If you’ve are interested in the prospect of extending your camping season and trying a winter camping adventure, you have likely already discovered that there is a lot to learn! Camping in the colder temperatures is a whole different monster with new options, new rules and new gear. The key to the best winter camping experience is simply to discover which of these options is suited best for you!
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While winter camping is far less popular than the warmer weather options, there are some serious advantages to consider. There is no denying the beauty of the winter snow undisturbed out in the wilderness. Combine this with the calm and quiet as many animals are hibernating and the number of campers is seriously lower, and you have the recipe for a relaxing weekend.
However, there is nothing relaxing about being uncomfortable freezing your butt off outdoors! Unfortunately, an ill-prepared winter excursion may not only turn you off the idea of ‘roughing it’ during the colder months, but it could also carry even more serious risks such as frostbite and hypothermia. For this reason, it is important to do your research and invest in the necessary gear to keep you safe and comfortable.
For those that want to enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors during the winter months, there are many different options ranging from the comfort of a small cottage through to the more adventurous option of tenting in the snow. Which option is best suited for you? This depends on what luxuries you require to be comfortable during the winter months, how you plan on spending your days while out on your adventure and where you plan on visiting. For example, some areas may only be accessible to those carrying their tents and gear in, while other locations may offer several easily accessible roofed accommodations.
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Cottages, Yurts and oTENTiks
If you are new to the camping scene or simply prefer a little more luxury on your trips, cottages and cabins are a great option. Much like heading to the cottage in the summer months, you would have the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful sights and the laid back lifestyle of a camping excursion while still enjoying some of the comforts of home – comfortable chairs and love seats, a ‘kitchen’ area, running water and electricity. You can look into cottage opens through rental programs like Airbnb, or you can book through the National Parks or Ontario Parks.
If you are looking for the ‘tenting’ experience without giving up all of the luxuries of a cabin accommodation, you may be interested in checking out yurts or oTENTik accommodations. Available through the National Parks, oTENTik is a mix of a tent and an A-frame cabin, providing lighting, indoor furniture and heating options. Yurts are 8-sided tents that are permanently set up on a wooden deck. This allows for the perks of lights, furniture and kitchen areas while still enjoying the feeling of camping outdoors. You can book a yurt through either the National Parks or Ontario Parks.
Pet-Friendly Winter Camping
It should be noted that most roofed accommodations are NOT pet-friendly within the parks systems. As I do focus on pet-friendly travel a lot here on Alternatively Speaking (as we love travelling with our own pets), I want to be transparent with this information up front. You can find information regarding the availability of pet-friendly accommodations here:
RV and Trailer Camping
For the seasoned campers that can’t get enough of the rugged outdoors experience, the winter season is also a fun time to break out your RV, trailer or tent for a getaway! There are many different parks available for RV/Trailer/Tent camping – providing easily accessible sites and heated comfort stations.
If you are planning on taking your trailer or RV winter camping, there are a few steps that you should consider to ensure that you’re prepared for the colder weather. Some RV campers will upgrade their insulation for the colder months, however, if you’re not interested in going to that extreme you should still examine your RV or trailer for possible air leaks and ‘cold spots’. Switch out any thin curtains for heavier options to block any cold drafts from your windows or install a window covering. Form board flooring, heavy rugs or carpets can be used on the floor to add an extra layer of insulation from cold air underneath your RV or trailer.
You need to seriously consider whether you plan on using your water lines during your winter outings. While some campers will winterize their trailer or RV, using water from a jug similar to tent campers, others choose to take steps to wrap heat tape or insulation on pipes and hoses to allow them to continue using their water lines.
Don’t forget to check your RV/trailer furnace to ensure that it’s in good working order before heading out in the colder temperatures. Even if your furnace is working great at home, this isn’t a guarantee that you won’t experience difficulties while at the campsite. Pack extra warm clothing and bedding so that you are prepared for a ‘worst case’ situation.
If you’re planning on tent camping during the winter months but prefer to stay warm and toasty, hot tenting is worth consideration. A hot tent is a larger tent, usually made of canvas, that is designed to support the use of a portable wood-burning stove. Made from a fire-resistant material (for obvious reasons), they are often a little heavier than your standard tent. Most have either no floor or the option for a removable floor. In the tent itself, you will find a spot for the fireplace chimney.
Hot tenting provides you with a warm place to hang out if you know that you are going to be sticking around the campsite for most of your trip, or a warm place to return to after a day of hiking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, etc. It doesn’t take long for the space to heat up after you fire up the fire, allowing you to dry out and warm up.
One additional perk to using a hot tent is that you have a warm stove inside your tent at your disposal! This is a great place to cook a hot meal or make a pot of coffee without having to leave the warmth of your tent. Imagine getting up in the morning and enjoying your morning coffee before you have to face the cold temperatures that await you… Be sure to pack the necessary safety gear. While most people will consider the risk of fire, many overlook CO2 concerns. Always pack a portable CO2 detector for your trips (and test it before you leave home).
There are, however, some downsides to consider. As previously mentioned, these tents are generally heavier than your standard tent which can make it difficult if you have a distance to travel to your campsite. In order to run the stove, you also need to transport the stove itself as well as a supply of firewood (parks discourage campers from collecting wood on-site to preserve the natural beauty of the park). The gear is also quite costly upfront, however, if properly taken care of, a hot tent and stove can last you a lifetime of camping!
Cold camping refers to any other camping experience in which you are not using a stove to add warmth to your camping accommodations. This includes those who are tenting in a standard tent (4-season tents are recommended if you will be camping anywhere where you may experience significant snowfall), hammock camping or tarp camping. In each of these situations, you are not relying on your accommodations to keep you warm – your tent or tarp will help to cut the wind, but you need to pack your gear accordingly!
For these trips, whether you’re hot tenting or cold camping, you need to trade in your usual air mattress for a closed-cell foam sleeping pad. Traditional air mattresses become cold, holding that cold air close to your body. You should also look at the rating temperatures for your sleeping bag. In the summer, we select sleeping bags that will prevent us from overheating, however, you will need a lower-limit temperature rating to ensure that you have the warmth and insulation required for the cold nights. It sounds like common sense to say that you should bring additional layers, like blankets, but you may not realize that you should be adding layers under your sleeping bag! The air around you in your tent will warm up due to your own body temperate, but the cold ground isn’t as forgiving…
Whichever option you decide suits you best, make sure that you take time to consider your gear. Create a list and check off each item as it’s packed. After all, forgetting gloves for a winter camping trip is a much more serious situation than forgetting a bathing suit during the summer months!
You will also need to ensure that you are bundled up with the necessary layers during your trip to keep your body warm regardless of the temperatures. This includes synthetic or wool base layers, a toque or equivalent cold-weather hat, gloves, extra socks and waterproof boots. You may also choose to bring a hot water bottle or hand warmers for additional warmth. However, make sure that your layers will allow you to avoid running too warm by removing some when you are insider your accommodations.
Finally, you want to plan high-calorie meals and snacks throughout your trips. By boosting your sugars, fats and carbohydrates, you are actually helping your body to stay warm. Calorie-dense snack options like chocolate, cheese and nuts will leave you feeling full while giving your body a much-needed boost of fuel to stay warm as the temperatures drop.
Most importantly, take the time to really enjoy the experience. Take in the beauty of the winter months and allow yourself to relax. There are many benefits associated with spending time outdoors including helping to reduce stress and anxiety in our lives, so let it do its job!
Have you ever been winter camping? I would love to hear about your experience or any tips you have to share!