Winter backpacking tips for beginner
Happy New Year! May the New Year bring you peace, prosperity, and happiness.
Since Must Outdoor crew started a camping and backpacking over the few months at several areas, we have been thinking about what is the best option or preparation packages for camping. At the normal or called very ordinary day, no worries on camping, except heavy raining season that never experienced yet for us. But as the winter season approaches, something has been brought my attention, which is “How do I survive or endure winter camping?”.
Asked one of my friends, frequently enjoying camping, where he usually goes for winter camping. His answer was that it’s “camper’s hibernation” during winter season. It is too much cold, chilly weather, lots of tools and preparations, especially, his girlfriend extremely hates cold weather…. (I think this is the biggest reason).
Yeah, I hate cold weather too, also very hot weather. But who would like extremely cold or hot weather? No one probably. We are just following the laws of nature.
If then, how possibly enjoy winter camping and endure over a chilly night in a safe and sure method? Here below prepared winter camping / backpacking tips for beginner.
1. Pegs/stakes for frozen ground
Surely in winter season camping or backpacking, you will easily encounter crusted snow and frozen up ground. If you use normal pegs just like hook peg, Y-peg, even worse plastic peg, for pitching up a tent, you would totally get embarrassed when you drive a peg with hammer. Single inch or less than inch driven peg does not seem to drive deeper. If your campsite is totally frozen ground, here recommending large size concrete nails as tent pegs. It is regularly light weight for backpacking and easy to get in hardware shop, and above all things, it is hard enough to get through concrete, meaning that it would easily drive on frozen ground. But don’t forget to bring a claw hammer to pull out a nail when you leave campsite.
2. Appropriate sleeping pad for cold weather
Many of backpackers are realizing that quality sleeping pad to sleep on is key to stay comfort night. For light weight sleeping pad, most use self-inflating type or air construction type. These provide cushion, comfort, and ultralight.
However, if you are using less than R-value 3 sleeping pad, you would feel discomfort at winter camping. R-value means resistance value that relates how well sleeping pad resist the flow of heat. Shortly, the higher R-value sleeping pad would have better resistance to cold coming out from the frozen ground.
In my case, instead of buying higher R-value sleeping pad of air inflating type, I used closed-cell foam pad, which is made of dense foam filled with tiny closed air cells. It is usually rolled up or foldable, and is lightweight, inexpensive, and durable. Some cons on this closed-cell are less comfortable and little bit bulky when it rolled or folded.
3. Right sleeping bag makes you sweet dream
Sleeping bag is all about comfort and comfort, whereas others just like backpacking bags and tools somewhat focused on light weight. Honestly, sleeping bag in winter season is vitally concerned with life, which make you fully resist from freezing weather. So, when you choose sleeping bag for winter backpacking, you have to greatly consider comfort temperature rating rather than light weight. For 3-season sleeping bag has -12° to 2° (°C) temperature ratings and winter sleeping is -12° (°C) and lower temperature ratings. If you are headed for freezing temperature, you had better choose winter sleeping bag considering its comfort temperature. Remind that always select a sleeping bag with lower temperature rating than the lowest temperature you might encounter at the campsite. If you have only 3-season sleeping bag, sleeping shell or cover would be a great extra option for comfort temperature.
4. Proper Cold weather outfits to prevent hypothermia
Wearing proper outfit for winter season is the best way to maintain body heat.
Then, if you are going to winter backpacking, do you think a thick and long goose down parka or coat would be a good choice for backpacking? Absolutely beeeeep! No! If you are going to trekking or backpacking in winter season, you had better put on many layers of clothing. It makes you keep warmer than one thick goose down parka. If You perspire through trekking and after arrived at campsite, you have to be careful for hypothermia. if dry out your sweat and exposed your body in cold temperature for a long time,
The sweat then cools, which in turn lowers your body temperature. What you have to do is just slightly dry your sweat, then put on another layer of clothing, which makes you keep your body temperature and prevent hypothermia.
Foot, hands, and head are delicate parts for cold weather that are easily lost your body temperature. Thus, make sure put on hat or beanie, fur gloves, and bring extra socks in case wet foot. Don’t forget to place your extra outfit in accessible pocket of the bag, not in the deep inside of bag. Always keep your body heat with proper outfit in winter season unless you want to get frostbite.
5. Use BPA free water bottle made of Tritan material
Always be prepared with the outdoor products water bottle for hydration. If you are bringing thermos bottle in winter camping, it would be fine, but it seems heavy and not enough volume of water. Regular plastic water bottle is light and carries enough volume of water, but it is highly risky when you are using hot water or in freezing weather. Here is the reason to recommend Tritan material water bottle. First, Tritan is a BPA-free plastic which is not manufactured with bisphenol A(BPA). Secondly, Tritan is impact-resistant which prevent breaking water bottle from iced water. Lastly, Tritan is durable and light, which is used by regular water bottle, food containers as exceptional container with safety of sanitation. You do not need to be worry about bisphenol compounds in the bottle when you pour hot water or other foods. Tritan water bottle is 4 season available item with your camping. Another important tip using tritan water bottle in winter camping will be covered in No.9.
