Winter can be a tough time for some people to get outdoors, but if you love adventuring, then new and amazing outdoor experiences await you this winter! Quinzhees, snowshoeing and makeshift snow ‘kitchens’ can only be enjoyed in the snow—and of course, nothing tops a cozy campfire with friends, blankets and hot cocoa.
Discover new tips to conquer winter’s challenges and keep your adventurous spirit strong—no matter the temperature!
Pack like a Scout
It’s always a good idea to test your gear in warm weather before going on a more challenging trip, such as winter camping. This familiarize you with setup and takedown. Bring backups equipment items if necessary.
- Tent stakes that can withstand frozen ground.
- Footprint: Having one to line the bottom of your tent will keep out moisture and cold.
- Sleeping bag, liner, mat and pad: Match its temperature rate to the season (-20C).
- Boot liners & hot pads: Keep your hands and feet warm by day, or put them in the base of your sleeping bag to have toasty feet all night.
- Toilet paper and sturdy shovel for scat.
- White gas is preferable as it won’t freeze when the temperature drops, like propane does. Pack a backup as melting snow takes lots of energy.
- Fire starter, lighter/matches/flint starter, kindling and wood.
- Transportation: If you aren’t drive-in camping, bring a sled to transport gear to your site.
- Snow shovel to set up camp.
- Tarp to protect equipment left outside your tent from overnight snowfall.
- Flashlights/headlamp/lantern, batteries, power packs and candles (batteries die faster in cold environments).
- Survival blanket: Always be prepared.
- Camp stools: Don’t freeze you rear!
- Head & face warmers: Hat, toque, face mask.
- Vaseline/animal fat/coconut oil to help protect exposed skin from frostbite and windburn.
No matter the menu, remember that cold temperatures mean frozen liquids and cooking in mittens. Pack white gas, like naptha, for your camp stove, as it can endure lower sub-zero temperatures than propane.
Chop ingredients beforehand to avoid cold hands while cooking on site. Freezer dried meals make for easy eating—just add hot water and you’re good to go. Deconstructed skewers (vegetables, proteins, and potatoes) in tin foil on the fire are also handy if you can chop the ingredients before your trip. They make for easy cleanup and everyone can also customize their own dinner!
It takes about 20 inches of snow to get 1 inch of water (in dry powdery form). Snow takes a long time to melt and also uses more fuel to do so. Best to bring water to your site.
Turn your water containers and bottles upside down at night. The water will freeze from the top, so in the morning you will still be able to open the lids and the ice won’t block the opening.
Dress Smart, Layer Up
Dress like an onion—in layers! Your base layer should be either wool based (merino) or synthetic. Stay away from cotton, which traps moisture that can freeze. Your mid-layer should be wool, fleece or a down sweater. Top it all off with an outer layer jacket, ideally a hard-shell or a wind breaker to protect from the elements.
Have separate clothes from those you wore during the day. Moisture will build up so it’s absolutely essential to change everything when you go to sleep. Make sure you have separate socks and underwear for nighttime. Add additional warmth to your sleeping bag with a (fleece) liner and hot pads. You put boiling water in your bottle before bed and place it inside the bottom of your sleeping back to keep your feet warm.
Always bring backup clothing! It may help you or a fellow Scout.
Prepare Your Campsite for Success
When choosing a campsite, find an area without many tree branches overheard as snow can pile up on the branches and fall on your campsite. Remove fresh powder before placing your footprint and tent on the packed snow below to avoid sinking.
When building a fire, dig a pit and build your fire on hard snow so that it doesn’t melt the snow and sink. Building a snow fort (walls no roof) for your eating area will protect the ‘kitchen’ from wind as you cook and enjoy your meals.
If you will be in an area without proper facilities, be sure to pack some toilet paper and dig a scat hole for ‘doing your business’.
Most importantly, always have a backup plan. During one of my first winter camping experiences, almost everything went wrong due to poor planning, but we were able to retreat to our Scout Group’s nearby cabin for sleeping, while still receiving the benefits of daytime winter activities.
Later as a Venturer Scout, I went on another winter camp where things didn’t go perfectly: the pots weren’t packed, so we warmed soup in frying pans; we forgot to bury our water in the snow so if froze overnight; and to make matters worse, our propane froze because it was -40C! Despite all these challenges, we all grew from the shared learning curve. We still had our adventures and our cozy campfires to remember, and since that trip, winter camping was no longer intimidating.
Overall on your winter journey, take the time to try new things, make a few mistakes and feel the cold. It will seem daunting at first, but soon you’ll be compiling your own list like this and taking several trips to the wilderness from December through February. Happy exploring and Scouting!