why winter camp?

Posted by: Jimshaw

why winter camp? - 10/25/11 08:47 PM

Someone said that winter camping offers less appeal as you get older. I stopped to wonder what is or was the appeal of winter camping? smile besides the obvious like few people, white snow winterland, crisp cold air, skiing to camp, and clear cold nights with the stars above... smile

Anyway I'm thinking my original attraction to winter camping came from the thrill of being somewhere sort of dangerous and new and unknown, and doing crazy things. We would dive off the end of our "camp" into 4 feet of snow and crawl through it and climb snow piles that are trees in the summer and slide off them. Pretty much the same reasons I became a boy scout, took up rock climbing, skiing and dating. smile

Now I look at winter camping and mountain travel as subjects I am well versed in and they no longer seem so exotic nor challenging so going just to say I was there is no longer a valid pusuit.

I DO love to winter camp and I guess I do more winter camping than summer camping. I love setting off in the snow on skis with a pack. Lots of times if I'm alone, I wait until 10:30 or 11 pm to drive to a snow park and ski in by headlamp. Note this is sasquatch, wolf, mountain lion, coyote, bear country. I haven't yet run into anything while night skiing, but I'm sort of preparing myself.

Why do you winter camp?
Jim smile
Posted by: DTape

Re: why winter camp? - 10/25/11 09:46 PM

No bugs.

Seriously. I enjoy winter camping for the same reasons I enjoy camping in other seasons. The tranquility, beauty, sounds, etc... of the outdoors. The winter season provides a different scenery from the other months but I enjoy the outdoors in all weather, and seasons. The woods are a place of peace and calm for me. It is my sanctuary.
Posted by: hikerduane

Re: why winter camp? - 10/25/11 10:27 PM

Well Jim, I like to set up camp before it gets too cold, so most of the time I'm in my bag early. I guess I like to go because not many go bping in the winter, so you become more of a minority. Last New Year's Eve, I was trying to meet up with Andy, barely missed where he camped for the night I found out the next morning, had a report of sorts here last winter. I snowshoed in with temps in the single digits early evening, but it warmed up a tad by the time I made camp. Most of the hike in was in the dark, had dinner with my feet out my tent, using one of my old stoves to heat water for dinner, feeling great that I finally stopped and had camp set up. A different experience for sure. You get tired of staying home all the time, so going out for a night in the snow makes you appreciate the warmth of the woodstove and being bored at home.:) I'm set to have at least one night bping every month again this year like I did two years ago. December can be tough.
Posted by: skcreidc

Re: why winter camp? - 10/25/11 11:40 PM

You got wolf up in Bend? Didn't know that.

D Tape and Duane said most of what is in my head. I find solitude and beauty in all four seasons (or whatever we get in San Diego). I don't mind running into people in the wilderness, but I perfer getting out away from the crowds. Plus, I live in San Diego; you can hear the freeway at 3am if your window is open. It's real nice to go somewhere where there is actually silence. Plus for me, snow is something I have to drive to; its still kind of novel to spend some time camping in it.

I will spend a few days near Idyllwild this winter. Not Oregon, but its only 2 hours away. Still working with the dog on hauling a pulk.
Posted by: hikerduane

Re: why winter camp? - 10/26/11 12:01 AM

Dude!, I can leave on foot/snowshoes from my place and head up a few miles to a spot to camp on a weekend night in Nat'l Forest land. I have done that a few times the last few years. Real easy on gas and I still get away from my few neighbors. My neighbors on the other side of the creek from me have their land bordering NF land, I'm that close. Nice.
Posted by: Dryer

Re: why winter camp? - 10/26/11 08:52 AM

In Texas/Arkansas/New Mexico I prefer winter camping to any other season. No bugs, it's rarely freezing during the day, and the night skies are at their best, and I sleep better in the cold. Weather can turn your trip into a wet sloggy mess, which is about the only downside.
I'll be hiking the desert in a late November because its cooler and less people are out there in early winter.
Posted by: wandering_daisy

