Going winter camping is a challenge, it’s not nearly as simple as a summer trip. Every action requires more effort and more thought. Mistakes are magnified by the cold, and poor preparation could mean severe consequences. At the end of the day however, pitting yourself against nature at its harshest gives a great sense of accomplishment,can actually be a lot of fun, and not nearly as uncomfortable as the average camper would expect.
Initial Trip Planning
Planning for a trip in winter is not like planning a trip in the summer. Planning has to start early, gear has to be assembled, fitted, tested, and contingency plans need to be set. To start the planning process, go through the basic questions, who, where, what, when, why, and how. Each are equally important and should be clearly defined so a framework for the trip can be developed that is safe and enjoyable.
Who: While it may not seem like a major decision, who is going can drastically change your trip conditions. How many people are attending will change food and water requirements, change the amount of gear that can be carried, and that is needed. Also, different team members bring different skill sets. Planning around those skills can make the trip significantly more comfortable. For example, someone who is an excellent wood cutter can make the firewood gathering stage significantly quicker and therefore allow for other activities on your trip
Where: The location of the trip, or the route taken must be planned in advance. If you are hiking into the bush and are expecting to bring a sled to pull gear and you end up having a hilly or rocky terrain that sled may not work, if you were planning to have water available, and your location is a stream that dries in winter, you will be without water. These are decisions that can not be made lightly. Of course, your location must be given to someone back home so if you do not arrive home on time, a rescue can be planned
What: What gear you bring can make the difference between a cold sleepless night or not. A sleeping bag geared to the weather you expect, proper layering, a change of clothes, quality materials, and absolutely no cotton fabric will ensure a successful trip. What food your bring will determine if you get enough calories to keep up with the high demand, and forgetting an axe or hatchet will ensure a cold evening
When: While the winter camping title gives an obvious answer, the time of winter does play a major role in what gear is required and what circumstances you need to be prepared for. Early winter will mean lakes are not frozen through, while late winter camping can mean the lake is frozen but the weather may be warmer. The dead of winter mean more extreme temperatures, but also means it’s dry compared to a slushy trip during an early thaw.
Why: This is as important as any other question. If you are going to test your survival skills, your shelter, food, and time lines for the trip will be completely different than if you are going to have a more relaxed (but still challenging) trip. This could change food requirements as well. Also, are you planning on moving to new locations ever day, or staying in the same location over the course of the trip.
How: Planning a great trip means planning its execution as well. Having all the supplies you need, setting them up, only to run out of enough daylight to find adequate firewood could ruin the experience. While time needs to be allotted for unforeseen circumstances, planning out each segment and responsibility will ensure nothing is missed before nightfall.