Winter camping doesn’t sound like fun. It sounds cold, snowy, miserable and, I’ll say it again, cold.
But with the right gear, winter camping is an absolute delight.
The stillness of a cold, crisp night on the ice is unmatched. Somehow, the sky just seems clearer and the stars shine brighter. Bundled up in a warm sleeping bag with a cold nose, listening to the ice shift and sing, is a sort of peace I’ve never felt anywhere else.
Winter camping isn’t something I ever thought I would do, and it took a lot of convincing before I gave it a go. My first night winter camping was in a four-season tent on Mille Lacs, and we slept with our ears not far from the ice.
We had the option of going inside that night, but we didn’t need to. The next day I found out temperatures had dropped to 8 below zero, but I slept warm and cozy all night.
I was surprised at how much heat the tent held in. But, if you want to go a step up from a four-season tent, hot tents are great. Generally these have canvas walls and a wood stove. It can be frigid outside, but with the stove cranking it can be a sauna inside.
A warm wood stove will also bring life back into a group of weary winter campers.
Snowtrekker is perhaps the most popular brand of hot tent, but they’re not the only ones out there. There’s also the option of sewing your own and purchasing the stove.
To enjoy yourself, perhaps the most important piece of gear is a sleeping bag that’s rated for very low temperatures, coupled with a really good sleeping pad (or maybe a couple). In my opinion, it’s good to get a sleeping bag that’s rated for a temperature at least 20 degrees colder than what you’ll be sleeping in. My experience is that if the bag is rated for 0 degrees, I’ll be comfortable at 20 degrees and higher.
The sleeping pad (or pads) will give you some insulation between the snow and your bag. If you’re using a simple air mattress (as opposed to one filled with foam or down), add another half-inch foam pad below it. It’ll make a big difference when it comes to warmth.
I’ve only been cold once while winter camping, and that was when I was working hard and sweating before bed. The chill stuck with me, and despite my exhaustion I lay awake for a long time before falling asleep.
There’s technique to staying warm that I should have used in that situation. I should have changed all my clothes again to ensure they were completely dry; they were only just barely damp. I’ve also heard that eating some snacks, like peanuts, can help to stay warm through the night.
The one night of cold was well worth the many other nights I’ve enjoyed camping on the snow or ice.
If you have good gear (and getting the right stuff can take some research), winter camping is special. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever done. I can nearly guarantee that you will see or experience something you never have before.
Bundle up, pack up the car and get out there. Don’t let the cold stop you.