WinterCampers.com founder Matt is quoted in this article which appeared in the Times Union Explore! Magazine.
Winter Wonderland By Gillian Scott/Life@Home
You say you love winter. When the temperatures drop and the white flakes start to fall, you’re among the first ones out there with your skis, sled or snowshoes.
But do you really love winter? Really, really love it? Do you love it enough to camp in it?
For some Capital Region residents, their love of sleeping outdoors doesn’t end when the seasons change. “I love winter camping because there’s no bugs, there’s no people and there’s something about the quiet of the woods,” says Schodack resident Brian Wantuch. “The snow absorbs so much of the sound and there are no leaves on the trees. I enjoy the solitude.”
Wantuch says he also appreciates the challenge of being outdoors in the winter. “It’s more of a survival instinct that kicks in,” he says. “A lot of it is when you’re done with it and you come back and you think, jeez, it was minus 25 degrees last night and I was in a lean-to and I survived.” Wantuch is not alone.
“It does lend itself to a certain coolness factor in that you are one of only a very select few sleeping outside in the dead of winter,” says Carlisle resident Matthew Hay.
Hay has been winter camping for about 15 years. His uncle took him on his first trip when he was 27. Over the years, they’ve convinced friends and family members to join them — trips now take place at least three or four times each winter — and, with Hay’s brother Mark, they founded the website wintercampers.com, where they share winter camping tales and information.
Winter camping isn’t just a guy thing, either. Karen “Big K” Rosencrans, a longtime instructor with the Winter Mountaineering School, says men and women may go out in the woods for different reasons — men may be more interested in the challenge and the competitive factors while women tend to be more interested in the aesthetic experience — but neither sex is more suited to winter camping than the other.
“It may be physical, but it’s also a lot of mental preparation,” says Rosencrans. “When you’re out there so long there’s fatigue. You get tired. You can choose to be cranky or you can choose to say, ‘Hey, it’s minus-20, isn’t this cool?’”
“I feel like if you love the outdoors, you love the outdoors. The cold isn’t going to keep you inside,” says Ryan Doyle, outdoor leadership coordinator for the Adirondack Mountain Club. Winter camping, he says, is “just another way to get out into the outdoors and experience all the things it has to offer.”
The ADK offers a Winter Camping 101 class every year in the Adirondack High Peaks. The course takes place over a long weekend, with participants meeting on Saturday morning, hiking in to a camp location, camping Saturday and Sunday nights and hiking out on Monday.
“We’re looking for folks who have extensive three-season experience with camping and backpacking,” Doyle says, describing the course as “a real overview of all the different winter skills you need to be comfortable, to have a minimal amount of risk and to do a trip that’s relatively low-impact on the land.”
The course not only covers camping skills sich as how to keep a tent stable in soft snow or how to get water when streams and lakes are frozen, but also nutrition, snowshoeing, and planning and preparation, with a big emphasis on decision-making.
“Winter presents some added challenges with the cold and the lack of daylight you have,” Doyle says. “There aren’t as many folks out in the backcountry that time of year so we want to make sure folks are making good decisions about the things that they do and their behavior so they don’t find themselves in some kind of hitch.”
“With summer camping, you can get away with inexperience and mistakes a lot more than you can in the winter,” Hay says. “A situation that could lead to an uncomfortable experience or night in the summer can be deadly in the winter. … The nights can be very long and miserable if you are not ready for them.”
For anyone interested in giving winter camping a try, our winter campers recommend starting out slow, maybe even just trying it out in the backyard. Some campgrounds, such as the ADK’s campground at Heart Lake, are open in the winter (though amenities such as toilets and showers may be closed). At a campground, new winter campers can experience the outdoors, but still be close to their cars if they need to bail out during the night. You can find year-round state campgrounds through reserveamerica.com.
“I really encourage folks to walk before you run, especially in the wintertime when the risks are a little bit higher,” Doyle says. “Before you know it, you can take all the things that you already know and tweak them and hone them and you’ll be able to travel in the wintertime with success and comfort.”
The 10 essentials
The list of items you should bring along to winter camp in safety and comfort is too long to reproduce here. But there are 10 essential systems recommended by the Seattle-based group the Mountaineers that experts endorse. These systems can be adapted according to season:
- Sun protection
- First-aid supplies
- Repair kit and tools
- Emergency shelter
Want to get started — but a little worried? Try taking a class.
Winter Camping 101: Jan 12-14, 2013.
$180 for ADK members, $198 for non-members.
Call the Adirondack Mountain Club at (518) 523-3441 for more information.
Hot tips from cold-weather campers
- Duplicate gear: Carry multiple hats and sets of gloves so you have something dry to use when one pair gets wet from sweat or snow. Make sure multiple members of the group are carrying stoves, in case one stops working.
- Buy good boots: “Good boots are imperative. You need to be able to keep your feet dry and warm.”
- Wear synthetic or wool clothing: “Absolutely nothing cotton.”
- Get a good sleeping bag: Buy or rent a bag rated to zero degrees or colder.
- Try a sled: Even cheap sleds from WalMart can be used to help drag your gear into a backcountry campsite.
- Don’t go alone: “For safety’s sake I would say at least a group of three people. If something happens to someone, one person can stay with them while the other goes for help.”
- Drink up: “You don’t tend to think about drinking water as much when it is cold but you can easily get dehydrated. Drinking warm beverages helps keep you warm from the inside out.”
- Stay warm: Wear layers. Mittens are warmer than gloves. Insulate yourself from the ground when sitting or sleeping by using a closed cell pad or Thermarest-style pad.
- Stay dry: Avoid sweating as much as possible. When you get to your destination, change into all dry clothes from head to feet. “Once you start getting chilled it’s harder to get warmed up again.”
- Getting started: “If you’re new, gently move into it. Start in the fall.”
- Eat well: “In the winter, you can have a really good menu because you have a refrigerator right there.”
- Get good gear: The four expensive essentials — where you should be ready to spend more money — are a good sleeping bag, a rain suit, a backpack and boots. “You have to make sure you get the best you can.”
Gillian Scott co-writes the Times Union’s Outdoors blog. Visit blog.timesunion.com/outdoors.