I had a couple of pieces of 9′ Tyvek left over from the home remodeling that I wanted to experiment with for camping applications. I took a piece to use as a ground cloth in my megamid tipi when we winter camped on Peaked Mountain and it worked well.
A bivy can keep your sleeping bag clean and out of the snow winter camping in a snow shelter, floor-less tipi, tarp or lean-to. A bivy can also add warmth to your sleeping system.
For this project you will need: scissors, a nine foot section of Tyvek, double sided carpet tape and sticky backed Velcro tape. It is helpful, but not necessary, if you wash the Tyvek, without using detergent, so it isn’t as crinkly sounding.
Two concerns of bivy sacks are:
- They can be confining and restrict moving around during the night. If someone is claustrophobic they may not enjoy sleeping in a bivy.
- Condensation from the occupant can get captured inside the bivy and can moisten the sleeping bag.
Set your sleeping pad down with your winter sleeping bag across the 9’ width. Make a note of which side your sleeping bag zipper is on and then fold the Tyvek over everything such that the side without the zipper will be fully sealed. Trim it to provide a generous fit; this will enhance ventilation and provide room for storage of gear and clothes.
There are DIY Tyvek projects that sew seams and glue them but double-sided carpet tape is quicker and easier to apply (once one determines how to remove the film). It is super strong – the Tyvek will tear before the tape separates from the Tyvek.
Turn your bivy inside out so the Tyvek advertising is on the inside. Use the carpet tape to tape the bottom of the bivy half-way up the side to approximately waist height. Press firmly on the tape to ensure good adhesion.
Apply 2-3 tabs of sticky backed Velcro such that you can secure the top half, if desired, and you are done!
Two views of the finished product. Total weight ~10oz.
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I bought this Black Diamond Equipment Megamid Tipi Tent as a 2nd (off color) with thoughts that it could be used for emergency shelter when canoe camping, but especially for winter camping. The tipi sets up easily on snow and over uneven ground. The four person Megamid is supposed to sleep 4 persons, but I am sure they never made those calculations with 6’4″ campers in mind. It fits 3 sleeping forms quite well, especially if the tipi can be hung from line rather than using a center pole.
The Megamid provides 51 square feet of floor space, one door and measures nearly 5′ (57″) tall. Total weight of the tent, pole, stakes and stuff sack is under 4lbs.
Setup is simple and the tipi works fine shedding snow. The tipi form sheds snowfall easily providing a soothing shooshing sound through the night as accumulated snow slides down the side.
Without a floor one has to pack a bivy or ground cloth to provide additional coverage below the sleeping pad, so I am not too sure about the weight savings. However, it is nice to be able to enter the tipi with boots on and not worry about tracking snow in.
Cooking inside appears to be an option, however, I haven’t cooked inside yet. Like any single wall tent condensation can be an issue if there isn’t adequate ventilation. It is easy (and recommended) to raise the sides of the tipi to allow air flow to come under the edge of the tipi.
Beyond Clothing. Beyond Clothing (previously known as Beyond Fleece) specializes in custom-made garments. Soft shell jackets bridge the gap between a hard shell and an insulation layer. Soft shells are much more breathable than hard shells, offer moderate wind and water resistance, and provide a thin layer of insulation. On the downside soft shells aren’t 100% waterproof although most soft shells will keep you dry is moderate to light rain.
Why Beyond? Being 6’4” with a 37” sleeve length it has been difficult to find off the shelf outdoor attire that fits and performs. Our WinterCampers.com group has several tall campers, so we applied and qualified for an outfitter’s discount. Using our discount I decided to purchase a soft shell jacket for camping and canoeing.
Cold Play Fabric. The Cold Play Jacket is made with Schoeller Dry Skin Extreme w 3X Dry. The Schoeller fabric is a mid- weight tightly woven stretchy fabric which enhances freedom of movement. The inside of the fabric is a light fleece surface which wicks away moisture and adds insulation.
Cold Play Jacket Features. The jacket comes standard with hand pockets, elastic wrist cuffs, and a waist cord to keep cold air from entering the bottom of the jacket. The final weight of the jacket will vary from 21 ounces to 26 ounces for most people. Not only can you tailor the jacket to your measurements but you can select among several options:
- A zip off hood or an attached hood
- A waterproof zipper instead of the standard non-waterproof zipper.
- Pit zips
- Gear pockets
- External chest pockets
- Internal chest pockets
- Optional color strips
I chose a hunter green Cold Play Men’s soft shell jacket with a YKK water resistant main zipper, pit zips and gear pockets. In retrospect I would have omitted the additional gear pockets.
