Winter Camping: An Overnight Adventure


by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant appeared in

If you love winter outdoor recreation and can plan ahead, winter camping might be for you.

Kate Goloski, full time floor supervisor for Eastern Mountain Sports in Syracuse, regularly camps overnight outside in the wintertime (as well in the warmer months).  So why does she want to stay out and set up camp when most people are eager to come inside and sip something warm? “Ever since I was little, I’ve loved the winter,” Goloski said. “My family used to snowshoe and cross country ski.”  She loves the outdoors so much that she earned a minor in wilderness education from SUNY Potsdam.  Though she’s busier now since entering the working world, every winter, she’s sure to camp overnight a few times.

“I love how quiet the winter is,” Goloski said. “I love being all bundled up. I think snow is absolutely gorgeous.  I love the smell of snow.  There’s a lot of risk involved.  It’s thrilling as well, being out in the cold.

Jim Muller heads and by day works as a program manager for Northrop Grumman in Rome.  He has been winter camping regularly since 1996 when a couple of nephews wanted to try it. “I was hooked,” he said.  “It’s great being out in the woods when there aren’t other people.  You can go places where you can’t in the summer because then it’s too wet or it’s where you can’t cross swamps or lakes.” A blanket of snow can make even a familiar camping area seem brand new.  He also enjoyes the extra challenges.

Many people ask these two winter campers how they stay warm on frigid nights.  Goloski said that basically, it comes down to the right clothing and gear and eating enough.  She recommends layering clothing to help regulate body temperature.  If you sweat, you will become much colder.

Start with synthetic or silk long underwear (cotton absorbs perspiration), a warm second layer, and a water-and wind-proof top layer.  A puffy jacket and ski pants can be a good choice because the fluffy filling helps keep you warmer than a dense coat.

High-pile, non-cotton socks have lots of cushioning and help you feet stay warmer.  Wear the socks when you try on boots. “If it’s too tight, your circulation will be compromised which will keep you colder,” Goloski said.  Choose a style that covers your ankle and is insulated.

As for your hands, stick with mittens, which both Goloski and Muller say keep hands warmer than gloves.  Mittens with liners can let you remove the bulky outer shill for fine finer movements.  “It is definitely important to keep your head covered,” Goloski said.  She prefers a wool beanie, but emphasized that different head gear works for different people.

Muller, who hails from Holland Patent in the Mohawk Valley, said the he’s rarely cold.  For one thing, hiking, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing to the site makes the body very warm, especially when lugging the extra gear winter camping requires.

Golgokie uses two foam pads under her winter-rated sleeping bag.

Try not to go to sleep wearing all your clothes, Muller said.  “I’ll reserve long underwear for just sleeping.  Try to keep outer clothing warm and dry.”  One way to do this is to stow it in the foot of the sleeping bag.  Some people winter camp by using a portable stove inside the tent (properly vented, of course).

Muller and Goloski both nibble sweets to keep their energy level high.  Food that’s read-to-eat or one-pot meals makes camp cooking easy.  Coffee, tea and cocoa also help warm up winter campers from the inside out.

“If you want to try it, go with someone who’ done it before the first couple of times,” Goloski said.  “It’s not something to jump into.  Try doing some winter hikes before spending the night to get a feel for winter and what layers you need to keep warm.”

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