Re: why winter camp? - 10/26/11 11:01 AM

I have said this before- there is winter and then there is "winter". Winter camping in Wyoming was a bit on the severe side. You needed special gear and then it was more survival than camping. Winter camping in more moderate temperatures is easier. Here in northern CA, winter is the best time to backpack the coast because summer is fog season. But the one thing uniform about winter camping that I do not like is the lack of daylight. And the farther north you go, the worse it gets. I just get tired of so much darkness and tent time. I recently bought an IPod Shuffle so I can listen to books on tape. It helps, but all that down time still is boring to me. I simply no longer have the appropriate gear for serious winter camping and after years of living in severe winter areas, I am happy now to avoid snow and go to the coast in the winter.
Posted by: hikerduane

Re: why winter camp? - 10/26/11 01:04 PM

WD, is this what bping snowbirds do, head for the coast?:)
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: why winter camp? - 10/26/11 02:10 PM

That's why I don't winter camp. The nights are just too long! Up here it's dark 15 hours a day in December and January. I also got turned off winter sports after I ripped nearly all the ligaments in one knee x-c skiing 20-some years ago. I dayhike at lower elevations, but no camping for me from mid-October to early March. I can take 12 hours in the tent, but no more.
Posted by: DTape

Re: why winter camp? - 10/26/11 04:42 PM

Those long nights are definitely the biggest downside for me. I try to time my winter trips with the moon cycle. A full to near full moon reflecting off the snow can light up the woods almost like it is day. In fact, I awoke once at 1am and thought the sun had risen already.
Posted by: ppine

Re: why winter camp? - 10/26/11 05:35 PM


The moon changes everything. In areas that are not too steep skiing at night without a pack is very freeing. It is fun to look for fur-bearing animals with a headlamp.

Many people do not seem to care for fires, but a fire at night in front of the lean-to is one of my favorite outdoor experiences. After going to sleep and waking up in the middle of the night, it is great to watch the snow roll in.

None of this is possible closed up in a conventional tent.
Posted by: DTape

Re: why winter camp? - 10/26/11 05:47 PM


so true!
Posted by: hikerduane

Re: why winter camp? - 10/26/11 08:52 PM

mtnsteve in Anderson,CA used to do moonlight XC ski trips with friends in Lassen VNP and last year he said, hosted his last Winterfest in the same area. Yep, those long nights are the one thing I don't like about snow camping. With that said, off in a week for a overnighter into Lake of the Woods in Desolation Wilderness after a half day of work and the short drive to get my permit. Hoping the weather holds for one more week.
Posted by: phat

Re: why winter camp? - 10/27/11 12:09 AM

I'll agree on the peacefulness and nice scenery, but one of my favorite things here is actually *light*.

it's dark really early in december/january here. and light pretty late in the day.. so for a long time you don't see much sun working indoors. Unfortunately the best bright clear blue days are also the coldest.. So deal with that -30 and get sunshine smile

I find with a good camp and good bag I am *comfortable* in instead of just surviving, I like it for just the relaxation value. staying up "late" and sleeping in till the sun will arrive again. I also tend to "camp" more than "hike" which is pretty much the complete opposite to my pace outside of winter.
Posted by: Jimshaw

Re: why winter camp? - 10/27/11 09:54 PM

long winter nights are one reason that I may wait until 11pm to ski in and be set up by midnight, if I'm solo. Around here the local ski club will have hot cider and coffee at the trail head by the time I get there... smile but I always make coffee anyway. Melting snow and brewing coffee is just one of the things I love about snow camping. If I go with someone else we want a lantern and a deck of cards and perhaps other forms of adult entertainment.

the times that I've been out when it was below -25 it was not for fun. crazy I didn't really need to know that -40C = - 40 F shocked and BTW my sleeping bag was rated at +32F laugh but I had a snowmobile suit and a down jacket and a piece of rabit fur to put over the hole in my mummy bag and to be against my face. Of course now I can say that I've bivied at the base of the Eiger the day after Christmas, but at the time it didn't seem reasonable to be there...

