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#105239 - 10/21/08 09:43 PM How to start winter camping
Paul Offline
member

Registered: 09/30/02
Posts: 778
Loc: California
I'm sure I've said all this before in various posts, but it seem worth repeating, as I often see posts from folks looking for basic advice about getting started with winter/snow camping. First off, the best way to learn is to go with someone who knows what they are doing. While you may be so lucky as to have a friend who is an experienced winter camper, it's not likely, so the best way is to go on an organized trip, either with a professional guide service or an organization (Sierra club is one) that offers classes and trips designed for beginning snow campers. There is no susbstitute for experience, but you don't have to learn from your own mistakes, you can learn from folks who have made the mistakes already and learned from them.
Once you have learned the basics about gear and skills from somone who knows, then you can begin on your own. I think the best way to go about it is in very small steps. The simple rule is to start by staying close to the car or the house. If you live in snow country, then your first snow camping trip on your own hook should be in your backyard. If anything goes wrong, safety is close at hand. If you don't live in snow country, then you'll have to get to it, but you should stay close to the trailhead and the car. You want to be close enough so that you can get out safely no matter what - in the worst weather, in the middle of the night. That probably means you're going to be within a few hundred yards of the car that first night. Play it safe! Also, you should have plenty of experience in winter daytrips before you go on an overnight. I have suggested in the past that a great way to maek the transition from winter day trips to overnights is to go out for an all-day day trip, carrying everything you would take on an overnight, bu don't actually spend the night out. You'll find that it's quite differnt travelling with that big pack instead of a day pack, and at the end of the day you are back at the car, safe and sound, with much learning under your belt. Then you might try the same thing but finsih the day close to the car, find a site, set up camp, and spend the night. It seems a little silly to go out for a long day with all your gear just to camp so close to the car that you could have just left your stuff at the car, but it means that you have that easy out if anything goes wrong. And it's very easy for things to go wrong in the winter - the margins of safety are much, much smaller than in the summer. From there you should continue with small steps, making your trips longer and more adventurous as you gain experience.
When the snow covers the ground, the mountains and forests are transformed into another world. To have the privelege of enjoying that world takes work. You have to put in the time to gain the experience to enjoy it safely. You need to respect the power of the weather to destroy your life very quickly. But once you reach that point where you can travel safely in the snowy wilderness (which will take time and effort), there is nothing like it
You may notice I have not mentioned gear at all. That's becasue the gear is the easy part, and there is lots of good advice on all kinds of gear elsewhere in this forum and from other sources. Knowing how to use the gear, how to deal with the weather and the snow conditions, knowing when to go and when not to go, and when to turn back, that's the hard part, that's the part that takes time to learn.

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#105240 - 10/21/08 11:15 PM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: Paul]
kutenay Offline
member

Registered: 10/12/04
Posts: 102
Loc: B.C. Canada
That is the BEST post on this topic I have ever read and I totally concur. I have a lot of solo, remote wilderness winter camping experience and I have had my share of "close calls". I can and will give very detailed advice to those genuinely interested in this most rewarding form of backpacking, but, that post perfectly sums up what one should do to start.

Remember one vital thing about winter camping, you are NOT out there to prove how tough, how brave or how foolhardy you are/can be, you are there to have fun and learn. So, there is NO shame in deciding that things are getting too much for you and returning home to try again another time. Anyone who is "macho" in winter wilderness is a moron with a death wish.....here in BC, we see a lot of this and many die every year who do not have to.

Again, dammed good post!

