start winter camping at home

Posted by: Jimshaw

start winter camping at home - 11/24/11 02:09 PM

I know some of you live in apartments but those with backyards have a great spot to start winter camping. I'll just say that part of the thrill of snow camping is just being out in what seems like a really crazy sort of dangerous spot. shocked You need to temper that by being able to bail out easily and to have a bathroom handy. There are many many things to learn before you load your stuff into the trunk and drive to a snow park.

To start off, go out and pitch you shelter. Especially in snow or wind, this is an entire "outing" in its self. You might come in for a cuppa once or twice before getting the tent set up correctly. Note you may be trying some other thing like a tarp or Hammock, just set them up, then take it down and fold it up and put it in, or strapped onto your pack. Note that I prefer having my tent strapped to the back of my pack so I can access it without having to open my pack in a storm.

The next step, and this maybe on another day, set up your shelter, and put your sleeping pads and bag(s) in it. Put extra sleeping bags in the shelter if you have them, and extra pads. Then when its time, go crawl into your sleeping bag and try to get comfortable. Note that you have an array of extra gear. You might get into the thickest sleeping bag and learn how to adjust the hood. If you get cold pull another sleeping bag over you comforter style, and continue to add pads under you until you have enough insulation to keep the bottom side of your body warm and somewhat comfortable. [learning to sleep warm in a sleeping bag is an art of its own, if you are cold, it may not be the bags fault, you just need more practice]

Sometime in the night, after learning what you can do, go indoors, use the bathroom and crawl into your bed with its electric blanket. Coming in after midnight is not a failure, after all your trying to learn something and being able to say "I slept all night on my porch" isn't really gonna win you a lot of fame anyway. laugh

Try this a few times until you get an understanding of what is required to be warm and comfortable and then try it in an actual snow storm. When you're feeling like you have the three hour snow camping trip down, try an all nighter. You can come in and use the bathroom and go back to your tent. You need to learn to get out of a sleeping bag and tent while its cold windy and snowing, and how to get back in without dragging in a lot of snow. I can see that as many as dozen such nights could be required to learn what you know to do everything smoothly - including maybe an attempt at a pee bottle or a visit to a bush. shocked

You will need to practice lighting your stove, melting snow, and cooking in the cold. None of this is trivial and again - take it all outside and do it seversl times until you have complete confidence in your cooking system. IF YOU INSIST ON USING ALCOHOL, YOU BETTER PRACTISE ENOUGH TO BECOME PROFICIENT BEFORE TRYING IT IN AN ISOLATED SNOWY COLD SPOT.

While doing all of the above you should be experimenting with clothes. 2 pairs of cotton sweat pants, a sweater, an old down jacket, a hat and gloves. If you're lucky you will have really bad weather while training and get soaking wet, your tent/tarp blow down and your sleeping bag wet. If not you could maybe turn on your sprinklers and try to pack up your gear while staying warm and dry. ONLY BY FAILURE will you learn to appreciate to value of functional gear and knowledge of how to use it. By practising these things in really nasty weather you become qualified at the the single most difficult winter camping act - packing and bailing in a blizzard. Be aware that some very experienced people go into the shower with their gear for half an hour to test it.

After all this - which may take a whole winter season, you're ready to drive the car to snow park and camp within a hundred yards of your vehicle. I will tell you from experience that 300 yards can be epic.Good luck, but get out there, fancy gear ain't required just have extras and backup until you become confident..
Jim smile
Posted by: DTape

Re: start winter camping at home - 11/24/11 02:47 PM

Great advice Jim!

Being out in the winter is an awesome experience, but not one where you want to be "learning your system". I still use my backyard as a testing ground for any new gear so I know exactly how it works in different conditions and in conjunction with other gear.
Posted by: Jimshaw

Re: start winter camping at home - 11/24/11 03:07 PM

I used to have a rule that if I had a replacement for piece of gear, that I must carry both the first time incase the replacement fails. frown Often a piece of gear is functional because it works well in concert with our other gear and substituting one piece, you may find the hard way that your system fails because the new piece does not perform a function that the original did. Then you start to realise that you can't really "mix and match" when you pack - you must pack from a list a take THE SAME gear on every trip, or risk the results of poor plannng. Once you get a good functional pack setup you want to keep it that way so its still together the next time you need it. I just remove the sleeping bag and clothes, the rest stays packed. Its a tad heavier because you have maybe 6 bandaids because I kida ppack for the next period) instead of 2 because its not a one use pack.

I still haven't been able to hang my hammock in the backyard where I can see the stars - its because I live in a Ponderosa forest.
Jim smile
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: start winter camping at home - 11/24/11 03:34 PM

For those who don't have or can't borrow a back yard, any nearby car campground (such as a state park) is good. You may not be able to crawl back into your own bed, but you can crawl into your car and run the heater. If it's snowy, just park where you can easily get out, make sure snow isn't covering the exhaust pipe, have a full tank of gas, and take chains, kitty litter or sand bags and shovel along.

I agree that not only for beginners but even for those of us with long experience, it's important to test out new gear thoroughly before taking it on a trip! That applies regardless of season. Set up that new tent, try it out, test with a hose to make sure it doesn't leak, practice putting it up and taking it down several times before taking it out on the trail.

For many of us, "shoulder season camping" (i.e. fall and spring) may not be much different from winter camping. That's certainly true here in NW Oregon!

