The Beginner’s Guide to Winter Camping
From gear to skills, here’s a 101 to get you prepped
Winter is here, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get your camp on. In fact, venturing into the great outdoors during chilly weather is an eye-opening experience, says Lotus Chong, a youth leader with Scouts Canada. “There’s something so Canadian about it,” says the 22-year-old, who has been scouting since she was five. “In the wintertime, everything just looks so calm and peaceful.” But before you hit the trail in sub-zero temperatures, there are a few important things to remember, say Chong and Scouts Canada.
Many winter campers end up in trouble because they don’t prepare for the elements. Always bring a good-quality parka along with heavy-duty boots and gloves. Pro tip: carry some gum; chewing can keep your cheeks warm.
Layer, Layer, Layer
The key to winter camping is maintaining a comfortable body temperature. Too cold, and you’ll be miserable. Too hot, and you’ll sweat, which will eventually leave you damp and frozen. To avoid those fates, dress in multiple easy-to-remove layers. Peel clothes away if the temperature rises or pack them on as the mercury dips. “In Scouting we say ‘Think like an onion,’” Chong says.
Avoid Wearing Cotton
A natural fibre, cotton soaks up sweat like a sponge. And when your perspiration evaporates, you’ll be chilled to the bone. Dress instead in wool or synthetic fabrics, like polyester.
Expect the Unexpected
During the summer, you can frolic in the woods to your heart’s content. But in the winter, you should be extra careful warns Chong. Tread carefully on the snow, because hazards like brittle ice can lurk underneath. Check the forecast to make sure no storms—or sudden temperature drops—are in the offing. Finally, always pack an emergency kit that includes water and snacks in case you get marooned.
In cold weather, dehydration can sneak up on you, so make sure you drink plenty of water. Also, if you want to warm up with a beverage, avoid anything with caffeine, which is a diuretic. Instead, try herbal tea.
In the winter, having the right equipment is all the more important. You’ll need a solid four-season tent that can withstand the battering of a snowstorm. Don’t forget a flashlight or headlamp, and the classic map and compass. “And obviously, if you bring a map and a compass, make sure somebody you’re travelling with knows how to use them,” says Chong.
Don’t Go Solo
It’s always a good idea to bring along a friend. They’ll be able to help out in an emergency, plus a little camaraderie isn’t a bad thing during those long, cold winter nights.
Bring Some Shades
Sun reflecting off the snow can strain your eyes, causing nausea and headaches. This is snow blindness—to avoid it, bring a good pair of sunglasses along that block or absorb UV rays.
Pick Your Spot
Finding the perfect location for a winter camp is key. Some Ontario provincial parks, including Algonquin and MacGregor Point (near Owen Sound) have dedicated winter campsites. In fact, Algonquin’s Mew Lake Campground, in addition to the usual snowshoe and cross-country ski trails, has a hockey rink in one of its parking lots.
Ask the Scouts
Scouts Canada runs a network of 125 camps across the country that are open to non-members. Many are available for booking during the winter. To find a camp near you, visit the Scouts Canada website (scouts.ca).
Now, check out our beginner's guide to snowmobiling!