No bugs - well fewer bugs as some seem to manage to survive regardless. However I have had a different problem pop up in shallow snow - mice that are not yet hibernating and extend their burrows up into the snow. They make a series of 3 foot hops across the snow kind of like a skipping stone and they can get into your food. I often hang my food 5 feet off the ground to keep the "go-atters" from munching on it.

Oh and birds. They change in the winter. I love the alpine grey jays. They will some times land on the tip of your ski or if you are sitting in the snow taking a break, they will land on my ski-pole standing upright in the snow by me. We get a lot of black headed junkos as small winter bird, and the quail seem to be present all year as are stellar jays and flickers.
Posted by: phat

Re: why winter camp? - 10/27/11 11:56 PM

well, that's just the thing. a nice -15C or so rated pile of down, and a good overbag or larger synthetic bag on the outside works great for me. I do wear full fleece and a balaclava inside.

Or you could drop the cash for something fantasitc like a WM puma, however I've never decided to drop enough cash for one. A bigger synthetic bag over a good down bag works for me well into the -25 to -35 range. Gotta have a good two or three pads underneath you too tho.

But for me really, part of it is I did grow up camping in temps like that, and well, I know what it takes to have a reasonably comfortable night *for me* (and it matters a lot by the person) frankly, knowing that is half the darn battle to know you're gonna be able comfortable and enjoy yourself, and that even if you get cold, you can get warm.

Posted by: Paul

Re: why winter camp? - 10/29/11 10:34 PM

One thing I have always enjoyed about camping in the snow - winter or spring - is that you can have what I call the feeling of being "out there" so much more easily. To me this is a sense of isolation and remoteness, of being in a place where few people ever go. In the summer it's hard to find a place that has that feeling, but when the snow covers the ground it's just a short distance from the road.
Plus, it's always so interesting to see a place in the winter that you've seen in the summer, and to appreciate the enormous difference.
Posted by: TomD

Re: why winter camp? - 10/29/11 10:47 PM

To follow up on Paul's comment, in a park like Yosemite, which is overrun in the summer, in winter, above the Valley (which is always crowded), you see hardly anyone and you can camp almost anywhere as long as you are off the road and out of sight. You won't have the Rangers coming along to chase you away. Do get a permit, though-they are free. They just want to know you are out there and have proper gear.

One advantage in Yosemite-free parking at Badger Pass. You put a copy of your pass in your window and if you overstay your time, the Rangers will see your car in the lot and come looking for you.
Posted by: Blue_Ridge_Ninja

Re: why winter camp? - 01/13/12 11:20 AM

Better vistas, no creepy-crawlies, no pouring sweat, fewer people, lots of sunshine. And no need for snowshoes or special gear here. wink
Posted by: bmisf

Re: why winter camp? - 01/17/12 12:17 AM

"Ditto" to the peacefulness, lack of crowds (and bugs), and the beauty of winter scenery. I also find it easier to get around in winter. On snowshoes or skis I can take off in just about any direction and go over terrain that might be impassible, or at least very tedious, the rest of the year. Using a pulk, I can take in a large tent and bulkier winter gear but actually be more comfortable than if I were carrying it in a pack (and, much much faster if on skis). Add to that the ease of making a flat spot for the tent (just stomp one out), and all of the fun things you can build with snow (kitchens, trenches, igloos), and you get an extra layer of creativity and flexibility on campsites.

Now, if we could only just get some snow this year in California... ;-)
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: why winter camp? - 01/17/12 03:40 AM

More than anything, here, it's the ticks and chiggers that keep me out of the forest from late Spring to early Autumn, so that's why I do most of my camping in the Winter. Overall, the Summer's here in the Ozarks are awful for backpacking.

Dryer pointed out that camping in AR in winter isn't all that cold, and I usually wait til we're having a warm spell to head out and then it's pretty darn nice.

I love waking up warm and cozy in my sleeping bag when it's still frosty outside. I'll poke my head out and look around, glance at the sunrise, the frost on the ground, the fog, and then snuggle in and snooze and dream until it warms up a bit.

One of the things I love to do is sit and soak up the sun. On a day in the 50s-60s you can peel off your shirt and zip-off pant legs and sit on a boulder soaking up the sun and it feels wonderful after being cooped up during a cold gray spell.

