You do not have to be a member of the Polar Bear Club to participate in the renewed interest in winter camping that is happening globally. Winter camping is just what it sounds like; camping in the cold, rain, and/or snow. It may sound counterintuitive, but it works well for many people.
- Exactly what kind of “camping” is winter camping? Winter camping can be done with an RV, where you sleep inside your trailer, or it can be done by pitching a tent out in the elements. Recently, the Boy Scouts have begun to winter camp in places that have not been available in some time. One example is Muskegon State Park. The Boy Scouts opt for the non-trailer type of camping. In this category, there is hot tent and cold tent camping. Hot tent camping is when you bring along a stove to help keep warm. Cold tent is when you rely solely on a fire you build at the campsite.
- Why camp in the winter? One reason, obviously, is the challenge and the experience of nature at one of its more difficult “settings”. To have braved a harsh winter night in a sleeping bag and tent, where you took care of yourself is an exhilarating experience. Another reason is cost. Many campsites are free during the off season, and you do not have to fight crowds. For those who RV, it is much easier to get a campsite at the beach in the winter.
- Isn’t winter camping dangerous? Yes and no. Winter camping is not something you will want to opt for on the fly. You have to prepare and educate yourself. If you are camping in an RV, it may be easier, but you still need to know about staying dry, warm and how to keep hydrated. If you are camping au natural, then you will definitely need to do your homework. Winter camping supplies are a must and even more important with the extreme temperatures. Common items to bring with you include: a fire starter, sleeping bag, a good camping knife, snowshoes, water filter, snow melter and thermal blanket. Never ever camp alone, and always give your GPS coordinates to someone so you can be found quickly.
- Do I need special gear? There is no doubt that you will need to ensure that you have sleeping bags, boots, warm leggings for the ladies, and tents that offer enough insulation and protection against the weather. You will need to invest in more things than if you camp in the summer. For a basic checklist of what you will need click here.
- What activities can you do? Hiking, ice fishing and cross country skiing are favorite activities. Of course, sledding, snowball fights, and photography are popular too. Nightly sittings around the campfire still apply in the winter, and you can make Smores! Of course, the activities you can do depend on the location. Winter camping in the desert will be different than in the Canadian Rockies. One of the obvious activities is simply seeing nature at a time when most people do not. Experiencing the winter sky and stars is an activity enough for many.
It may sound odd, but winter camping is actually a great activity. It is fun, less expensive and you and your family will have experiences most summer campers never have. You will have to read up and prepare for this experience so you know what to do in case of extreme weather or equipment failure. But all of this information is easily available and there are thousands of people who are outdoor enthusiasts whose brain you can pick. Next year, think about taking your family camping for Christmas! That’ll give you some photos for your FB page!
Monica Prelle from the University of Southern California is a camping and outdoors enthusiast.