Guide to Safe… Winter camping

The Guide to Safe Scouting Section 13 outlines Winter Camping Safety.
I have posted it here in it’s entirety:

There is magic to camping in winter. It is one of the most advanced and challenging of outdoor adventures. Special considerations for winter camping include the following:
1. Leadership.
In no other camp is the type of leadership as important as in the winter camp. It is vital that a leader be an experienced camper with a strong character.
2. Equipment.
Do not attempt to camp unless completely outfitted. Even if equipment for winter camp is more expensive than for summer camp, Scouts must be adequately clothed, and leaders should ensure that blankets and other equipment are of suitable quality and weight.
3. Physical Condition.
A physician’s certificate as to physical ability must be obtained by each Scout before preliminary training begins.

Tips for your next winter camping trip:
1. Use the buddy system for winter outings. Buddies can check each other for frostbite, make sure no one becomes lost, and boost the morale of the entire group.
2. Plan to cover no more than five miles per day on a winter trek on snowshoes. An experienced group can cover 10 to 12 miles on cross-country skis.
3. Always allow ample time to make camp in winter, especially if you plan to build snow shelters.
4. Fatigue encourages accidents. Rest occasionally when building a snow shelter; taking part in cross-country skiing or snowshoeing; or participating in other active winter sports. Periodic rests also help avoid overheating.
5. Pulling a load over the snow on a sled or toboggan is generally easier than carrying it in a backpack.
6. Snow is a terrific insulator. Snow shelters are much warmer than tents because they retain heat and keep out the cold wind. If you have adequate time for building snow shelters, you will spend a much more comfortable night sleeping in them than in a tent.
7. Snow is the greatest thief in winter, swallowing up small dropped items. Tie or tape a piece of brightly colored cord to small items so they can be seen in snow. Some items, such as mittens, can be tied to larger items, such as a parka, to prevent them from being dropped and lost.
8. Melting snow in a pot to get water may cause the pot to burn through or may scorch the snow, giving the water a disagreeable taste. Prevent this by adding a cup or two of water in the bottom of the pot before putting in the snow to melt.
9. Punch a hole in the top of your ice chisel and string a stout cord through it. Before trying to chisel a hole in ice, anchor the cord to something large or too heavy to be pulled through the hole so you will not lose your chisel in freezing water when the ice is penetrated.
10. Always test the thickness of ice before venturing any distance from the shore. Ice should be at least 3 inches thick for a small group; 4 inches of ice is safe for a crowd. Since ice thickness can vary considerably, it is best to stay near the shoreline of large lakes.
11. Use alkaline batteries in flashlights. Standard batteries deteriorate quickly in cold weather. Tape the switch of your flashlight in the “off” position until you are ready to use it. This will prevent it from being turned on accidentally while in your pack or on your sled.
12. Encourage everyone in your group to wear brightly colored outer clothing so that each person will be more visible, especially during severe weather.
13. Small liquid-fuel stoves are much better for cooking in winter than fires, which are difficult to build with wet wood. Gathering wood that is frozen to the ground also can be difficult, if not impossible. A pressure/pump-type stove is essential in winter.
14. Always use a funnel to refuel a stove so you won’t frostbite your fingers by accidentally pouring fuel on them. Fuel evaporates at a high rate of speed and quickly removes heat from anything it touches.
15. Place a stove or fire on a platform of logs or rocks so it will not melt through the snow.
16. Never light or use a stove inside a tent or snow shelter. A tent may catch fire, and vapors in a snow shelter may lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Neither of these potential mishaps is worth the risk.
17. A windscreen is essential for using a stove in the winter. Even a slight breeze will direct the heat away from its intended mark.
References: Okpik: Cold Weather Camping, Boy Scout Handbook, Scoutmaster Handbook, and Camping Sparklers

Those 17 tips for your winter camping experience are pretty basic and are of value to the average winter camper. You can refine that list and certainly add to it. As it reads in the Guide to Safe Scouting it is important to note that this list demonstrates common sense and basic skills. As stated at the outset.. there are three musts for winter camping with Scouts.
First is leadership. Leadership at both the youth and adult levels. Competent leaders that are skilled in camping in the winter. Just because you are a good camper when the weather is great does not mean you have the knowledge, skills, and most important the mind set to camp in the winter. Winter Camping can be very dangerous when not taken seriously. It can be the time of your life when done properly.
Equipment. I talk a lot about gear here at the Scoutmaster minute… and for those Scouts that are in my Troop, you know that I am a gear junky. The right gear for the right occasion is a good rule. Check out your gear, if you are not sure. Ask.
And finally, Physical conditioning. The cold will take you down if you are not ready for it. Backpacking or just camping in the winter is a whole different experience on your body. The cold can really wear it down. Along with physical conditioning it is important to maintain healthy mental fitness in the cold. Having the right attitude is key to surviving and using skills in the cold weather camping environment.

Get out there and Camp in the Cold. But use the G2SS, its a good place to start, but learn all you can before going out there. You will regret it if you do not go prepared.

Have a Great Scouting Day!

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