And I love sitting by a campfire in the winter at night. The air is clear and the stars are bright.

I'd say that winter camping here, when I do it, is not much different than the Sierras in the Summer out west. The temps are often close to the same, the water is always cold, and the air is clean and clear.

To be fair, I've never seen so many stars as I have while camping in the Sierras above 9000ft in the summer. If I could, I would wander and explore there all summer long.
Posted by: hikerduane

Re: why winter camp? - 01/17/12 01:22 PM

Hay Steve! See you at Lassen maybe in a few weeks? How's the rug rat?
Posted by: bmisf

Re: why winter camp? - 01/17/12 02:07 PM

Maybe...sure want to go! Just have to work out how we can do it with him (maybe stay in the same B&B down the road we used for last year's Winterfest). Hope to see you, Maria, MtnSteve, and more!
Posted by: immortal.ben

Re: why winter camp? - 03/03/12 07:29 PM

Snow-covered views, few bugs, great temperatures, even fewer people than my usual wilderness adventures, and that wonderful quiet that only surrounds my camp at night when its winter.
Posted by: Brotherbob12

Re: why winter camp? - 10/06/12 03:59 PM

I winter camp because:
Its beautiful.
I like to be able to master difficult situations.
We have 5+ months of snow season.

The darkness of December and January is challenging, but come March and April days are long and the sun warm.
Posted by: rockchucker22

Re: why winter camp? - 10/06/12 10:33 PM

I camp all year. 8 deg early morning frozen fog, not a soul for miles, pure heaven!
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: why winter camp? - 10/09/12 11:55 PM

I'm curious how you cope with the short nights! 14-15 hours of darkness is too much for me--and your nights in Sweden are a lot longer!
Posted by: Brotherbob12

Re: why winter camp? - 10/10/12 01:10 AM

Originally Posted By OregonMouse
I'm curious how you cope with the short nights! 14-15 hours of darkness is too much for me--and your nights in Sweden are a lot longer!

The best way to cope with long dark nights are good company and if Im not in a sensitive area I make a small fire to warm the hands and make coffee.

If I go alone I try to choose clear nights with full moon. Those bright silver winter nights when I can travel with headlight turned off are beautiful but also the coldest. Best chance to see northern light.

We have small children so a long undisturbed nights sleep now and then is welcome :-)
Posted by: jbylake

Re: why winter camp? - 10/10/12 04:16 PM

To the OP, why winter camp?
Your first sentence (about the appeal of winter camping as you get older, which I am) is what caught my attention. I really don't have any expereince (nothing to speak of anyway), winter camping.

Where I'm living now, cross country skiing, or even snow shoes, would not be remotely practical, we don't get that much snow here, or if we do, it's gone quickly.

But back to your first sentence. I never really liked cold weather much, but (I've had this conversation with another poster in a PM), I think I'm going to try to get out at least three or four weeks, this winter, not all at once. smile Which means some new gear for the lower temps, and such. I'll pretty much hang close to a base camp, unless we have some of our 45 to 50 degree weather, which we can have here. And if it's really cold 10 to 5 degree weather, even more so.

I'm just going to try it because of the solitude. Not many people here in KY, backpack or camp in the winter, and, according to some of the park Rangers, very few. I tend to sleep lighter when there are absolutely no distractions, so, I'm guessing I'll be spending a great deal of the night sipping coffee, and just enjoying the solitude.

So, from what most of you are referring to, trekking and backpacking through snow, well I have no real experience with that, and won't get a chance to learn those skills, but the rest of what you describe sounds incredible. I'm really looking forward to it (I never thought I'd here myself say I'd be looking forward to Backpacking/Camping in the cold, rather than enjoying a football game at home at 70 degrees,), but this is something I've actually been pondering for quite a while.

Maybe, if all goes well, I can arrange a paid guided trip, with experts, in "real" winter conditions, and see what it's really all about at some point before I kick the bucket.

We'll see, but it sounds great....

