While most people think of camping as being an exclusive summer activity, camping during colder months can be an adventure to experience. While warmer-weather camping pretty much only involves packing a bag of clothes, filling a cooler and tossing the tent in the car, winter camping does require some extra preparation.
The camping equipment and clothing available today for cold-weather situations is exceptional for staying warm and dry, but knowing how to deal with snow, ice and storms is important for winter camping, as much as being prepared for rain and lightening is during summer vacations.
The most important thing to consider when planning a winter camping trip is shelter. The elements during cold weather can be extremely harsh, and a good shelter can mean the difference between risky danger and a great experience. The tent you choose for winter camping has to be strong and solid to withstand snow and wind. Ratings for seasons are usually indicated on packaging, so make sure you pick a four-season tent that's designed with a slope to allow snow to fall off the roof.
Accumulating snow can be extremely heavy and your tent could collapse. Dome tents are ideal for winter camping, but do also purchase a ground sheet or tarp to lie down before you set the tent up. Your body heat will melt snow underneath you and create a layer of ice that could potentially damage the tent floor or make it wet.
Your tent also needs a good waterproof rain-fly. Below zero temperatures is no guarantee that you won't get rained on, and your tent needs protection from freezing rain. The slope of a four-season tent will help let the water run off and the strength of the construction will help with ice build-up. Rain-flies also reduce condensation by keeping warm air in but letting the tent breath to allow humidity to escape.
Your breath and body will provide a good 10 to 20 degrees of moist warmth, and ideally the dampness shouldn't be held inside the tent. To further reduce humidity, have a brush on hand to remove snow from your clothing and footwear before entering the tent, as melting snow creates condensation and leaves water on the floor of the tent.
When you're choosing a spot where you'd like your campsite to be, try to take into consideration how the elements are going to come into play with your relative comfort. Exposed areas are definitely to be avoided, as winds can sweep your warmth away and pile up snow against your tent. Likewise, stay away from valleys where the cold air will sink down and prevent you from staying warm. A flat location is always ideal, but do make sure that your tent isn't in an avalanche zone or underneath a tree. Heavy snow can bring branches crashing down on top of your shelter.
Camping in the snow is an adventure that really isn't any different than summer camping. Both have considerations for shelter and safety, and both have their own hazards and risks - they're simply at extremes of each other. Avoiding winter camping because you're put off by the thought of careful preparation really is a shame, because if you've done your homework and know exactly how to make sure your shelter will keep you protected from the chill, the experience can be an exhilarating, beautiful one that you'll remember fondly for years.
John Edmond runs and writes regularly for Living And Camping Outdoors where you can find more articles on winter camping shelter and outdoor survival. Also go to Well Spoken Audio for a range of entertaining audiobooks on shelter and much more.
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