How To Start Winter Camping: take the 10 essentials

Take the 10 essentials.  No matter what the situation, there are essential items that need be included to ensure your comfort and survival – the famous 10 essentials.  The 10 essentials include navigation aids, a light source, extra food and water, extra clothes, protection from the sun, 1st aid kit, a knife or multi-purpose tool, and fire making tools.

These essential items should be included in your pack to ensure your comfort and survival – the famous 10 Essentials. In the 1930s, the Mountaineers, a Seattle-based hiking, climbing, and conservation organization, came up with a list of 10 essential items that no climber should be without. Many outdoor training schools make use of the 10 essentials to teach outdoor skills and good practices. Since then many 10 essential lists have been published by various groups tailored to suit particular outdoor situations.  Regardless of the situation most people agree on the following items.

  1. Map – A map can tell you where you are, how far you have to go, time to get there, amount you have to climb, where to park your car, campsites, water sites, and an emergency route in an accident. If traveling on foot in the back country 7.5 minute USGS quads or 15 minute maps will give you the detail that you are starving for – if you know how to read it!
  2. Compass – Carry a compass at all times. If you learn to use this tool, and its cousin the topographic map, and you are on your way to finding that never done route to the never visited part of the forest. Don’t rely on a GPS unit a replacement. You shouldn’t trust your navigation to anything with a battery in the back country – especially in cold temperatures.
  3. Flashlight Or Headlamp – A flashlight or headlamp should be carried at all times. You may need to walk in the dark. A light source can be used to signal for help in a critical situation. Headlamps are more convenient for hands-free operation while hiking or in camp.
  4. Extra Food – Whenever you are outside have extra food in case you are delayed by bad weather, injuries, getting lost, or getting exhausted. The mountaineers of the 1930’s suggested a one-day supply of extra food. Extra food can boost morale, ward off hypothermia, and when things are bad give you much needed energy. In the winter leave the low carb food at home, that’s for another time and place.  Options include energy bars, hard candy or chocolate.
  5. Extra Clothes – You need to have extra clothes to deal with a wide range of weather conditions.  A down vest and/or hard shell take up little in your pack, but can provide critical warmth when the conditions get really bad or you have to spend an extra night on the mountain.
  6. Sunglasses And Sun Screen – Ever have snow blindness and sunburn at the same time? Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun reflecting off the snow can cause a painful eye condition called photokeratitis or ultraviolet keratitis. This sunburn of the cornea and conjunctiva is not usually noticed until several hours after exposure. Symptoms include tearing, pain, redness, swollen eyelids, headache, a gritty feeling in the eyes, halos around lights, hazy vision, and temporary loss of vision. Prevention is as simple as wearing eye protection that blocks most of the ultraviolet radiation.
  7. First Aid Kit – Prepackaged first aid kits designed just for hikers are a great item to have. These packages contain band-aids, bandages, basic medicines, and many other items. Of course, if you don’t know how to use it, it won’t be of much use. Take a wilderness first aid course to learn how to deal with injuries and sickness in the backcountry. Wilderness first aid is the specific discipline of First Aid  in remote areas, where emergency medical services will be difficult to obtain and/or rapid transport is not readily available.
  8. Pocket Knife Or Multi Purpose Tool – A knife will allow you to perform various tasks in the back country such as cutting bandages, removing splinters, punching holes in tarps, cutting rope, or making kindling.
  9. Fire Starter And Matches – Fire is warmth and warmth is good when you are cold. Fire also serves as a good signal to others when you are lost. A basic fire starter is useful for starting a fire in emergency situations and for getting wet wood blazing. A fire starter can consist of a chemically-treated fire stick, candles, melted paraffin and newspaper, waxed cardboard, dryer lint, wood shavings, or hundreds of other materials. In addition to the fire starter carry at least two methods for starting a fire: matches, lighter and/or a flint and steel. These will be essential in starting your fire starter when conditions are cold, wet and harsh.
  10. Water And A Way To Purify It – Without water your body will weaken and your muscles and organs just won’t be able to function. Water also fends off hypothermia and altitude sickness. Iodine tablets or good stove to melt or boil water can help solve the problem.

