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Food storage Sleeping systems Snow camping Tent setup Winter camping

Tips for a Better Winter Campsite

1. Camp on snow

Be equipped to camp on the snow. Once you learn how to do it and how comfortable it is, you may never want to camp on the ground again. To do this, you need a sleeping system with sufficient R-value (5+) under your sleeping bag. The standard practice for snow camping in the Pacific Northwest is two mattresses, either one solid core and one air or two solid ones.

Snow is soft and clean, usually free of sticks and rocks. It makes the most comfortable surface and often requires no preparation. Sometimes you might need to stomp it down a bit with snowshoes or level it with a snow shovel. It is easy to level a spot even on slopes. Pitching a tent on the snow is the lowest impact (leave no trace) way to camp. It also increases your campsite options (unless you are in an area where designated campsites are the only permissible locations). And, it is often the only option if you want to camp in the winter season. So be prepared!

For more on sleeping warm, see winter sleeping bags.

Winter sleeping system
My main sleeping system consists of a roll-out solid core foam mattress, an air mattress, and a sleeping bag. The solid core foam mattress has an R-value of 2.8 (about $30) and two of these will do the job. Or one 2.8 foam pad coupled with an air mattress with at least 2.5 R-value and you’ll be comfortable. I use a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Sleeping Pad which has 5.7 R-value ($150–225). The patches on my sleeping bag are the result of some small critter eating through the bag to gather down stuffing.

Categories
Snow stake cords Tent setup Tent Stakes

How to stake a tent in snow without tying knots

This is just a quick tip to help you stake out your tent on snow. You may already be familiar with snow stakes and the deadman strategy for securing the stakes in soft snow. What I want to explain here is a method of setting up your stake cords so that you don’t have to tie any knots when you set up your tent. That is, the only tieing involved is done at home before you head out to the wilderness. Technically, you do need to tie one “knot,” a “girth hitch” to attach the cord to the stake, but this isn’t the kind of knot that requires much finger dexterity or time in cold conditions.

When you get ready to set up camp, you may be tied, it may be getting dark, and the weather may be cold and windy. You’ll want to set up your tent as quickly as possible. Tying knots with gloves on is not easy, so if you can avoid it, why not?

To eliminate this hassle, you can use the 2mm utility cord to prepare

Categories
Backpacking Bear-proof canister Snow camping Ultra-light gear Winter backpacking Winter camping

Ultra-light Backpacking in Winter Conditions

Some Exceptions…

Most of my gear falls in the light to the ultra-light category. This is important especially in the winter because sleeping gear and warm clothes add to your pack weight. But I have a few not-so-ultra-light exceptions, some of which I’m going to discuss in this post. Foremost among them is my extra sleeping pad and some form of food protection, such as a bear canister or metal lunchbox.

Categories
Backpacking Snow camping Winter backpacking Winter camping

Backpacking in the Sublime Season

Solitude and Snow

With the right gear and knowledge (know the hazards), you can head out and experience the beauty of the wilderness without the crowds.

To stay cozy and safe, you’ll need to add some pounds to your pack, making your ultra-light strategies even more important. And, sometimes you’ll

Categories
Backpacking Snow camping Winter backpacking Winter camping

Winter Backpacking!

Things that make winter backpacking the best

Here are some reasons snow backpacking delivers a special and unique kind of backpacking bliss.

  • Spectacular snow scenery.
  • Solitude: There are fewer hikers in cold weather and fewer cars at the trailheads.
  • Low-impact: When the snow is deep (2–6 feet or more) you can set up your tent almost anywhere without impacting the meadows.
  • Fewer restrictions: Campsites and trails are buried deep under the snow. You can hike off-trail without damaging fragile vegetation. Areas that are restricted to permit holders are open in the winter and parts of the shoulder months of May and November.
  • No bugs: The winter cold suppresses mosquitoes, flies, and other annoying bugs.
  • Less sweat: The cool, usually dry air, helps minimize sweat.
  • Less trail dust and mud. The bottom of your tent rarely gets dirty and the footprint (ground cloth) isn’t even needed.
  • Bears are usually hibernating.
  • Snow is more comfortable. It’s easier to have a level, smooth, and stick-free surface for your sleeping area. It is also cleaner. No dirt or mud on the bottom of your tent.
  • Water is everywhere. You just have to melt it. In the winter there is no reason to carry a heavy load of water.
  • Bonus point: Glissading.

Very few hiking experiences can compare to traveling across pristine snow under a blue sky.