Fit. It is important to measure yourself properly so you send the correct measurements. I do not recommend sending “standard” clothing sizes. When I measured myself according to Beyond’s instructions I was surprised at the difference between these and my “standard” clothing sizes.
The fit of the jacket should be perfect assuming you sent them the correct measurements. Generally speaking the jacket has a trim fit leaving just enough room under the jacket for a base layer or a fleece layer. Because the jacket has a tight fit a parkas or hard shell can easily fit over it to protect you from inclement weather.
The Cold Play is incredibly breathable with moderate warmth, good wicking, and moderate wind protection. I have worn it winter camping, cool weather hiking and as a paddling jacket. I especially like to wear it while canoeing in cool weather. It sheds everything but a direct heavy rain and the large pit zips coupled with a paddling motion bellow fresh air and sweat vapor from your body. All the time I have worn the jacket, I have never had a problem of moisture build-up which I attribute to the breathable fabric and the large adjustable pit zips.
Summary. In addition to the Cold Play jacket we have purchased several items from Beyond Clothing; a Steel Wind Shirt and soft shell pants. My nephews and I have been very pleased with the performance in each case. We enviously eye their new Primaloft pants but we currently don’t have enough pennies saved to make the purchase.
Useful books about winter camping include:
Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book, Allen O’Bannon
Backcountry Skier, Jean Vives
Hypothermia, Frostbite, and Other Cold Injuries: Prevention, Recognition and Pre-Hospital Treatment, James A. Wilkerson
NOLS Winter Camping, Buck Tilton
Okpik: Cold-Weather Camping
Paradise Below Zero: The Classic Guide to Winter Camping, Calvin Rutstrum
Secrets of Warmth for Comfort or Survival, Hal Weiss
Snow Caves for Fun and Survival, Ernest Wilkinson
Snow Walker’s Companion: Winter Camping Skills for the North, Garrett & Alexandra Conover
Surviving Cold Weather: Simply Survival, Gregory J. Davenport
The Complete Guide to Cross-Country Ski Preparation, Nat Brown
The Outward Bound Staying Warm in the Outdoors Handbook, Glenn Randall
Winter Backpacking: A Guide to Warm and Safe Winter Camping and Day Trips, Ben Shillington
Winter Camping, 2nd, Stephen Gorman
Winter Hiking & Camping: Managing Cold for Comfort & Safety, Michael L. Lanza
Mitchell Ponds is located southeast of Old Forge, NY at 43.6709°N 74.7485°W, elevation at 1,919 feet in the Moose River Plain. The western access from the Moose River Plains Road is across an old road that travels 1.7 miles to the foot of Mitchell Ponds. This trail is an easy hike up and over a hill and is marked with yellow discs. There is a crossing over a large beaver dam on this route. A walk of another 1 mile along the shore of the ponds takes one to a large campsite on a peninsula between the two ponds with scenic cliffs on one side of the peninsula.
Previously we had discussed Mitchell Ponds as a winter camping destination, but the gate to the Moose River Plain Road is closed during snow conditions limiting it to snow mobile access. So we decided on a late October trip – sort of a winter camping preseason “warm-up”. The crew included Skip, Chris, Rob (with June-the-food-stealing-dog), Mark, Matt and Len shown below. With deer hunting season open in the Northern Zone hiking next to Skip’s florescent yellow provided a measure of safety. Rob was dressed in his typical wool sweater and wool pants – his only pants, it would turn out. Mark and Matt wore their BeyondClothing wind shirt and pants, respectively, and Len showed everyone that shorts have no season.
These experienced winter campers were joined by Eric, giving him the distinction of being the youngest person to participate in a WinterCampers.com event. Eric packed his own knapsack with snacks, drink and clothing.
We hiked in as two separate groups with Skip, Eric and Jim taking the more leisurely stroll in. There was snow on the exposed surfaces such as this snowmobile bridge.
We caught up to the 1st group at the large beaver dam. The trail had a flagging tape barrier to warn speeding snowmobiles of the lack of a bridge. We were warned by the winter camping gang flashing their WC warning sign.
It was steep coming down to the beaver dam, the dam was wet to walk across and quite high – about 8′ in height on the downstream side.
Hiking in with Eric meant frequent stops to replenish the snacks being consumed.
The last mile of the trail follows the shore of Mitchell Ponds and was rough and quite wet in places. It passes large rocks at the base of the cliffs, including one large slanted rock that could be used as a shelter of sorts. The trail winds around the pond, becomes indistinct and finally crosses the outlet on the west side.