The table below depicts the difference between three lists: the list described above, Wired Magazine’s list of 10 Essential Outdoor Survival Items [1] and a list from Gotta Go-It Snows[2].

Wired Magazine

Gotta Go – It Snows: Daypack List

Flashlight or Headlamp Flashlight
Extra Food High Calorie Protein Bars Food
Extra clothes Extra Clothes
Sunglasses & sun screen
1st Aid Kit 1st Aid Kit
Pocket Knife or Multi-tool Knife Multi-purpose Tool
Fire Starter and matches Butane Lighter & Tinder Three Pocket Lighters
Water and a way to purify it Water purification supplies
whistle Light Weight Wood Stove
Plastic Trash Bag Camp Saw
Backpacker Hammock Tarp
Metal cup or can Light Weight Cooking Pot

Once you have assembled your ten essentials try to keep them together in an easy to grab kit.  I keep components of the ten essentials together with my toilet bag and first aid kit.  It goes on every hike or winter camping adventure.

Consider tailoring your list of essential items depending upon your situation. For example, if you are taking a novice or a child and have the space think of including some chemical hand warmers. Chemical warmers can make a big difference to little hands and feet especially when falling asleep at night.

Where Are We?

Some of our excursions have had a discussion that sounds something like this.

Question: “Are we lost”

Answer ” No we aren’t lost , we  just not sure where the trail is.”

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Winter, and the sledding is easy

Sometimes it is nice to know in advance that the trail will be level, smooth and possibly re-packed by skiers.  That’s the time to load up your sled and make the trip in a little easier.


No one had XC skied on the trail recently, but there was a firm base underneath somewhere.


An easy trip in….


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Snowshoeing Boots

How to tell if you’ve got authentic snowshoeing boots? Look for a little lip on the heel. This extension keeps the rear binding from slipping down over your heel.  It performs a similar function if you wear a traction device such as ice cleats.

Do your boots have one?

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Solving the Winter Camping Snoring Problem

There are four Winter Campers sleeping in a lean-to during a multi-day winter camping trip.  No one wants to sleep next to Tom, because he snores so badly. They decide it isn’t fair to have one of them sleep next to him the whole time, so they vote to take turns.

The first night Mark sleeps next to Tom;  the next morning with his hair a mess and his eyes all bloodshot. The others say, “Man, what happened to you?” Mark says, “Tom snored so loudly, I just sat up and watched him all night.”

The next night it is a different guy’s turn. In the morning, same thing – hair all standing up, eyes all bloodshot. They say, “Man, what happened to you? You look awful!” He says, ‘Man, Tom shakes the roof with his snoring. I watched him all night.”

The third night is Len’s turn. The next morning Len comes to breakfast bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  “Good morning!” he says.  They can’t believe it.  They say, “Man, what happened?”  Len says, “Well, when we got ready to sleep I went and tucked Tom into his sleeping bag, patted him on the butt, and kissed him good night. Tom sat up and watched me all night.”   ;-)

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Unique Uses of Chemical Hand Warmers

Ten alternate uses for hand warmers.  Aside from being useful for warming your hands, feet, and body in cold weather, these chemical reactive “portable heaters” can be utilized for a multitude of other uses; running the gamut from drying out wet gear while in-the-field, to potentially life-saving first-aid items for preventing and/or treating hypothermia.

This Youtube video demonstrates how they can be used to dry your boots, pre-heat your sleeping bag, keep your drink warmer longer, provide a warm base for a canister stove, keep your water bottle from freezing, use in a 1st aid kit to warm a potential hypothermia victim, warm sore muscles, melt snow, keep batteries functioning, and dry out electronics.

Unique uses of chemical hand warmers

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