Winter Camping

As a native Wisconsinite, the best weather is usually limited to the days between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Good weather can be found sometimes starting as early as March and as late as sometime in October. By ‘good’ weather I mean that it hasn’t snowed yet and the temperature is hovering somewhere in the low to mid-forties. When a third of the year can qualify as winter, what do you do during those cold months when you don’t want to sit inside and you’re not quite coordinated enough to downhill ski? The same things you do in summer: hike and camp (with a little extra help, of course.)

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Ignore the cold for a moment and picture this:

You walk into a park with no one around for miles, except for maybe the park ranger you greeted when you entered. In the distance you hear the wind blowing through the trees, the skittering of a squirrel, or maybe the sound of a small animal moving through the brush. The sun is shining bright, though a little lower this time of year. There are no bugs to swat away as you stand taking it all in. You know that campsite you’ve always wanted? The larger one near the lake or in the densest part of the trees? It’s all yours and you didn’t even have to fight for it.

I wouldn’t consider myself an expert camper by any means. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve camped even in the summer. You don’t need a lot of experience to winter camp as long as you do your research or go with someone who knows what they’re doing. I joined an adventure group at the end of last year and it was with them that I tried my hand at winter camping for the first time. It was just as fun, if not more, than any time I have camped during the summer.

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The trails were a little icy on our hike in to camp and I took a spill at one point. Most of the larger gear that was brought along was pulled in on sleds. In deeper snow, we likely would have needed snowshoes. This particular weekend we happened to be okay in our snow boots. It’s crucial on the hike in that you remove enough layers to prevent yourself from sweating. Any sweat that remains trapped in your clothing will make you colder. Aside from proper clothing, you need a large fire suitable for cooking big hearty meals. With colder temperatures, you need more calories to help regulate your body temperature. It’s also extremely important that you stay hydrated. It’s amazing how much warmer you feel when you’re drinking enough water.

Our group of campers was a motley crew of old timers and brand new people. We made it work with the old hats teaching us first timers the specifics of building a proper fire (long and rectangular as opposed to round) and selecting the best wood for heat (a lot of small pieces for high BTU output plus some larger, long burning logs). We shared meals, stories, and a lot of laughter. The overnight temperature reached somewhere between -4F and -10F depending on which smart phone you looked at but with my big fluffy sleeping bag, it wasn’t unbearable. It was an experience to remember and who knows, I’ll probably try it again sometime.

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