Inevitable, isn’t it? The snow? Cold weather? Winter opens up an entirely new realm for you to explore new places and experience new sights, sounds, and scents.Winter is your friend not a reason to hibernate. Embrace it.
Even if you’ve only camped in the summer months, you’re still bringing experience to your first winter camping trip. Winter camping does demand some refinement of your skills and gear for staying warm and dry, but common sense and logic will still be your best defense.
Have a Plan
Winter camping demands a plan. If you’re not huddling by the campfire or hunkering down in your sleeping bag, you need to be doing something that will keep you warm. I like to combine my winter camping trips with cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Ultimately, I choose camping destinations where I can do that.
Have an Escape Plan
No matter how meticulously you’ve planned your trip, crap happens. Gear can get wet. Hypothermia can set in. Your camp stove could go on the fritz. Injuries happen. An escape plan allows for a quick retreat. If you’re at a campground, you’ll have easy access to your car. If you’re in a more remote location, your car could be a day’s hike away.
Start out Close to Home
For your first winter camping trip, I don’t recommend starting out with a multi-day backcountry endeavor in the remotest part of the BWCA. Traveling into remote wilderness demands expert skills and expert gear, and, takes a swelling physical and mental toll on your mind and body. It’s not easy being in the freezing and possibly wet, snowy wilderness day after day.
Try someplace more local, like Wild River State Park, or, a place you’ve been to previously, either on a winter day hike or a camping trip during warmer months.
Wild River State Park has eight backpack sites where you can park your car and backpack into your campsite. Distance varies from a quarter mile to about two miles. This is a great dry run and practice session for multi-day trips as your skills and experience grow. You’ll learn to rely on self-sufficiency, but if things suddenly turn ugly, your car is a short hike away. If you’re not ready to pack in, there are 96 drive-in sites.
Check the Weather Channel
If the forecast calls for extremely cold or stormy weather or whiteout conditions, reschedule your trip. Moderate winter conditions are challenging enough. Severe winter weather has an amazing capacity to drain your energy and confidence.
When to Go
The days are shorter in December and January. February, in the Midwest at least, tends to have temperatures fluctuate from freezing cold to relatively comfortable or freak snowstorms to freezing rain. If you live a place with a harsh winter climate, consider making your first winter trip in March or late November. It’s not to cold and depending on where you live, it’s great training for true winter conditions.