Before you head out, be sure to read my short post about the dangers of winter backpacking.

Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions. I’ll be updating this post periodically for correction, etc.

Also, please don’t forget to subscribe to my blog and leave comments below.

Categories
Backpacking Safety Tips Snow camping Snowshoeing Winter backpacking Winter Backpacking Safety Winter camping

Winter Backpacking Safety

A few safety tips

This is a concise list of safety tips for beginners who want to start winter backpacking.

  1. Avoid traveling alone. Hike in a group when possible and keep in eyesight of each other. If you think you may get separated, consider using walkie-talkies.
  2. Learn about snow. Start with short snowshoe day-hikes. Learn about the seasonal differences in snow conditions, from deep early season fresh snow to late-season consolidated snow. Learn how snow changes not just over the course of the season but of the day and how these changes affect travel speeds and gear requirements. Get to know which conditions require micro-spikes, crampons, snowshoes, and ice axes. Learn how to layer clothing and what levels of insulation are needed for different temperature ranges. Being too hot—overheating and sweating—or being too cold can both lead to hypothermia.
  3. Give greater attention to trail navigation. Know how to orient a map, use a compass, and spot reliable natural markers. Consider bringing a GPS, but don’t be reliant on electronic devices or batteries which may fail, especially in cold weather. Don’t depend on clear visibility, or expect exposed trails, or footprints in the snow for directions. Both wind and fresh snowfall can obscure your tracks quickly. Learn more about trip planning here: Trip Planning.
  4. Carry appropriate gear suited for the conditions and weather. Make sure you have the appropriate type of snowshoes for the terrain, the necessary sleeping bag and sleeping pad ratings, a tent that sheds snow, etc. Bring essentials such as first aid, headlamp, extra food and water, rain gear, etc. Have a gear checklist and do a visual inspection before leaving home. Avoid cotton clothing because it doesn’t wick moisture away from your skin making it harder for your body to retain warmth. Always be prepared for conditions colder than anticipated. It is good to have a sleeping bag that is 10–20 degrees warmer than what you expect. If you’re just out for a day hike, carry emergency shelter in your day pack.
  5. Expect to get wet and be prepared to deal with it if it happens. Even though it is winter, you will likely sweat a lot while hiking. Always be able to change into dry clothing. Snowmelt can cause your boots and gloves to get wet. Wear gaiters to reduce snowmelt getting into your boots. Bring extra socks and gloves to replace wet ones. Carry rain gear even on clear days because the snow melting in the trees above can create rain showers in the forest that quickly soak your pack and clothing. Protect your sleeping bag, base layers, down jackets, and extra clothing with dry sacks inside your backpack.
  6. Attend avalanche classes. Learn how to identify risks. There are often free classes available, such as those hosted by REI.
  7. Check weather and avalanche forecasts before leaving. If things look worse than anticipated, know when to turn around.
  8. Carry avalanche safety gear. Bring a transceiver/beacon, probe, and shovel and know how to use this gear when traveling in areas with avalanche risks. Practice beacon recovery with friends.
  9. Be prepared for wind. Check the wind forecast and carry wind protection, such as rain pants and jacket, goggles, balaclava, and extra gloves. Learn more about winter winds here: Preparing for Winter Winds.
  10. Bring UV protection. From January to July, UV reflection from the snow intensifies and can cause severe sunburns and snow blindness. Bring category 4 sunglasses (Glacier Glasses) to protect your eyes. Bring sunscreen and be able to cover exposed skin. Even the bottom of your nose and lips can get blistered from UV exposure on the snow.
  11. Learn how to avoid common snow dangers such as tree wells, snow bridges, cornices, and crevasses.
  12. Carry a stove and multiple fire-starting devices. Don’t rely on fires for warmth. Collecting wood and starting a fire in deep snow is difficult and often counter-productive because you expend valuable time and energy and often get wet in the process. It is also environmentally unsound in high elevation alpine areas. A stove is a faster and far more reliable way to generate warmth, resupply water, and heat food. Tents, sleeping bags, and jackets don’t create warmth, they preserve it. Your warmth comes from within your own body. The first rule of staying warm is to not lose body heat. While hiking you will wear fewer layers of clothing to avoid sweating, but once you stop moving you must layer up quickly to avoid core heat loss from your body. Once you lose warmth it is hard to recover it. Avoid staying in the wind without wind protection and sufficient layers. Being able to use a stove to create hot water bottles and heat food is important to generating, sustaining, and recovering warmth.