Camping is a wonderful way to extend your visit to natural places. Camping on snow can take the experience to a whole different level. One of the safest and best ways to practice snow camping is to do so in your own backyard. Out in the field is not the time to test gear and methods. Once you learn some of the tricks of camping on snow you can avoid the summer crowds. Whether you are simply camping at higher elevations above the snow line, or taking advantage of the outdoors at a time when few other campers will be present, camping in winter provides special challenges that warm weather camping does not. Special considerations must be made to avoid hypothermia and injuries due to the cold including frostbite, trench foot, and chilblains. Because of this, your choices and your equipment should be geared toward keeping you warm and dry. To make your winter camping experience enjoyable and safe, here are a few tips.
Find a Suitable Site
Start looking for a campsite a few hours before you want to camp and certainly well before dark. Allowing enough time to select and set up a campsite will make things much easier and stress-free. Setting up a winter campsite generally takes at least 1 hour and is not something to start when you are bone tired after a day skiing or snowshoeing. You will need to use your skis or snowshoes to flatten the area. If too much brush comes up through the snow while you are packing, it might not make a good site since brush will be poking into your tent.
You could get creative and make a camp under a big tree well so that your tent is not on very much snow. If you do choose to camp under a tree, please remember to take precautions to ensure that the tree's limbs are not heavily loaded with snow, which can be very dangerous (or even fatal) to a camper if the tree suddenly dumps its burden. You can also shovel out some snow to enlarge the tree well. Pack an area much larger than your tent. You will need to walk around the tent as well as get in and out of it easily without post holing. Consider packing down a separate place to cook if you are not cooking within the tent's vestibule. Depending on snow conditions, your site could firm up quite quickly. If not, refrain from stomping all around or it will be full of trip hazards later in the night. If it is an extremely windy or exposed site, you may consider building some snow walls or choosing a site that is in a hillside or against some trees or bushes that can act as a wind break.
Using the Snow
If there is more than one person, then divide the chores. One person can be packing the tent site, another person can be making the trail to the "outhouse" and another should be getting the kitchen set up and water going.
Melting snow takes a long time. Getting water boiling for drinking as soon as you get to camp is a good idea. You will cool down very quickly and hot drinks will help with energy, warmth, and morale. If you are using a butane lighter to light the stove, then you will learn quickly to keep that near your body if you want it to work. Always make sure to carry waterproof matches.
Choose a place to retrieve clean snow for drinking and cooking, and make sure that everybody in the group understands where it is and that it shouldn't be disturbed or used for other purposes. Use only a clean pot or shovel to scoop snow. In high-impact camping areas that see a lot of use, people can get giardia from unclean snow. If this is the case, be extra cautious of where you collect snow. This is when the saying "Don't eat the yellow snow" is not a joke.
Designate one place as the pee spot and another as the "outhouse." If you are using some type of groover (poop can), then choose a place for its location. If not, then determine where you will be defecating and stomp out a trail to that area. Obviously, these places should be well away from the general camping area.
Simple Ways to Stay Warm
Staying warm is extremely important. One of the easiest ways is to be well hydrated by drinking often throughout the day. Another is to change into dry clothes as soon as the hard work of packing out the campsite and the tent is up. One example is to change from the day's clothes into the warmer camp clothes such as a dry polypro or merino wool shirt, down pants, down coat and camp shoes or booties. These work exceptionally well, are lightweight, and are easy to pack.
Making a hot water bottle for your sleeping bag is luxurious and an excellent way to keep warm. Using BPA-free water bottles or metal bottles is vital: Putting hot water in the old-style plastic water bottles will release harmful toxins that don't go away even when the water is no longer hot. If you use metal bottles you will need to put them in a sock or mitten or you will risk get burned. Test all caps for tightness and leaks before putting them in your sleeping bag. You can put one down by your feet and another near your torso. The water will still be warm in the morning and you can use it to start cooking the next day.
Cooking in your tent's vestibule is great if the weather is windy or snowy. It is also nice if you can do the cooking while still in your sleeping bag. Have the stove and pot set up the night before so all you have to do is take your water bottle out of the sleeping bag, pour it into the pot, and light the stove. The main thing to worry about is carbon monoxide poisoning. Do not cook inside your tent. If you are cooking in the vestibule make sure a flap is open. Do not heat your tent with the stove. People die every year from carbon monoxide poisoning, even in tents. Also, make sure not to spill or knock over the water. You can make a stove board by taking a 1/4-inch piece of plywood (cover the edges with duct tape) cut to 7 by 12 inches. If you don't use a stove board, everything will melt into the snow and surely fall over.