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#105241 - 10/22/08 07:03 AM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: kutenay]
finallyME Offline
member

Registered: 09/24/07
Posts: 2710
Loc: Utah
I agree, great post. I am at the other end of kutenay with winter backpacking. But, having just moved to a snow area, I plan on following the great advice to get into it. Thanks for the informative post.
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#105242 - 10/22/08 07:27 AM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: Paul]
ringtail Offline
member

Registered: 08/22/02
Posts: 2296
Loc: Colorado Rockies
This post should be made a sticky post.
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"In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not."
Yogi Berra

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#105243 - 10/22/08 10:12 AM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: ringtail]
TomD Offline
Moderator

Registered: 10/30/03
Posts: 4963
Loc: Marina del Rey,CA
While I concur that Paul's advice is well written, I must point out that his post is not the first one to make these observations. Having said that, repeating the warnings about the challenges of winter camping never goes out of fashion.

The experienced winter campers who post regularly in this forum, such as Jim Shaw, Rick, Phat, JAK and Steve (BMISF) and a few others who I apologze to for leaving out their names (you know who you are) have been making these same points for years. New winter campers would be doing themselves a favor by reading through the archives, especially the trip reports.

We have a sticky that now says READ THIS FIRST which is is aimed at prospective posters who want to offer winter advice and I hope people actually take the time to read it.
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#105244 - 10/22/08 11:56 AM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: finallyME]
thecook Offline


Registered: 10/03/08
Posts: 541
Loc: Minnesota
I can't say that I am anywhere nearas experienced at winter camping as many who post here but I do go out regularly in the winter and would add one more piece of advice for those just getting started - go with a least a friend if not a group! Winter is not the time to be learning the hard lessons like, no that ice wasn't thick enough to cross on, by yourself. Having someone else to share the burden and help out can literally be the difference between life and death, especially for someone just learning.

P.S. State Parks make great places to learn how to winter camp. Often you can set up your tent next to your car and there are heated building close by if you run into trouble.
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If I wouldn't eat it at home, why would I want to eat it on the trail?

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#105245 - 10/22/08 04:20 PM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: Paul]
Rick Offline
member

Registered: 05/10/04
Posts: 708
Loc: Ontario, Canada
Very good advice Paul.

I can't count how many times I've winter camped in the backyard or local conservation area. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> Nothing goes into the field that isn't tested and proven.

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#105246 - 10/23/08 03:31 PM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: Rick]
OregonMouse Offline
member

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6371
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
I'd like to echo what everyone has said. You can die of hypothermia in mid-summer, but there's far, far less margin for error in the winter.

I never thought of winter camping until I joined a hiking/mountaineering club in the 1980's. They offered a class in winter survival, so in the interest of increasing my skills I decided to take it. There was a three-hour evening lecture, followed by a weekend in the Cascades during which we built--and slept in--igloos and attempted to build snow caves. It was a low-snow winter, so the snow wasn't deep enough for the latter--in fact, we all had to shovel a big heap of snow and pack it down before the demonstrator could show us how.e cave. The instructors buried avalanche transceivers and each of us had to try to pick up the signals. I learned a lot (especially about extra insulation underneath when sleeping on snow!). I finally decided, though, that winter camping is not for me. Spending the long winter nights cooped up in a tent-or igloo-is not my cup of tea. Must be my age.

The point is, though, that there are a lot of extra skills needed when you go out there in such adverse conditions. I would never have considered going out on my own without having taken the class and without more knowledgeable people along! The class not only taught me a lot but made me realize how much I have yet to learn. I've done a lot of summer and fall backpacking when I would wake up to several inches of snow on the ground, but that is not winter camping!


Edited by OregonMouse (10/23/08 03:36 PM)
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#105247 - 10/23/08 07:51 PM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: Paul]
Paul Offline
member

Registered: 09/30/02
Posts: 778
Loc: California
Thnaks. It's nice to be appreciated! And yes, all of this has been said before, by various members at various times. I think it bears repeating, though. Maybe us old snow campers should take it in turns to write this post each fall.

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#105248 - 10/27/08 04:19 PM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: Paul]
OttoStover Offline
member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 62
Loc: Norway
I fully agree to what has been said above. But as I live in a country where winter is long and hard, we too have developed some "good sensible rules" to follow. We call them "fjellvettreglene". They were first worked out in the way they are now after a disasterous year, I think 18 people died in the easter that year (back in 67) I've taken the liberty to copy them fron the english pages of DNT, the main Norwegian trekking orgaisation.

