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.