Camping trips in the snow

Camping in the snow has new and difficult challenges compared to summer time camping. Remember, your core body temperature only needs to drop by 1 degree, for your body to start getting serious side effects from the cold. So, before you embark on a snow day camp make sure you have done your research and are properly prepared.

Tent in snow image

In our opinion, the general rule for any successful camping trip is based around 3 concepts. 1) Food and Water, 2) Shelter and 3) Staying Warm and Dry. This is especially so in the snow. If you can master these 3 then you will be more likely to enjoy the experience and reduce the number of issues you face.

When it comes to food and water, generally speaking, you should pack enough food for your trip and an extra days supply, in case of emergency. You should also carry about 1-2L of water and a water filtration kit. Should you ever need to delve into your emergency food rations then that’s when you should call an end to your trip and make your way to your exit. When we think about what food to pack you should think about the state of the food (solid/liquid), speed energy can be accessed (sugars/fats) and the effect we want it to have (boost/sustain/repair). Its also handy to have a flask of hot water on you. This can be used to heat up food, provide hot drinks and can be boiled a number of times whilst keeping fairly safe. Make sure you fill it with hot before you need it so you don’t have to mess about trying to heat it up when you need it. Just remember to boil enough water to top up anything used straight away, there’s nothing worse than needing hot water but having to dig out the cooker and waiting for it to boil while you’re cold and shivering.

When it comes to getting water, well hopefully there will be streams and rivers around you but also there’s plenty of snow. Just remember to melt it down, run your filters through it and boil it before drinking.

For breakfast, we suggest something that should set you up with ‘get up and go’ energy and enough energy to keep you going for most the day. This is the most important meal of the day, as it will set you up for the rest of the day, so make sure you think well about it and take enough. I can’t count how many times we’ve been with people that don’t do this and end up causing problems and arguments for the whole group due to their lack of energy, especially when things go wrong. Some fat and a moderate amount of sugars (mix of simple and complex carbohydrates) is needed. You could start with a hot drink and biscuits then have some muesli in hot milk and a small portion of beans on rice or pasta. I know what you’re thinking. Beans on pasta? Believe me, its better then you might think and will keep you going. Design your meal to warm you up, be made and eaten easily and give you enough energy until lunch, without making you drowsy. If the beans and pasta is more than you can eat, then save it for later.

Lunch is to top up your reduced complex sugar levels to get you through until dinner. So we suggest something like chocolate covered granola bars, pre-cooked pasta or rice in simple tomato sauce (we don’t suggest reheating your pasta or rice but if you use a soup pouch, you can use your hot water from the flask so it can still warm you up) and a hot drink. Dinner is the time when your body will spend most its times repairing itself. For this you will need protein. You will also want hot liquids and some complex carbs to help keep you warm during the night. So, you could have some lentils and rice with a hot soup followed by a protein shake. Before you go to sleep make yourself a cheeky hot chocolate and rest those weary eyes.

In between each meal are your snacks. Snacks will help provide those little bits of motivation and mini pick me ups throughout the day. These could be made up of fruits, nuts, mini flapjacks, and chocolates, also don’t forget your flask of hot water.

When it comes to shelter, you can’t scrimp. You want a tent that is strong enough to keep its shape under the weight of snow and hold up to strong winds, it should ideally be double skinned, as this will provide some insulation. It should also be easy to put up and make sure you are well practiced in putting the tent up, so you’re not messing about if the weather is bad. The cold can quickly affect our bodies, so wasting time while you’re exposed to the elements can be dangerous. A geodesic designed tent is probably your best option. We also recommend that you properly peg it down and take strong pegs and a mallet as the ground will be harder than normal, take a spare pole, in case one breaks and try to clear any snow off the top of the tent, even if that’s at 2am, there’s no point stressing the tent when you don’t need to.

I also suggest taking a group bothy bag. Not only are they bright and lightweight they are also great if you are in an emergency and can also be used during breaks when the weather is bad but there is no shelter nearby.

To stay dry, its about choosing your stops and wearing the correct gear. Most of the best campsites are away from roads which means you may have to park up somewhere and hike to your destination. If you need to stop, whether it’s for a long maps check, other breaks or if you’re at camp and are just passing time, make sure you find somewhere that will shelter you from the elements. Unless you’re in a building with heating, the weather will still get to you so make sure you’re wearing the correct clothing. Sounds strange, but the amount of times I’ve seen people running around in tshirts, shorts and sandals in the cold is unbelievable. We believe that you should wear multiple thin layers, because this will create multiple air pockets between your skin and the outside, giving you better insulation properties.

That means that for your body wear a thermal top under 3 or 4 tshirts (maybe more depending on the temperature), with a long sleeve over the top, sometimes you may need more layers or have more long sleeves. This will mean that if you get too hot you can regulate the heat better by removing a layer, unlike, if you are wearing a thick jumper, which when removed could mean losing 50% of your insulation properties.

For bottoms, a pair of thermals over some tights or thin leggings and a pair of joggers on top will go far. Make sure to wear your waterproof jackets and trousers, even on camp. Wet clothes make poor insulators and won’t dry in the cold.

You’ll also need a thin pair of gloves and a pair of mittens. All insulation relies on retaining heat, not creating heat. Gloves are great but keep your fingers separated so each finger must produce enough heat to keep each finger warm, mittens keep your fingers together making it easier to produce enough heat to keep your fingers warm. A thin pair of gloves underneath will allow you to take your hands out of the mitt when you need to and loss heat more slowly than having bear hands or wasting time trying to change mitts to gloves, every time you want to do something.

Wear water-resistant boots, not shoes, as a minimum. This will ensure that less snow and water get in to your boots when walking around the campsite, due to the higher sides, if you have snow boots even better and wear a couple pairs of socks.

Finally, cover your head. It used to be believed that your head lost the most heat, turns out it doesn’t, it’s simply the last place we ever think to cover up and we never cover up properly, therefore the area we lose most our heat. So, stick on a hat and if possible cover up your face, though be careful in super cold temperatures as your breath will freeze around your mouth and the moisture will allow more cold in. In these kind of conditions, it may also be required to cut off any beards or moustaches (depending on where an how the moisture is freezing).

Other things you can do is to limit your time outside to when you need to be out. And make sure you close both the outer and inner doors of your tent (when in use and not in use). If there is more than one person out camping, share tents. Heat is hard to come by so be prepared to get comfy and huddle. It’s good enough for penguins so it’s good enough for us.

That’s just some things to think about but a good start. Thank you for reading, I hope it helps you and good luck on your adventure.

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