Of course those of us west of the Cascades may have problems getting any experience at all backyard camping in snow. In two years of the 22 I've been here, it has looked like this image from December 2008:

Most years we might get an inch or two 2-3 times a winter, and probably an episode or two of freezing rain. Some years we get none at all!
Posted by: hikerduane

Re: start winter camping at home - 11/24/11 08:41 PM

Good advice, I hit the woods and work it out.:)
Jim, the lava beds you live at the edge of sure would be a great place to camp on. I know you have done that some, neat place to go. I was thinking of what you were meaning by the title of this thread. Both of us can go out our door or walk a short ways and be on public land.:) This Fall, I've been camping and bping quite a bit, getting out to use my stove collection. Off again this weekend for one night in the snow maybe, just gonna leave from my place and walk a few miles into the woods. Snow may have melted off where I will go, wherever that is. I'm sure the neighbors think I'm crazy enough hiking into the woods to camp in the snow or cold, without doing it in my yard.:)
Posted by: Heather-ak

Re: start winter camping at home - 11/25/11 01:56 AM

I'm hoping to do this next week. I've winter camped with other people but never by myself and I'm trying to get some confidence / more skills. However this depends on temps next week - the last two weeks have been record breaking cold! =) This time of year sucks for backpacking because we have so few hours of daylight, so in some ways it is perfect for backyard testing.
Posted by: Paulo

Re: start winter camping at home - 11/25/11 05:09 PM

Great advice. Anybody recommend a good 4 season shelter?
Posted by: TomD

Re: start winter camping at home - 11/25/11 09:05 PM

Depends on what you want-how big, how strong, how expensive. Once you narrow that down, you'll still have plenty of choices. My tent is an out of production EMS tent, so no personal recommendations. I did spend a couple of days in Jim Shaw's TNF MTN 24. That tent was in production for years and was replaced by the MTN 25.

There are a lot of other tents. Henry Shires makes a couple of lightweight winter tents, but I know nothing about them other than seeing pictures. I think Franco has seen them first hand.

Just by reputation, Hilleberg is top of the line, I saw some posts with some pics while searching around. There may be pictures of my tent on here too, if my old trip reports are still up.

Here's a shot of it with the vestibule folded back. Folded out, the vestibule looks like half of a cone cut down the center, as in the other picture.

I think I took this one while I was either just setting up or packing to leave, which is why everything is strewn around.

Posted by: Jimshaw

Re: start winter camping at home - 11/25/11 09:46 PM

It might be fun to have a "forum winter backyard campout".

Considering the temperature that you may be experienceing I'd like to suggest the obvious just to say it. Wear loose fitting wool socks, and have a warm soft pair of gloves just to wear inside your sleeping bag. NEVER expose bare flesh to the temps you will be in. After getting in your sleeping bag lay on your back and carefully layer your clothes - long underwear and fleece pants and fleece top of what ever should be carefully pulled down and up and interleaved for maximum warmth. If you need more - pull your down jacket over your sleeping bag over your torso and tuck it under your back which is towards the side of the tent giving more protection to your kidneys. Be sure to be very comfortable with your hood adjustments so you feel comfortable closing up - many people are cold because their heads stick out due to claustrophobia or fear of suffocation, or both. Get a small cuddly pillow - it will most likely have to go outside your sleeping bag not inside. A piece of fur over your face is nice when its really cold and a tent of course is much warmer than outside. And have lots and lots of padding underyou, like a 3-4 inch piece of open cell foam, so what if it weighs 20 pounds if you're on your back porch grin.
Jim smile
Posted by: Kent W

Re: start winter camping at home - 11/27/11 10:14 AM

All excellent advice. My son and I went to a state park to test our Hammocks etc last year end of Feb or earlly March. He needed to test all his gear as we were going on his first backpack trip soon. Good thing we did because we were in the Smokies first week of April. First night was at the campground after the drive of 12 hours. We Had severe temp drops and pouring rain all night. Needless to say glad for our Hammocks as ground tent pad was under 6 inches of water bye morning. Bye the time we reloaded our packs and took of for backcountry it was snowing hard. Bye nightfall there was six inches on the ground at 5000 feet. We managed fine but I wouldnt want to of had this weather on our practice trip. We did have a bit of trouble getting a fire started. We finally found enough dry lichens and a dab of his stove alcohol got her blazing. We both kept pretty warm down into the low twentys. The Hammock is a bit trickyer as the cold comes from below. We both were prepared from improvising from our state park trip. So yes Do Practice. Early spring in the mountains expect anything! Fall as well, higher the elevation colder and higher risk of severe weather. Happy Trails
Posted by: phat

Re: start winter camping at home - 11/30/11 10:22 PM

Originally Posted By Paulo
Great advice. Anybody recommend a good 4 season shelter?

Depending where you are, you may not need one..

If your plan is to winter camp somehwere exposed, with wind and howling blizzard, you might.

If you're in someplace like the sierras or BC where you can get 2-3 feet of wet heavy snow in a night - yes.

However, if you're midwest, where it's cold as heck, but you don't get huge wet snow dumps, you might not.

Where I am (alberta) we get plenty cold, but the snow load is usually dry fluffy stuff, and actually not that terribly much. I've done quite well with a "three season" tent midwinter. it's not like the tent keeps you warm anyway.

I'm just as likely to be out in winter in a golite hex, as my "real" four season tents (black diamond). even the black diamond is on the lighter end of anything four seasonesque. but it is important to remember when I say that that most of my trips I'm not going to see large snow load. It would be different if I were in Coastal BC or Washington or the like.
Posted by: Paulo

Re: start winter camping at home - 12/01/11 09:11 AM

I have a golite cave for 3 season and I'm thinking about doing some winter camping in the PNW, like the okanagan or possibly the cascades.
Posted by: Weston1000

Re: start winter camping at home - 09/10/17 04:17 PM

Home garden training in winter camping is a good idea. Winter camping away from home requires proper equipment, and extensive training and safety measures.

For example informing friends at home, where you will be at what time. And informing these friends, when and how they should call in a search & rescue mission.

Video: How to stay warm in a tent in the snow