We often talk about the general rule of thumb that the pack weight should not exceed 25% of the person’s body weight. This is a nice rule, but not stead fast in its application. A 90 lb Scout is limited to 22 and half pounds. A 75 pound Scout is hanging about 18 pounds on his back. Like I said.. real nice rule and a great goal to keep in mind when packing a pack. But winter camping is a totally different animal.
Pack weights go up in general because the amount of gear increases as well as the weight of the gear. A 10 degree sleeping bag is typically heavier than a 30 degree bag. More clothing is needed. Extra gear for cooking, keeping warm, starting fire, and of course shelter options increase.
So how does the Scout that has not grown into his body handle cold weather or winter camping? Here are a few ideas.
First we need to come to the realization that we are not going to buy multiple sleeping bags, tents, and backpacks. Gear is just to expensive for the new Scout to go out and buy lots of gear. So we need to make do with the gear that we have.
Adding guy lines to your tent, watching what you pack and maybe adding a sleeping bag liner will help with your existing gear.
Remember that we are not trying to go “ultralight” here, we are just trying to manage our weight for the younger Scout.
Loose and in layers. This does a few things for you. First it allows you to regulate your temperature over the course of the day and the activity. If you properly train your Scouts to do this, they will stay dryer and as a result they can carry less clothing. A good base layer which for the most part is always worn is the key. It needs to be able to wick the moisture away from the body. It needs to be able to stay relatively clean. Second, the layering system will allow your Scouts to stay clean and dry. When preparing their camp sites they can lose a layer and add their rain gear to stay dry. Once the work is complete, they can remove the rain gear, hang it to dry, and add additional layers based on the temperatures and conditions. When the layer system is planned properly, it can reduce the amount of clothing taken on each outing.
The motto “Be prepared” is a trump card though and needs to be considered. Checking the weather conditions the days leading up to the outing and looking ahead at the forecast can help you be better prepared.
Extra socks are always a great idea, but know what you need and only take that much, contrary to popular belief, you can dry socks out and wear them again later.
Proper footwear is extremely important. Spend a little more on your feet and the rest of you will stay warm.
We recommend that our Scouts have a pack that does not exceed 3900 cubic inches of load space. By conventional wisdom that is a bit small for winter camping, but we know for a fact that it works. Yeah, it takes some practice, but it works. It is the one time of the year that strapping items to the outside may have to happen, but it works.
Compression bags, stuff sacks for pack organization and know how to pack is a critical skill. More importantly, the skill of packing when you are cold is something that needs to be practiced.
When the conditions are right, and the need to carry more gear is greater than the pack will hold, a pulk sled is just what old man winter ordered. Building an inexpensive pulk sled is not only fun, but makes for a whole new camping experience for those that like to get out into the bush. This allows you to carry lots of water, gear, fire wood, and nice to have items that you would not normally haul in your pack. I have talked about pulk sleds before in the blog and have built a nice one that did not break the bank.
The bottom line is that your current pack will work, you need to know your gear, how to use it, what you need and what you don’t, and most importantly… you need to practice, practice, practice with your pack. Pack it over and over, do it with gloves on, do it in the backyard on a cold day. Try different storage methods (Stuff sacks, compression bags etc).
Winter camping is an all together different experience. One that test skill, attitude, and has a great pay off in the end. Quiet, crisp air, no crowds, and lots of fun.
Stay tuned for more winter camping tips.
Have a Great Scouting Day!