Posted by: TomD

Re: why winter camp? - 10/10/12 11:48 PM

You don't need a guide unless you are going somewhere remote. I winter camp in Yosemite and am just a mile or two from my car. Once all the day snowshoers are gone (they turn around usually around 3pm or so), then I could be anywhere in the backcountry.
Posted by: jbylake

Re: why winter camp? - 10/11/12 05:18 PM

Tom, yes I would like to do a remote trek, maybe I should have stated that better. I wouldn't have a clue as to what dangers I might face, and how to recognize them. I also wouldn't have a clue on using snowshoes, or cross country ski's. I would need expert help and advice every step of the way. But in reality, I doubt that I'll ever complete that part of my "bucket list", so I'd probably be pretty close to my vehicle at all times.

Posted by: TomD

Re: why winter camp? - 10/22/12 05:21 PM

Many years ago, I took a basic mountaineering class in New Zealand. Similar classes are taught here in CA, WA and back East. Learning to snowshoe is easy-put them on and start walking; really, that's all there is to it. Skiing is another story; lessons do help, but basic cross-country skiing on moderate terrain isn't rocket science. I have skied and snowshoed in Yosemite several times. I have never used a guide except for the mountaineering class where we had two instructors and 6 or 7 of us, as I recall. It was great fun and well worth the cost. You can learn winter camping by going with someone more experienced. My first trip was with Jim Shaw in Yosemite, so I've gone back there several more times because I know where I am when I get there and know what to expect from the weather.
Posted by: hikerduane

Re: why winter camp? - 10/22/12 09:55 PM

J., start later in the winter if you don't have proper gear. If you can bp, you can move onto winter/cold weather camping/bping. With the shorter days about to hit us hard pretty soon, maybe spend the next few months gathering clothes, gear. A good time to go would be when your gear intersects with expected temps, like February or into March for colder weather camping without the really cold temp penalty. I've had to pack in two sleeping bags to get to a warm sleeping temperature. Don't forget a good sleeping pad or two if the ground has snow or is frozen, a headlamp for reading and the book of course.
Posted by: jbylake

Re: why winter camp? - 10/22/12 10:55 PM

I have some extreme cold weather gear (bag's) from military, and now that folks have clarified to me that a 3 season tent would work just fine with the kind of cold weather and snow we have here, well, the rest is just gear I guess.

TomD said snow shows are just walking in them. Would never have a reason for them here, but in case that someday I get to go back to the mountains, or high up in the Rockies, that's good to know.

I'm receiving some new gear this week, and hopefully if it's cold enough in late November or early December, I'm going to one of our state parks and see how well everything works out.

It's still tentative, but I've been invited to join a (I think it's 10 miles) trip in Feb. Although it's only an hour and a half, maybe two hour drive north from here, their weather can be much more severe than ours, or at least more often. But it'll give me a chance to get out in the cold for a couple of days, and see how I like it.

Thanks for your replies,

Posted by: TomD

Re: why winter camp? - 10/23/12 12:05 AM

J, you only need snowshoes in soft snow. I've seen people wearing them on hard packed roads and that is just silly, but in the soft stuff, you will wear yourself out without them. Not true for skis. Skis on hard pack are handy, but take more skill.
Posted by: hikerduane

Re: why winter camp? - 10/23/12 08:54 AM

I've been seen carrying my shoes when I can walk on snow, slip and slide some but quicker without at times. I just use them for deeper snow.
Posted by: TomD

Re: why winter camp? - 10/23/12 04:16 PM

Also, on hard pack, some sort of light crampon style traction device like Kahtoola Micro-spikes is very useful. I could have used something like that in Yosemite a few years ago just for walking around the Village. REI sells a variety of them-

They seem to be pretty popular in New England where the trails get iced over, but snowshoes may not be necessary.
Posted by: hikerduane

Re: why winter camp? - 10/23/12 07:24 PM

Tom, I could use those around my place in the winter, especially walking down our self-plowed dirt road, it gets icy.
Posted by: Chasing Crow

Re: why winter camp? - 11/30/13 10:42 AM

At the risk of being an echo......LESS PEOPLE!! LESS BUGS!!
I all but refuse to use chemical bug repellents and have had too many experiences with ticks.
Solitude, quiet, and great views make winter camping!
Posted by: mimstrel

Re: why winter camp? - 05/13/15 01:19 PM

I like to sleep cold and snuggled up.