The Norwegian Mountain Code (called "Fjellvettreglene" in Norwegian) is directed towards your safety.

Be prepared
Be sufficiently experienced and fit for your intended tour. Practice hiking or skiing with a pack away from trails and tracks, even if conditions are poor. It's then that you gain the experience needed for mountain tours. Your physical and mental fitness, your experience and your gear determine the sensible length of a tour.

Leave word of your route
Many cabins, hotels and other lodgings have tour notification boxes in which you may put written notice of your tour route. In an emergency, the details you give will aid the rescue service. However, the best safeguard is to plan your tour so you need not be rescued by others.

Be weatherwise
An old adage advises that you should always be alert to forecasts of bad weather yet not rely completely on forecasts of good weather. Regardless of the forecast, you should be prepared for bad weather. Even a fresh breeze (Beaufort Scale 5) combined with sleet or frost can produce frostbite. Weather forecasts aren't sufficiently detailed to forecast local weather in mountain areas. Despite forecasts usually being right, it's difficult to predict when weather will change. So you should heed forecasts in adjoining lowlands as well as in the mountains, and follow weather changes.

Be equipped for bad weather and frost.
Always take a rucksack and proper mountain gear. Put on more clothing if you see approaching bad weather or if the temperature drops. A roomy anorak, long wind trousers, wind mittens and warm headgear are good outer clothing. Put them on in good time. Stand with your back to the wind and help others put on their clothing. Use a survival bag for additional protection.

Learn from the locals
Local people often can tell you about avalanche train, wind and snow conditions and good choices of route.

Use map and compass
Always have and know how to use map and compass. Before departing, study the map and trace your route to gain a basis for a successful tour. Follow the map, even when weather and visibility are good, so you always know where you are. When visibility deteriorates, it can be difficult to determine your position. Read the map as you go and take note of points you can recognize. Rely on the compass. Use a transparent, watertight map case attached to your body so it cannot blow away. Take bearings between terrain points on the map that can guide you to your goal. Use the compass to stay on a bearing from a known point.

Don't go solo
If you trek alone, there's nobody to give first aid or notify a rescue service in an emergency. Yet there isn't always safety in numbers. A large party is inadvisable, particularly if its members are unequally experienced. A party never is stronger than its weakest member.

Turn back in time; sensible retreat is no disgrace
If conditions deteriorate so you doubt that you can attain your goal, turn about and return. Don't try to defy weather, as others may risk their lives to rescue you. If you change your goal, be sure to notify the cabin that expects you. If you start a tour in windy, uncertain weather, go against the wind. Then it will be easier to backtrack if need be.

Conserve energy and build a snow shelter if necessary
The stronger the wind, the tougher the trekking. Suit speed to the weakest member of the party and avoid sweating. If you go in single file, turn often to ensure that the others follow, more so in bad weather when it's hard to hear voices. Remember to eat and drink frequently. Physical activity increases the body's need for liquid intake, even if you don't feel thirsty. Insufficient food and drink lead to lethargy, and you can become discouraged. Start building a snow shelter before you are exhausted; a few hours is enough to build a snow trench or snow cave. When you have surplus time and energy, practice building a shelter; the experience gained can be valuable. A survival bag can provide emergency shelter.

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#105249 - 10/28/08 06:11 PM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: OttoStover]
Earthling Offline
member

Registered: 02/22/03
Posts: 3228
Loc: USA
Thanks Paul, and Otto for reiterating the dangers of Winter camping for folks, newbies and experinced alike. Winter camping can be beautiful, and I've found in small doses, is most enjoyable.

Oh, and Otto, what is that cheese I am thinking of that i used to get when hiking in Norway <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/confused.gif" alt="" /> brown, carmel like, I can't for the life of me recall the name <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/tongue.gif" alt="" />
_________________________
PEPPER SPRAY AIN'T BRAINS IN A CAN!