On the hike along the pond Rob’s dog, June (aka June-the-food-stealing-dog) went swimming and her harness became caught on submerged brush. Rob fell into pond rescuing his dog and was soaked to mid-waist. He squished on the remainder of the hike and changed out of his clothes once he got to camp.
The campsite on the peninsula up on a ridge. It is a nice site and can accommodate several tents – good thing because while Skip, Eric and I brought a Black Diamond Megamid pyramid tent to share everyone else brought their own individual tent and had already grabbed the available flat sites.
Eric packed along vampire teeth from his Halloween costume and inspects Mark’s tent.
Rob changed out of his wet clothes and went pant-less for the remainder of the evening scaring most of the woodland creatures away and even causing a few winter campers to avert their gaze as he lounged about the camp fire.
We had a nice fire that served as a focal point for the discussion group consisting of Skip, Rob’s drying boots, Len, June-the-food-stealing-dog, Mark, Rob and Chris.
We enjoyed a nice sunset and the ponds glowed with the warm light.
We had plans to bushwhack onto the cliffs above Mitchell Pond, but didn’t make it there.
Everyone turned in early (8:30pm) anticipating a good night’s sleep. I was worried about keeping Eric warm through the night and was constantly awake and checking on him. I needn’t have worried as he slept fine – mostly crowding on top of me – and Eric, Skip and I slept in until after 7am.
The rest of the crew had arisen earlier, ate breakfast and were in a rush to get out so they left. Skip stayed with Eric and I as hiked together along Mitchell Ponds until we got through the wettest areas. At that point Skip hiked on to meet up with other hiking partners for a further adventure on Sunday afternoon. Eric and I walked out holding hands along the old snowmobile trails and chatting about items of interest to a 7 year old.
It started to sprinkle as we reached the beaver dam crossing and it was raining as our car came in view. We dumped out packs in the trunk of the car, grabbed the snacks and drinks we had left in the car, turned the heater on and drove home.
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Poor planning often results in miserable campers and damage to natural resources. Trip planning is important as it:
- helps ensure the safety of groups and individuals.
- contributes to accomplishing trip goals safely and enjoyably.
- increases self-confidence and opportunities for learning more about nature.
- prepares you for Leave No Trace practices and minimizes resource damage.
When planning a winter camping trip remember that travel through the snow will be much slower than in the summer. Reduce your mileage goal by 50% to 60%. Daylight hours are fewer in the winter, which will also limit your time. Even normal activities around camp will take longer in cold weather.
Think about when to take your winter camping trip and consider the conditions for your time period:
- November: Moderate temperatures, possible rain, thin snow cover
- December: Short days and long nights, thin snow cover
- January: Good snow cover, long nights, extreme temperatures
- February: Good snow cover, long nights, extreme temperatures
- March: Longer days, milder temperatures, adequate snow
- April: Spotty snow cover, warm temperatures, longer days
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Elements to consider when planning a trip:
- Identify and record the goals (expectations) of your trip. Is this a ‘jamboree’ or are members of the group trying to accomplish specific goals such as reaching a specific destination.
- Identify the skill and ability of trip participants. Are there members of the group that are winter camping novices and if so, how will they be mentored?
- Select appropriate destinations that match your goals, skills, and abilities and plan trip activities to match your goals, skills, and abilities.
- Gain knowledge of the area you plan to visit from land managers, other hikers, maps, and literature. Use trail guides and the internet to perform as much research as possible prior to the trip.
- Choose your equipment and clothing for comfort and versatility.
- Know the weather forecast in advance
- Understand the terrain you will be traveling. Bring maps and photos along to help locate your journey on the terrain.
- Understand any regulations/restrictions that may apply, including parking.
- Understand and respect private land boundaries
- Anticipate the average hiking speed of group and likely food consumption
- Plan to accommodate the group size. Does it meet any specified land management regulations and fit your trip purpose?
- Evaluate your trip upon your return to note lessons learned and changes you will make next time.
You can prepare by:
- Educating yourself on the area you plan to visit. Learn about winter regulations, closures, and weather hazards. In upstate New York, where I live, the DEC Regulations, specifically the DEC State Land Use Regulations, regulate where to camp on State Land. Tents may be set up at designated sites which have yellow “Camp Here” markers discs with a black tipi, and your tent must be within 15 feet of this disc. Outside of designated sites, tents must be 150 feet from any trails or water. Lean-tos do not count as designated sites, so tents must be 150 feet from any lean-tos or trails leading to lean-tos as well. Designated sites will have a marker disc, so if there is a fire ring but not a disc, the campsite is not a legal one (unless it follows the 150 foot rule). Obviously, you can’t camp at any site that has a “No Camping” disc.
