trapped between you and the outside air). However, this material does not dry out quickly which means that on long trips where moisture has accumulated inside the tent and your sleeping bag, it may not dry out during the day in time for your night’s sleep.
Synthetic sleeping bags offer an advantage over down-filled sleeping bags in that they can provide sufficient insulation and also dry out fast. They are less lightweight than down but are also less expensive.
If you’re on a longer winter camping trip, a synthetic sleeping bag might be a better choice.
Which style do you prefer?
Mummy-style sleeping bags are extremely popular among many camping enthusiasts because they’re more lightweight than a rectangle style and are also highly efficient at keeping you warm.
Sleeping bags keep you warm by utilizing the ‘dead air’ around your body within the bag – this air does not circulate and is instead warmed by your own body heat, creating a layer of warm air between you and the outside air.
The reduction in space near the foot of the bag means there’s a reduction in the amount of air that needs to be warmed by your body to create a proper layer of insulation.
Some campers find rectangle-style sleeping bags more comfortable because they allow more space for your feet to move around inside the bag.
A sleeping pad works to keep you warm by creating space between you and the cold ground. Elevating your body only a few inches off the ground will make your sleep more comfortable and keep you far warmer than if your sleeping bag was making direct contact with the snowy ground. You’ll need to select a sleeping pad rated to the temperature you’ll be camping in.
Vapor Barrier Liner
A vapor barrier liner is another layer of material that helps to trap warm air close to your body. It goes between you and the sleeping bag and is designed to regulate the moisture your body produces, allowing it to move outward toward the exterior of your bag.
- Pour warm water into your water bottle just before you go to bed and place the bottle between your legs once in the bag. Warm water sitting next to the femoral artery in your legs will promote blood flow throughout your body and help raise your body temperature.
- Keep tomorrow’s clothes in the bag with you to ensure they’re warm when you get dressed in the morning
- If your hiking boots have a liner, pull them out of the boots and wear them to sleep. During the night your feet should be warmer, your boots will have time to dry off, and the liner will already be warm when you slip on your boots in the morning.
CHOOSING A LOCATION
Finding the best winter camping spot for your outing will depend on your level of expertise and the type of winter activities you want to enjoy. Some national and provincial parks in Canada allow camping all year long but it’s best to check with park officials before planning your trip.
Popular Winter Camping Areas in Canada
It’s important to do your own extensive research into any camping areas you’d like to explore to ensure you’re able to properly plan the entire trip.
- Tunnel Mountain Campground (near Banff)
- Ghost River (between Calgary and Kananaskis)
- Needle Peak (near Hope in the Frazer Valley)
- Panorama Ridge (Girabaldi Lake Trail near Squamish)
- Algonquin Park (Whitney)
- Killarney Provincial Park (Killarney)
- Moon Lake in Riding Mountain National Park (Manitoba)
- Kejimkujik National Park (Nova Scotia)