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#105250 - 10/28/08 08:11 PM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: Paul]
TomD Offline
Moderator

Registered: 10/30/03
Posts: 4963
Loc: Marina del Rey,CA
Paul is absolutely right. I haven't done that much snow camping myself, but I Iearn something each time I go and it is good to read the posts in this forum, so I know what to think about while I am out.

A beginner will see the same points being made over and over and wonder why, but the reason is that many of the posters have learned the same lessons in different ways under different conditions. Reading them collectively is a great way to see what is important.
_________________________
Don't get me started, you know how I get.

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#105251 - 10/28/08 10:32 PM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: Earthling]
bmisf Offline
member

Registered: 09/15/03
Posts: 629
Quote:
...what is that cheese I am thinking of that i used to get when hiking in Norway <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/confused.gif" alt="" /> brown, carmel like, I can't for the life of me recall the name <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/tongue.gif" alt="" />


Gjetost (or Mysost).

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#105252 - 10/29/08 05:47 AM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: bmisf]
OttoStover Offline
member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 62
Loc: Norway
Quote:
Quote:
...what is that cheese I am thinking of that i used to get when hiking in Norway <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/confused.gif" alt="" /> brown, carmel like, I can't for the life of me recall the name <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/tongue.gif" alt="" />


Gjetost (or Mysost).


<img src="/forums/images/graemlins/laugh.gif" alt="" />Yes you are partly right. It is explained here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brunost The word gjetost or geitost means simply goats cheese, and this may also be a white cheese here in Norway. Mysost means made from myse or whey, often also called flÝtemysost (flÝte=cream). The usual word is just brunost. Then it is made from mostly cow milk, and the most used name for that type of brunost is Gudbrandsdalsost. Funny that this comes up in a forum for winter and snowshooing, but yes many of us Norwegians may hardly go on tour without a slice of bread with this brunost, me included. *LOL* perhaps we are close of being off topic. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />

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#105253 - 10/29/08 12:10 PM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: OttoStover]
bmisf Offline
member

Registered: 09/15/03
Posts: 629
Thanks, Otto - good to know. It's usually sold as "gjetost" here even if it's really brunost; I'll have to look for the genuine thing! Yum...

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#105254 - 11/04/08 06:04 PM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: bmisf]
Earthling Offline
member

Registered: 02/22/03
Posts: 3228
Loc: USA
Thanks Otto and BMISF <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> that's the goat's cheese I was recalling <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/ooo.gif" alt="" /> It's an aquired taste in cheese for folks from the USA that were raised eating mostly cheddar and such. But once you aquire the taste for gjetoast and bread it'll be with you for life!

I think talk of Gjetoast is ok in Winter camping talk Otto. After toasting some bread and indulging in it with some Gjetoast and salmon I am enjoying the Winter view more :smirk
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PEPPER SPRAY AIN'T BRAINS IN A CAN!

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#105255 - 11/05/08 04:53 AM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: OregonMouse]
JAK Offline
member

Registered: 03/19/04
Posts: 2569
I never get tired of threads like this. Here are some more fun ideas to build winter camping/hiking experience.

1. After you've put your winter car survival kit in the car, drive to a snowy trail head and test it out by spending a night in or next to your car, whatever your strategy is. I think there are already some good winter car survival kit threads, but maybe we could start another anyway. Incorporate a day hike or ski and maybe some play in the snow, but within your limits. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/laugh.gif" alt="" />

2. After you've done #1, test out your winter hiking/camping/skiing kit in much the same way, not too far from the car as others have described above. Try things like not using your blue foam pad, or not using your sleeping pad, or getting some stuff wet, but always with some backup plan.

Most winter training courses involve some playing in the snow, usually something practical like building a snow shelter or practicing avalanche rescue. I think that's a great idea because it really tests out your clothing system, and how your body responds. If you don't get wet and tired and cold then your not having fun, and if your not having fun your not learning. Push the envelop when in a controlled environment and have a backup plan. Learn to conserve your energy and stay well within your envelop when you don't.

