I'm new to winter camping and new to the forum. I started camping here in the michigan winter with my brother in law but he likes to build a lean to shelter with tarps and put the fire near. We make a tarp floor and put our sleeping pad and bag on that. I however just got a western mountaineering bag and am worried having it that close to the fire as well as the condensation. Do any of you camp like this and if so any suggestions how to keep my bag safe?
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Well, the lean to tarp with a fire in front isn't a bad way to go, I do pretty much the same thing, but if take it a few steps further and make a "Super Shelter", where you put a plastic front panel on the lean-to you'll be warmer and protect your bag from sparks and embers.
Here's a video that shows one way to set one up. I use a piece of single layer bubble foil insulation for a floor in mine, and i made a small "Baker's Oven" style tent out of SOL emergency blankets instead of using a simple tarp. Any condensation inside the shelter will dry up fast if you restart your fire in the morning.
I would not put a WM bag next to a fire. You spent way too much on that bag to ruin it. When I winter camp, I make sure that I don't need a fire to stay warm. A fire is nice, and I do use them, but they shouldn't be a necessity. However, if you want to sleep somewhat close to the fire, I would bring a wool blanket and cover your WM bag with it for protection.
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Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
I would not put a WM bag next to a fire...
Neither would I, but I would put one inside a shelter like I've described, with a plastic sheet between the fire and the interior of the shelter.
I agree that you shouldn't "need" a fire at all, but the tent I made is lighter than any tent its size I've seen and it works wonderfully well with a campfire. The lean-to in the video isn't near as light as my tent, but it would work pretty close to as well for retaining heat from a campfire, and protecting your bag from sparks.
Since the OP's brother likes using a lean-to with a campfire the solution I offer is a viable option for them. It offers protection for his bag and a warmer shelter for their winter camping. Winter nights are long and cold and dark in MI, so I think it's a very good option.
I'll also add for clarity that it only takes a small fire built with sticks less than 2-3" in diameter to warm a "Super Shelter". You don't need a rip snorting, ember popping fire, and you don't keep a fire burning all night long just because you're using a campfire tent. You warm the interior of the tent and your sleeping bag inside it before you crawl in for the night and let the fire die down.
I have to add this: It's backpacking. If I had to worry about handling a WM bag in a delicate manner, as compared to any other bag, I wouldn't own one.
That's a good point that applies to gear in general, Bill. You can get some incredibly light things, but if you have to change your style in order to "baby" the gear because it's so delicately built, it's probably gear that's not all that reliable to begin with. I'm not talking about whether it can stand up to being thrown around or bounced off rocks, merely whether it needs to be in specially padded cases, or other "special" handling. All gear should be handled gently, but that's "normal" gentleness, not stressing out over what the next breeze will do to it.
Having said that, I'd submit that WM bags don't require any special handling compared to other good down bags. They're built plenty sturdy enough. However, any nylon-shelled bag - good or cheap, down or synthetic - is vulnerable to campfire sparks, and should be equally protected (like the door on your tent does.) The price tag of the WM bags simply creates an erroneous perception that the damage is more severe, or that they need to receive extra care in use.
just a note of philosophy echoing what's already been said. Good suggestions have been offered regarding protecting the bag from embers. I would say, though, that I accept the occasional ember if I use a fire, and though it is possible to experience a bag-ruining (big big) ember, for the most part I just don't worry that I might have to patch up an ember hole or two in my expensive down bag.
Sort of like worrying to death about the first scratch on a new car. We eventually get over it.