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10 Tips for Winter Camping

By Red Hunt

Cold-weather camping presents a whole new world of outdoor experiences that can’t be enjoyed during other seasons of the year. Whether you’re roughing it in a tent or sipping hot cocoa in the comfy confines of a yurt, winter camping can be as peaceful or as adventurous as you want it to be.

Here are some tips for making sure your winter camping trip is the first of many:

1. Wait for good weather

Melting snow, muddy ground and windy weather are not the conditions for an enjoyable winter camping trip. Ideally, you want calm weather, with plenty of insulating snow already on the ground.

2. Consider a ready-made shelter

Yurts, simple structures with beds and a wood burning stove inside, are a great, stress-free way to camp in winter and are available at many provincial and national parks. A bit more rugged are the pre-made igloos at some parks in Quebec, such as Parc National du Bic.

3. Keep your tent dry and warm

First, pack down the snow where you plan to pitch your tent, so that the snow won’t melt as easily. Don’t drag snow into tent when entering and always keep it sealed up and protected from the wind. Lay blankets under your foam pads and sleeping bags in case of any leaks in the tent floor, and you should stay toasty warm.

4. Assemble a cold-weather kitchen

Camp stoves require more fuel to cook in the cold, so pack more than you think you need. Pack hearty meals like chilli, soup and oatmeal, plus tea, instant coffee, hot chocolate, etc., to drink. Don’t forget insulated containers to enjoy your hot beverage while you’re out during the day.

5. Clothing: it’s all about layers

You want to stick to layers of synthetic and wool clothing, which are better insulators than cotton. A quick-dry layer, covered by fleece, with a waterproof and windproof layer on top is perfect. Waterproof boots, gloves, a hat and lots of socks are all just as important.

6. Invest in essential gear

A small shovel and an axe for digging in the snow or cutting up deadwood are winter necessities. If you are camping in the backcountry, bring emergency items such as flares in case something goes wrong.

7. Prepare for the unexpected

There are extra risks associated with winter camping, such as your car not starting or a winter storm coming in that forces you to spend a few extra days outdoors. Always tell someone at home what your camping plans are and bring extra water, food and candles with you.

8. Plan wintry activities

Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and hiking are popular activities to enjoy while camping in winter. Detachable crampons for hiking boots, sold at outdoor shops, can help with walking on icy trails. Remember that snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are intense cardio workouts: a 10 km trail that is an easy hike in summer can be a tough, long journey on snowshoes in winter.

9. Study up on winter wildlife

You may be surprised at how many animal tracks you can spot in freshly fallen snow in winter. Learning how to identify different animal tracks can make your snowshoeing and skiing excursions much more interesting.

10. Enjoy the snow!

Build a snow chair and warm yourself up by the campfire with some mulled wine (you can buy spice packets or make your own) or find some clean snow to make snow cones. Friendly snowball fights, making snow angels and building snow people are all great Canadian winter fun too.

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