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#105256 - 11/05/08 11:09 AM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: JAK]
hikerduane Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/03
Posts: 2123
Loc: Meadow Valley, CA
I get to test my limits every year, outside shoveling/throwing snow, after/during a storm. I don't want to do any testing when I am trying to have fun.:)

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#105257 - 11/05/08 04:28 PM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: JAK]
kutenay Offline
member

Registered: 10/12/04
Posts: 102
Loc: B.C. Canada
Jak, that is an EXCELLENT idea and EXACTLY what people SHOULD DO!

I grew up in the mountains and we built various brush shelters, log huts, igloos, snow caves and quinzees as a part of out play as kids. When I bought my firsr copy of "Mountaineering" The Freedom of the Hills", I was already working alone on isolated fire lookouts in BC and was quite surprised to see that most of what is in there was what we had done as kids for fun.

I love winter camping and largely because it is SO peaceful and really relaxes me. I am very comfortable alone in wilderness far from other people, BUT, I can make mistakes like any other human and I am always aware of the highly skilled and experienced friends of mine who have died in the mountains where I was born and raised. So, practice of the type you suggest here is THE wise way to go, IMHO and a humble attitude toward Nature is a damm good idea, as well.

I would bet that more people get into trouble in winter due to a "macho" attitude than for any other reason and some practice can teach one just how easy it is to get hypothermic and/or have equipment failures. Good post, like the one that initiated this thread.

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#105258 - 11/06/08 04:40 PM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: kutenay]
JAK Offline
member

Registered: 03/19/04
Posts: 2569
Hey kutenay,
I used to read your posts at that other place. I learned a lot from your posts, like with synthetics if stuff gets wet and frozen you can beat the ice crystals out of it after its frozen, and snow baths. Stuff like that. Doesn't get quite as cold here as where you're at, but it can get cold enough. Do you still have your two dogs? You must be getting on yourself are you?

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#105259 - 11/08/08 10:26 AM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: JAK]
kutenay Offline
member

Registered: 10/12/04
Posts: 102
Loc: B.C. Canada
I had to put down "Woden", the larger of my two Rottweiler littermates in Jan. 07 due to an ongoing cerebral infection which we could never cure and the subsequent problems it caused. He was a "problem dog" that show judges, vets and so forth were afraid of; he weighed an honest 160 lbs., was utterly fearless and was finally given to me by his breeders as they thought I might be able to handle him. He was totally loving, gentle and devoted to me, the day I put him down was like the day my brother died, but, it had to be done.

I still have his brother, "Axel", who is past nine and has " Masticatory Myocitis", but, is still a fabulous dog and is now training "Lily", a lovely 10 month old bitch from the same breeders. I love all dogs and cats as well, but, I absolutely am bonkers about Rottweilers and they certainly repay my love with loyalty and devotion. They DO cost a LOT to feed, tho'!

Yup, I ain't getting any younger, 62 now, but, am still actively bushwhacking and a buddy and I leave for the Kootenays for an 8 day backpacking hunting trip this coming Monday. It is snowing there now, but, it is not nearly as cold as it used to get when I lived there....I kinda miss real cold weather camping, always enjoyed it and still get out as often as I can.

I'm getting quite interested in pack goats, as well, seems a good way to explore remote country and still carry enough supplies to last you for a few weeks. Horses are such a hassle, Llamas are very costly and useless in areas with big creeks, but, the goats seem just ideal for BC conditions. I plan on backpacking until I am into my 90s, no reason why not, if, a person wants to.

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#105260 - 11/08/08 02:12 PM Re: How to start winter camping [Re: kutenay]
JAK Offline
member

Registered: 03/19/04
Posts: 2569
I didn't know you were that young. I must be catching up or something.
Sorry to here about your Woden. Very interesting about the goats.

There's always something new to try eh.

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