Winter Camping Skills- Camp site

When selecting and establishing your Winter Campsite keep the following factors in mind :

1. Camping regulations
2. Other campers
3. Wind – avoid ridge tops and open areas where wind can blow down tents or create drifts.
4. Be aware of “widow makers”, dead branches hanging in trees.
5. Avoid low lying areas where the coldest air will settle.
6. Avalanche danger – select sites that do not pose any risk from avalanches.
7. Exposure – south facing areas will give longer days and more direct sunlight.
8. Water availability from lakes or streams will prevent you having to melt snow for all your water.
9. Level ground
10. Wooded areas that provide wind break and cover. Also good for setting up tarps and tying guy lines. (Watch out though, snow drifts are deceiving in the trees.)

Setting up Camp
When you first get into camp, leave your snowshoes or skis on and begin to tramp down areas for tents and your kitchen. If possible, let the snow set up for 30 minutes or so, this will minimize post holing (that’s when you keep sticking in the snow like a post hole) once you take snowshoes or skis off.
Set up your tents with the doors at 90 degrees to the prevailing winds. Stake the tents out. On a cold night you can build snow walls on the windward side of the tent. Mound the sides of the tent with snow (have someone inside pushing out on the tent to keep it from collapsing. Try to build your walls about 6 inches from the tent. When the snow sets up you will have a hybrid tent-snow shelter which will have better insulation than the tent alone.
Dig out a pit in front of your tent for a porch. This makes taking your boots off much easier. Put your foam pads in the tent and unstuff your sleeping bag and place it in the tent so it can “expand” from it’s stuffed size.
If the snow is deep, you may want to dig out a pit for your kitchen. Dig a pit at least 6 feet in diameter (for 4-6 people). You can mark out the circle using a ski or a rope. Dig down about 2-3 feet and pile the excavated snow around the perimeter. Pack the snow at the perimeter of the hole with your shovel. This will give you a 4-5 foot deep area, protected from the wind. You can carve out seats and benches, put your skis or snow shoes behind the pile as backrests, carve places for stoves, etc.

Here are some tips for your night time in camp – after dinner, getting warm water for water bottles, and putting gear away, it’s time for bed. Fill up your water bottles with boiling water or real warm water. Put your water bottles in the tent. A warm water bottle bottle in your sleeping bag is nice. Make sure the lid is on tight and does not leak. Put other water bottles in your boots or inside a sock.
This will give you water for drinking in the morning as well as cooking water that is not frozen.
Get warm before you get into your bag. Do some jumping jacks, etc. so your heat is built up for when you get in your bag.

Get any clothing/gear you will need out of your pack as well as full water bottles and tomorrow’s lunch.

At the tent door, brush off any snow with the whisk broom or glove. Sit down inside the tent entrance and, keeping your boots outside, either have your buddy knock the snow off, or remove them and brush them yourself.
Climb into the tent and close the door.
Strip off your layers of clothing to what will be appropriate in your sleeping bag. The more layers you wear the better insulated and the warmer you will be (contrary to the myth that says sleep in your underwear). However, too much clothing can compress dead air space in the bag and reduce its effectiveness.
Remove any wet/damp layers and replace them with dry ones, particularly socks.
Pre-warm your bag with your body (get it nice and toasty).
Place damp (DAMP, NOT WET!) items in the sleeping bag with you near your trunk. This will help dry them overnight.

Place your boots in your sleeping bag stuff sack (turned inside out) and place the stuff sack between your legs. This will keep them from freezing during the night and the stuff sack keeps your legs from getting wet. If you do not want to put them in your sleeping bag with you. Place them in the bag under your sleeping bag beneath your legs.
Put water bottles and food with you in the bag or in the bag with your boots.
A hat and polarguard booties are recommended to help keep you warm.

Try to sleep with your face out of the bag. This reduces moisture build-up inside the bag (which could be catastrophic for a down bag). A scarf on your neck may be better than using the sleeping bag neck drawcord (which makes some people feel a little claustrophobic and creates a difficult nights sleep).

You will probably wake up a number of times during the night. This is normal in cold weather. Your body needs to change position to allow for circulation to compressed tissues and to move around a bit so that muscle movement generates more heat. If you are still cold, eat some protein to “stoke up your furnace” Power bars are good for this. If you open one, eat it all, you do not want to leave uneaten food in your tent. If that doesn’t work, wake a tent-mate for some extra warmth.

With 8 or more hours in the tent, you are likely to need to urinate in the middle of the night. Go for it! Otherwise you won’t get back to sleep, and your body is wasting energy keep all that extra fluid warm. You will be surprised how quickly you can get out and back in and your body really won’t chill that much.
It is useful to have a thermos of hot drink in each tent. Remember to go to the bathroom before you get in your tent. Start the night off right and you will get more rest and be ready for the next morning.

Don’t forget to practice Leave no Trace. Keep in mind something may disappear in the Snow, but it will reappear in the Spring!

Happy Scouting!

Some of this material was gathered from the Princeton University Outdoor Action site.

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