Extreme Winter Camping: Things to Forget About

Camping during warm-weather months poses challenges of its own, such as bears, heat stroke, flash floods, you name it. Most people can get through it, however, with nary a threat to their lives. Not so with extreme winter camping, which poses risks unique to the season that exceed what you’ll find any other time of the year. And it is not for the weak in spirit.

Forget Your Margin For Safety
How can you run into physical harm while winter camping? Let us count the ways! Frostbite and hypothermia, while being the more commonly known maladies to befall the winter explorer, represent the mere tip of the proverbial iceberg. What if you keep exposing your bare skin to run-of-the-mill campsite materials such as metal poles that have been exposed to subfreezing temperatures? Frostbite. Or water seeps into your boot and you’re too lazy/far from camp to do anything about it? Trench foot. What happens when the bitter wind batters your ungoggled eyes? Two words: corneal freezing. Granted, many of these same conditions can occur in mild weather, but the point is that your chances of encountering them spike when the temperature plummets. You cannot merely be careful when extreme winter camping; you must go above and beyond the normal bounds of precaution at every turn.

Forget Freedom Of Movement
Warmth and movement during winter camping is akin to playing the accordion: Wake up fully clothed and warm, walk around camp, get overheated, take off layers to get comfortable, rest for a while, get cold, and add layers until you’re warm again. Rinse and repeat. Extreme winter camping requires that you be judicious and consistent about energy expenditure. You can mitigate some of this troublesomeness by purchasing pants and jackets that feature zippers along the sides. The free flow of air when unzipped will regulate body temperature without having to immediately resort to shedding layers. Regardless, your body and nature will do this dance the entire trip, so be prepared to tango.

Forget Personal Space
During mild-season camping trips, you can take a family-sized tent, pack you and your buddies in there like sardines, and everyone has a merry old time hearing one another snore through the night. The problem with doing this in extreme winter is simple: the wide surface area of your mammoth tent makes it more vulnerable to the destructive capabilities of high wind and snowfall. The tops to most “two-room” tents slope at such minimal angles that snow collects more easily compared to smaller, compact tents. Don’t forget the wind, either, as it will buffet the broad sides of your miniature barracks all night long. Combined, these elements increase the risk of collapse. This is not to say you can’t proof larger tents for extreme winter camping, but it requires more resources and your risk of getting a tent pole crashing down on your face remains higher regardless. Do the sensible thing and take a pup tent or a two-person at the biggest. Sure, you’ll have less room to yourself and might have to pair up with that obnoxious dude who sounds like he’s gargling while he sleeps, but it beats the alternative.

Forget Sleeping In Comfort
You’ll need a mummy bag. If you’ve never slept in one before, they’ll keep you warmer than any other bag, but they’ll also restrict your movement something fierce. Are you a stomach sleeper? Forget it. Do you move around a lot to stay comfortable? Good luck with that. Mummy bags are supposed to be snug to do their job. Buying one with tons of room counterproductive and will leave you as cold as if you were using a regular bag. This is true even if you decide to sleep fully clothed (which, it must be pointed out, you should always do when winter camping). Mummy bags are a nightmare for those who suffer from restless legs but essential for staving off hypothermia during any extreme outing.

Forget Your Diet
Are you a salad eater when you’re home? A dainty little salad eater who picks through leafy greens and cute grape tomatoes and itty-bitty little flecks of bleu cheese? You won’t find that kind of hippie food on the winter camping trail. If you hope to stay warm, your new diet will unquestionably consist of fats and a lot of them. Carbs and protein are not good sources for long-term energy as both only offer 4 calories per gram, resulting in a middle-grade boost at best. Fats, on the other hand, give you 9 calories for every gram and take significantly longer to burn. You’re winter camping, which means toughing it out for longer stretches in an environment that will take as much out of your body as it can. Take the advice: Bring along plenty of fats. You can turn up your nose as you eat them, but eat them you must.