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Thread: Best winter camping experiences and procedures

  1. #1
    Member sayak's Avatar
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    Default Best winter camping experiences and procedures

    I'd like to hear your winter camping experiences.

    One of the best for me was when I took my oldest son, Chris, who was then about 8, on a spring camp. I had an old Arctic Cat Panther, and he had an Elan, and we rode as far south from Dillingham as we felt was prudent on our machines. We had a sled full of minimal gear including the warmest bed rolls I could muster at the time, a tarp, space blankets, snow shoes and some cooking gear. He had his .410, and I had a .20 gauge.

    That was a year of deep snow, and when we arrived at a place that looked like it must have plenty of birds and bunnies. We built a lean-to and covered it with a blue tarp and spruce boughs, then layered the floor with boughs as well. In those days I owned no sleeping pads. We laid out our rated to 20 degree sleeping bags and then went to cut wood with a swede saw. After we had a wood pile, we started a fire and got around to the serious business of cooking dinner. Since we had no game, we ate hot dogs and canned beans and candy bars, and I had coffee while Chris had pop.

    With the sun going down we decided to look around for bunnies, but we found none. No matter, there was always tomorrow.

    We built our fire big and watched it slowly melt its way down toward the ground, several feet below. As it did we used our snow shoes to dig benches for us to sit on. We had to do this over and over as the fire sank lower and lower.

    It was a clear, cold night, and we had to build up our fire repeatedly to stay warm. When we had left home it was in the 30s but the bottom had fallen out temperature wise, and it took a lot of wood to stay warm. I decided to cut some more wood so we would have a fire in the morning, so I had Christopher hold the light on me as I cut some fat alder branches to bank the fire with.

    We continued to huddle around the fire, roasting marshmallows and watching stars and satellites in the sky above. Finally it seemed like it was time to hit the hay, so we reluctantly crawled into our bags, hoping we would stay warm. Hah!

    I've never found spruce boughs to be that comfortable, even when properly layered, but eventually I fell asleep. One branch keep poking me all night long, but I was still in my early 30s, and tough, so no matter. Chris, being young, seemed to be able to sleep through anything.

    I woke up once in the middle of the night to relieve myself and was pleased to find northern lights dancing. This was truly magical, and I woke up my sleepy son to see them with me until we both got so cold we crawled back into our inadequate bags to go back to sleep.

    Finally dawn came and I found a few embers to kindle the fire with. Soon I had a full blaze going and started breakfast while I let my boy sleep in. I took Bisquick flour and made it into dough with a little melt water, then got some bacon going in a fry pan over a cooking grate, eventually ending up with crunchy bacon and a lot of grease. I used the grease to fry the bannocks. Next, I fried a few eggs. Water was boiling in the coffee can billy for hot chocolate and coffee, so I woke up Chris for breakfast. It tasted great, and we ate til it was gone.

    It was still very chilly and the sky was still rosy with the sun rise, but we decided to go hunting anyway, so we strapped on snow shoes. We found fresh ptarmigan tracks within a few hundred feet of camp, and soon tracked down a small covey in the alder bushes. As I recall, we each got a few birds, and Chris got a rabbit too.

    We went back to camp, plucked one bird and roasted it over the fire. It tasted wonderful and we left little for the ravens and foxes to scavange. Then we broke camp. In those days nobody much thought about destroying evidence of camping, so we left the lean-to right there for someone else, or maybe for next year.

    The ride back home was slow and fun, and when we got there we put away our gear, hung bags up to dry, and cleaned the rest of our game. It wasn't until later that I found out it had gotten down to -10 that night, but we had a great time nonetheless. Both of us look back on that one simple camp out as a memorable experience 20 some years later.

    I will add, however, that after that camping experience I invested in better sleeping bags, foam pads, a good lantern, and other amenities to make cold camping a little more comfortable for my family.