No, seriously. I do minimal to no camping over a large chunk of summer because around here, the nighttime lows just don't get low enough for me to sleep comfortably.

Granted, actually strapping in tight and zipping up a mummy bag is how I found out that I'm actually claustrophobic. But I can sleep comfortably down to some pretty low temps (-15 F is the lowest I've been out in and it wasn't a problem) without zipping up, by tucking the side under me.

Other advantages:
No bugs! I love camping without a tent, but I'm now paranoid about ticks so I think my days of sleeping out on just a ground sheet (at least in this part of the country) are over.

You can build a shelter from snow and ice.

You can put your pack in a sled and pull it behind you. If you're mostly on pretty flat surfaces (like frozen lakes, as a not-so-random example), it's WAY easier than carrying a pack on your back. Low center of gravity FTW!

Also, there's the BA factor. A lot of people are convinced that winter camping is cold and miserable, they don't understand that with proper gear and preparation you shouldn't be cold. So when I tell them about winter camping, they're in awe of how "tough" I am.
I tell them, the coldest I've ever been was in my apartment in subtropical Australia. Why? Because I wasn't prepared to be cold in Australia.

Disadvantages: Requires heavier gear. If you pay for the lightest stuff you can get, I imagine you can get away with MUCH lighter weight than the monstrosities I've had to deal with... but still heavier than the same quality summer weight gear.
Maybe if you use a tent in summer and a tarp or snow shelter in winter?
Posted by: finallyME

Re: why winter camp? - 06/01/15 12:34 AM

I can't believe I missed this one. When people tell me they don't like camping in general, it is because they don't like crowded campsites with noisy people, bugs, and dirt everywhere. They also don't like being cold and wet. Obviously, in winter, there is no bugs and nothing is dirty, and most campsites are closed to RVs. It also generally doesn't rain. Dealing with the cold and wet is just equipment....just like in the summer.
Posted by: wandering_daisy

Re: why winter camp? - 06/02/15 12:05 AM

Dealing with cold and wet is a lot more than just equipment! Backpacking in serious cold and wet conditions requires serious experience and training. Car camping is a good place to start, test your equipment and gain experience while you can bail out to a warm car if things go bad. In fact, your back yard is a fine place to start! Day-hike snowshoe trips are also a good way to learn winter travel. Many National Parks have short Ranger-led winter snowshoe trips. Most ski areas also have cross-country trails. If you want to backpack in the winter first you must learn to be comfortable and have fun in the snow (or whatever winter conditions exist in your area). The next step is to camp overnight. Lots of other skills may also be needed- like avalanche safety.

Posted by: TomD

Re: why winter camp? - 06/02/15 03:03 AM

I've been cold on my few winter trips, but never wet. By winter I mean with snow on the ground and by cold l mean before I add more layers or until I warm up in my bag. I always have enough clothes and gear for far colder than I expect. With the right clothes, winter camping is quite enjoyable and this is from someone who hates to be cold and wears a fleece jacket in LA most of the year in the evenings at least.
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: why winter camp? - 07/06/15 03:13 PM

I don't mind cold, or snow, but I do not like cold and wet and I avoid that as much as possible.

I plan my winter trips around the weather. If it's going to rain or ice I'll put it off. Snow is fun, and stunningly beautiful. I'll play in that.
Posted by: hikerduane

Re: why winter camp? - 09/17/15 09:13 PM

Ah, some snow close to home at Lassen VNP. Getting closer to snow camping season.
Posted by: Dia

Re: why winter camp? - 02/18/17 12:49 PM

For me it is about the lack of bugs, lack of other campers (which means more space and more quiet), and the excitement of doing something out of the box.
Posted by: 4evrplan

Re: why winter camp? - 02/20/17 04:29 PM

+1 on the no bugs.