6. Batteries for cold weather resistance
For those who use flash light at the campsite, usually use AA battery or rechargeable flash light for the camping. If you are using lights in cold weather, you might experience that light does not last longer than you expected. In fact, batteries generally don’t like cold temperature. Because cold weather causes an effective loss in performance, in which cold weather slows down the chemical reaction process of the battery. If you are using AA batteries for your flash light, please use lithium battery which provide you better performance in cold weather (its operating temperature is good to -40°F) than any other batteries just like alkaline or Nikel-Metal-Hybride(NiMH). If you are using rechargeable lithium polymer(LIPO) battery light, please keep the LIPO battery in a warm place until prior to use it and do not charge LIPO in the cold, which are the way to maximize LIPO performance in cold weather.
7. Use trekking pole and snow spikes for anti-slip
Using trekking pole can be very helpful for balancing your body with a heavy backpack and giving relief on your knees when you are going to uphill/downhill. Especially in winter season, trail or trekking courses are maybe slippery due to snowy ground turning into iced snow ground. Even though you are wearing anti-slip hiking shoes, trekking pole and sometimes snow spikes are essential to make sure your safety on taking a course for camping.
An adjustable trekking poles are really outstanding for uphill and downhill. Make shorten them for uphill trekking course, and lengthen them for downhill. If trekking course for camping is covered with snow, you had better bring snow spikes either to prevent slip on the course. Always make sure your safety first in winter season.
8. A powerful stove for cold weather
What kind of stove do you use for your camping or backpacking? There are many different types of stoves for backpacking, such as canister stove (isobutene fuel canister), liquid fuel stove, alcohol stove, solid fuel stove, and wood stove.
It is clear that most of backpackers are using canister stove for their convenience, which brings you light, compact, easy to use, and it works fast. Isobutene fuel is very easy to find in on/offline store, however, it is little bit expensive than any other fuel, and vulnerable to cold weather condition, which won’t work well in extreme cold weather.
Liquid fuel stoves provide the best heating power than any other fuel stoves and are suitable for a lot of cooking. Liquid fuel stove is also working very well regardless cold weather condition contrary to other fuel type. Even though it is great for your winter camping, it has some cons on complicated use of stove and required maintenance and exclusive fuel bottle, as well as it is heavy and bulky.
Alcohol stove is very light, convenient, and simple to use, as well as easy to find its fuel (Methyl Alcohol) and cheaper. However, it is poorly working in cold and wind condition, can be dangerous, and also required more patience due to slow cooking time of less efficient fuel. To increase efficiency of alcohol stove, using windscreen or other blocking shield of wind would be great way to increase performance, but still required patience due to poor heating power.
Lastly what you have to remind is that fire ban rules differ from place to place, thus, please check specific regulations of the area, and always beware of fire whenever, and whatever stove you use at the campsite.
9. Make warm your body and keep lapping water bottle for not freezing
No one want to stay cold in winter camping. As simple method, you have to wear proper cold weather clothing of many layers. In addition, if you bring hot hand warmer or heating pad, that would be a better combination to fight against cold weather. At least 30 mins before you go to sleep in sleeping bag, put your hand warmers on the feet side. If put your body in the sleeping bag, you can feel greatly warm on your feet. But do not directly contact hand warmer on your skin when you are sleeping, it might cause burn, ever worse get blister on your skin.
As mentioned earlier, here is important tip why using tritan water bottle is better in winter camping. If you do not have enough hand warmer or forgot bringing hand warmer, use tritan water bottle. If you pour hot water into a regular plastic water bottle, it will be crushed and distorted due to hot water and also cause toxic ingredients. Tritan material is used in feeding bottle for baby, which is safe, easy to sanitize by putting in a boiling water. This means, if you pour hot water into tritan water bottle, it will keep its shape and safe from leaking water. it will make you warm of your body, then put into sleeping bag on feet side. It will keep lapping water bottle, then you can drink unfrozen water in the next morning, whereas your friend would find frozen water bottle.
10. Eat and heat up your body to protect chilly weather
Seriously, nutrition in winter season is an important way to keep your body temperature is eating proper food. You can eat just about anything and don’t worry about getting fat. Your activities just like being out backpacking for certain length of time, you are required more than 5,000 calories per day, which is around 30-50% more than you need for rest 3 season backpacking.
So, don’t forget to bring chocolate bar like Snikers, which provide enriched calories to keep your body temperature. Whenever you feel cold, don’t be guilty, take one of it. Most of us (including myself), to enjoy a night of backpacking with fine dinner and for deep sleep in a sleeping bag, we usually drink a beer. A little bit alcohol make your body warm, but too much beer take your body temperature down, because you have to pee out from your warm body. If you want to avoid walking out to chilly snow field to pee in the 2 am, drop the beer can and put it back in your bag. That might be clever thing. But if you pee, of course, you will sleep much restfully.
Camping and backpacking in winter season might be difficult, inconvenient, very cold compared with 3 seasons. That is why many of summer campers and backpackers hibernate to their home. If you think again about winter camping, it makes campgrounds more tranquil and the cold season is quite stunning. Leaves on the snowy ground and river and lake are frozen. Winter provides a quite different landscape and even when snow falls, winter is a romantic and wonderful season that can be enjoyed outdoors. As you know many of people love snow, and feel and experience more snow with winter camping.
For successful and safe winter camping, preparing with the right equipment is key factor. The right equipment will make winter camping enjoyable. So now pack the bag and hit the road for winter camping, and enjoy outdoors.
Now you might be thinking again, “Why would anyone want to camp in the winter?” The summer camping crowds have hibernated to their homes, making campgrounds more peaceful and the cold season is actually quite stunning. Trees have shed their leaves and rivers and lakes are frozen. Winter offers a different landscape and even when it snows, winter is a beautiful season that can be enjoyed outdoors.