  2. #2
    Member sayak's Avatar
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    Default Embarassing that I have to bump my own post...

    ... but hard to believe that no one has anything to post on winter camping, be it equipment, places or experiences. Come on! You can't all be warm weather campers are you?

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    Most of my winter camping experience is from Maine (also some in South Korea). I always enjoy WC so much more than the summer variety, for two particular reasons: 1)fewer people/more solitude 2)no bugs

    'Advances' in gear have been questionable IME. For expample: I've never had a goretex jacket that has kept me dry. And despite my -40rated bag, I still only get a marginal amount of sleep!

    Keeping water in its liquid state can be quite challenging on longer trips.

    I generally only travel by foot, ski, and snowshoe.
    One of my most memorable experiences was my Koflach double (plastic) boots disintegrating in the cold of the NH White Mountains. I had to strap/wrap the pieces in place with my snowshoe harnesses just to make it off the mountain. Also on the same trip I had my tent poles 'kissing' my face all night as the 40+mph winds (estimate, no anemometer) buffeted our alpine camp.

  4. #4

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    'Advances' in gear have been questionable
    When you purchase new gear ALWAYS test it out first. Experiment and break it in first. Set it up in your backyard or go to a drive in camp site and do a trial run. If you run into problems you'll have a quick escape route and you can correct/adjust the problems. Many people purchase new equipment for a long wilderness trip and the results can be deadly. Poor fitting boots/clothing, faulty equipment leave no margin for error when you're in the middle of no where.
    Not related to winter camping but one time I purchased a new seat for my mountain bike and decided to test it out on a 20 mile trail. That was the most painful experience in my life. All I could do is stand and keep peddling. Now I try everthing out first. If there is a problem I can get a refund and get something better.

  5. #5
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    Plastic fatigue (mileage) and cold temps led to the boot failure- nothing I could predict or protect against.

    Generally speaking you are quite correct about not taking new gear on potentially dangerous endeavors.

  6. #6

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    but hard to believe that no one has anything to post on winter camping
    I bought this canvas wall tent (10x12) and wood stove off the internet. It looked interesting. I camp a lot the other three seasons and a few times in the winter. I really want to get into winter camping. So far I've set up the canvas tent and used it in my backyard only. It's really nice and warm. Is there anything else I should know/look out for before taking it out on a more remote trip? Is it safe having a wood stove in a tent? What about severe low temps, high winds and snow accumulation on roof?

  7. #7
    Member cdubbin's Avatar
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    Nothins cozier than a snow cave in the winter- we used to dig them on boy scout excursions, but that was in central Idaho- much colder than coastal Alaska in the winter. I guess you could get by with a tent around here

  8. #8
    Member sayak's Avatar
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    Default I love wall tents (if you ever want to get rid of it...)

    Quote Originally Posted by northtraveller View Post
    I bought this canvas wall tent (10x12) and wood stove off the internet. It looked interesting. I camp a lot the other three seasons and a few times in the winter. I really want to get into winter camping. So far I've set up the canvas tent and used it in my backyard only. It's really nice and warm. Is there anything else I should know/look out for before taking it out on a more remote trip? Is it safe having a wood stove in a tent? What about severe low temps, high winds and snow accumulation on roof?
    What to watch for: keep it tarped in wet weather; watch the base you put your stove on (I almost burned to death that way!), watch your tent jack to make sure it is secure and there is room around the pipe; have plenty of flue pipe for better draw and a piece of wide mesh screen like hardware cloth as a spark arrester; I used to use a folding reflecter made from flashing and hinges around my airtight stove to protect the stove wall and reflect heat; always have plenty of heavy-duty aluminum foil handy to improve things around your stove and pipe; poles can usually be made from small trees on site, but some people like to carry poles w/ them; secure them pole to pole, and tent to poles with discardable zip-ties and guy down your tent well; cots work well with wall tents as long as you have heat moving around in the tent otherwise you will be cold!

