How to be a happy winter camper

February 27th, 2014 by Ontario Parks Leave a reply »

Guest Blogger: Matt Olsen from Paddle In

 

Friday January 31, 2014 –I joined two others, packed up some sleds, rented a beautiful canvas tent and stove, and headed off into Algonquin’s interior for five adventure-filled days.

Camping in winter?  Most definitely!! Winter brings about a wonderful change in Ontario Parks and with research and proper planning, you can be a happy winter camper!

Preparation is the most important part of any backcountry trip, even more so on a winter excursion. Gear needs to be checked and re-checked. Winter camping is not the time to skimp or forget certain pieces of gear. I recently purchased a new -30 sleeping bag and when I awoke at 3 am on Sunday morning to temperatures creeping down around -25, I was very grateful for all the preparation I had done to make sure I was nice and toasty while sleeping.

Some things to consider when prepping for an overnight winter camping trip:

 

Layers! Layers upon layers!

Layering your clothing allows you to shed outer clothing quickly when you start to heat up. Believe me -pulling a sled behind you with all your gear will warm you up very quickly. To break it down even more, this is what you’ll want to equip yourself with:

Base Layer: Synthetics or Merino wool will help wick away moisture from your skin.
Middle Layer: Insulating layer designed to retain body heat. Fleece works well here.
Outer Layer: A waterproof, windproof layer.  Gore-tex products work very well.
 

Choose your adventure

We chose the beautiful rolling hills of the Western Uplands Trail in Algonquin Provincial Park. While we were aware that this trail is not necessarily suited for a sled and snowshoe trip, we knew we were only traveling a few kilometres to set up base camp. That being said, make sure you pay attention to the time. We spent all day lugging sleds and looking at our surroundings, which meant we had to make a quick camp at the end of the day because it was getting dark. Luckily, we also happened to stop at one of the best areas for a campsite I have ever been on.

 

Snowshoes! 

Do you have snowshoes? You should!  As I found out early on in the trip while stopped for a snack, if you step off the trail…down you go.  While it was easy going on the snowshoes and along the hard-packed, frozen trail, anywhere else was way too deep to access with just boots. Snowshoes displace your weight evenly allowing you to stay “afloat” on the snow. They are also crucial in setting up camp. Stomp yourself down a nice area to set up your tent, let it freeze for a bit and voila you have a great place where you can walk around outside your tent with just your boots. Nothing like making a quick bathroom break in the middle of the night and finding yourself chest deep in snow in only your long johns…

 

A roof over your head

We used a wonderful SnowTrekker “hot tent” equipped with a stove. Now some people call this cheating. All I have to say is the extra weight to carry it in was easily made up by the fact that we could dry off all our clothes inside and warm up the tent each morning. WARMTH! We were astounded at how warm a small fire inside the stove could keep our tent. Some words of caution while hot tenting would be: never leave the stove unattended. You don’t want your tent filled with smoke while you are sleeping and you don’t want a fire on your hands! If it’s too cold to not run the stove, simply take turns/shifts and keep a small fire going while you drink a hot chocolate and read a book.  Small reflectors are provided with the stove that stops the snow around the stove from melting and may save any sleeping bags that get too close. Whatever tent you use, make sure you are familiar with it and that you’ve packed all its parts. Forgetting the poles after walking off into the bush would be a drag.
 
 
“What did you do for fun out there?”

My favorite question when we got home was this. “What did you do for fun out there?” I thought about this for awhile. You’re going winter camping for the experience- that is the “fun”. As for what we did each day it was simple:

Gather firewood
Snowshoe the trail and surrounding area
Eat!  Carbs, fat and protein! YUM YUM!
Relax
Did I mention getting firewood?  

Being winter, it is very easy to find dry standing dead firewood in the bush.

 

Our experience

Silence! Absolute silence. I wasn’t prepared for how quiet the trip was going to be. We heard the odd Chickadee and Gray Jay, saw lots and lots of snow stories (animal tracks) including moose, deer, and rabbit and were sung to sleep by a plethora of owls each night. The parks are beautiful in the winter I strongly recommend getting out here. That being said, I come to my final point.

 

Your experience 

You don’t have to camp to enjoy a winter experience. Not ready for an overnight stay on a hiking trail? That’s okay. There are loads of things to do instead. Winter camping isn’t something you should jump right into. Work your way up to it.

Once you feel comfortable enough make the gradual move to overnights. Spend two days or even spend five days enjoying yourself in the parks.

When we returned from the trip someone asked “why do you spend so much time outside?”  I thought about this for a moment and said “The real question would be why do you spend so much time inside?”

 

Learn more about winter in Ontario Parks: http://www.ontarioparks.com/winter/


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