- Taking a winter back country course to gain experience.
- Expecting extreme weather and gear up for it.
- In mountainous country carrying an avalanche beacon, probe, and shovel.
- Planning a route appropriate for the experience level, size, and goals of your group. In the Adirondack Park one can contact the NYS DEC at (518) 897-1200 to determine trail conditions in the area you plan to visit. Adirondack Trail Information can also be found on the DEC web site.The web pages provide general information and seasonal conditions, specific notices on closures and other situations involving trails, roads, foot bridges, etc., and links to rules & regulations, hiker and camper safety, low impact recreation, weather and more.
- Leaving your excursion plans with two people, including your expected return time. They can begin a rescue if you do not return in reasonable time and will know where to start looking for you.
- Using a map and compass for navigation as trail markings may be hidden in snow and recognizing that batteries in GPS units may not work in cold temperatures.
- Realizing that night falls early. You will have much less time to travel and set up camp, so plan accordingly and understand that everything takes longer in cold weather.
- Ensuring you have appropriate gear for the worst-case environment. Use layering of clothes to keep warm and prevent overheating followed by freezing.
NOAA’s National Operational Hydrological Remote Sensing Center has an Interactive Snow Information Map for the US. It is a great mapping tool for analyzing snow cover. The map is highly configurable. You can re-center the map anywhere in the US. One can map Hourly Snow Analysis, Driving Conditions, and Daily Snow Analysis. You can look at historical data. One can select overlays to be plotted such as Hydrologic, Political, Point or Transportation features for reference purposes.
NoAA’s Interactive Snow Information Map is a useful planning tool
Thoreau said “The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.” Thoreau knew of the dynamics of groups, but winter camping is more fun and a lot safer in group. When choosing your group try to select members that will be compatible with one another that have similar expectations and goals. Please don’t go winter camping alone but try for a small group to minimize human impact and keep the group operating efficiently.
A group size of more than eight becomes unwieldy and creates an impact on the environment. A group of four allows one to stay with an injured person and two to go for help. A small group allows for specialties to emerge. One person might set the tent while others cut fire word wood, make a warm drink, or begin cooking.
Before you start trekking about the woods you should be familiar with use of a compass. Practicing use of a compass is a skill best learned before it is required in the field. Reading a compass can be an intimidating skill to many people. However, once you learn the basics and practice a little, you will find that you can read a compass with ease. Make sure you know how to use your particular compass before heading out.
Parts of a Compass
The first step to reading a compass is to understand its parts. These directions are based on the commonly used compass in the illustration below:
- The base plate is the surface on which the compass is mounted, usually a hard rectangular piece of plastic.
- The housing is the main part of the compass. It is a round plastic container that has the compass needle inside. It can be turned so you can select different bearings (degrees) for your direction of travel.
- The direction-of-travel arrow is marked on the base plate. When traveling, you point this arrow directly away from you and move in the direction it is pointing.
- The orienting arrow is marked in the housing. It rotates when the dial is turned.
- The magnetic needle turns freely within the housing. It has one end painted red to indicate north.
- A compass is divided into 360 degrees for precise locations using latitude and longitude. The cardinal points are marked on the outer ring of the housing. North is at 0 degrees (and 360 degrees), east is 90 degrees, south is 180 degrees, and west is 270 degrees.
Parts of a standard compass
How to Read a Compass
Now it is time to read your compass. Decide which direction you’d like to travel and rotate the housing until the bearing number you’d like is lined up with the “read bearing here” mark. For example, to head due north, rotate the housing until the 0 degree mark is lined up.
Hold your compass flat and still in the palm of your hand (and against your chest) so the base plate is level and the direction-of-travel arrow is pointing straight away from you. The magnetic needle should be able to move freely, without bumping the top or bottom of the housing.
Look down at the compass and see where the needle points.
Turn your entire body until the magnetic needle is centered between the red lines, as shown in the figure to the right. This is referred to as “keeping the red in the shed.” Make sure to do this; it will keep you heading in the right direction. The compass in our example is pointing due north (also 0 degrees).
To determine the bearing of an object in the distance, face the object with the compass held flat in your palm as before. This time, rotate the housing until the red end of the magnetic needle is between the red lines, and “in the shed.” Read the bearing number at “read bearing here.” In the example shown below, you are heading 250 degrees west.
Determining compass bearing
A critical component of your trip plan is notifying others where you will be going and when you will return. The search and rescue volunteer association of Canada has an excellent trip notification form you can download and print that has all the information a search team wants if they have to come looking for you. You can adapt the forms to leave your information with family, friends, and/or in your car:
SARVAC Trip Plan Form
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