  9. #9

    Default I love wall tents

    Thanks for writing back, there's little info on walltents on the internet. There's no floor, I used a tarp and cut a hole under the stove. A canvas floor would get damaged, you can replace the tarp as needed. I made the poles myself out of galvanized steel, too expensive to ship, only ordered the angle joints. I never tied the ends down, it got windy and the tent fell over, better watch that. I bought the pipe and flame arrester for a house woodstove. I have to get some cots, it's cold sleeping on the floor mats. I want to camp in January in cold temps. It'll be trial and error, won't go too remote.

  10. #10
    Member Vince's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sayak View Post
    What to watch for: keep it tarped in wet weather; watch the base you put your stove on (I almost burned to death that way!), watch your tent jack to make sure it is secure and there is room around the pipe; have plenty of flue pipe for better draw and a piece of wide mesh screen like hardware cloth as a spark arrester; I used to use a folding reflecter made from flashing and hinges around my airtight stove to protect the stove wall and reflect heat; always have plenty of heavy-duty aluminum foil handy to improve things around your stove and pipe; poles can usually be made from small trees on site, but some people like to carry poles w/ them; secure them pole to pole, and tent to poles with discardable zip-ties and guy down your tent well; cots work well with wall tents as long as you have heat moving around in the tent otherwise you will be cold!

    we purchased the shelter logic out fitters ten this year with the double layer of insulation R11 blanket... i would set it up and live in it if need be even at -40-50 or colder. as long as the stove was on.. it is toasty warm to so hot your hair will melt.
    "If you are on a continuous search to be offended, you will always find what you are looking for; even when it isn't there."

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  11. #11
    Member byrd_hntr's Avatar
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    Default Many of nights

    Ive spent quite a few nights in my Northface Dark Star in a bed roll with a bird dog on either side of me. Im not sure how cold it was but you can judge about how cold it get by how easily my Tundra usually starts. When it takes more than two pulls you have either flooded it or its somewhere in the neighborhood of -30.

    It amazing how much better it feels to get up on a ridge where the inversion keeps you warm.

    My best trick for staying warm minus the dog... Take a wide mouth Nalgene bottle and pour very hot water into it just before you go to bed. Put it where ever you get cold. I usually put it on my feet. If my feet are warm Im happy. And you have water to get going in the morning.

    Eat lots and lots of FAT! Woo hoo. Helps keep you warm. Infact one of the best tricks I have found for me and the dogs it to eat Butter. It sounds totally Homer Simpson but if you eat a big square of butter and give one to your dogs it almost immediately makes you feel warmer and its pure jet fuel for a dog. Its Cheap and keeps very well in the cold and calorie/pound its about the best thing you can eat.

    As for padding I use a old termarest. Right on the snow. Snow is actually pretty comfy to sleep on and it a great insulator.

    Be prepared to improvise. I blew out a bunny boot last year trailing a wolf pack and I was a little freaked out that I was going to have some serious frostbite. The boot had a gash about 2 inch long right through all the bladders. Geting a sled unstuck I got a little close to the spinning track. I stitched it back together with dental floss and duct taped the shiz out of it. The boot weighted 10 lbs but it got me home.

    IMO winter is the best time to Camp. Much eaiser to get around via snowmachine, skis or whatever. No bugs, no bears (Unless you get really far north ) and not Tourons.

  12. #12
    Member akjw7's Avatar
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    I did a minimal amount as a kid but remember one trip with my dad and another father and son. I think we went to eklutna lake camped on the lake and just goofed of. Didn't hunt, didn't fish, just had fires and snowball fights and enjoyed the quiet still air.

    I've been wanting to do some now that the kids are getting old enough (almost 8 and 6) but haven't enough gear for them yet (it would be just me and the two older kids as mom and baby wouldn't go)

    hopefully in the year or so I can find a tent and another machine or two and get going. It's on my garage sale list for summer.

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