Winter Camping

Gloves

Gloves play a major role in your warmth system when cold weather camping.  Your gloves and your boots are key to keeping you warm.  Think about it.  Your hands and your feet are the farthest body parts from the core and when they get cold you are cold all over.  They are also the most at risk for cold weather injury.
When shopping for gloves, don’t skimp.  Gloves are not where you want to cut cost, spend a bit extra and get good gloves that will last and you will have a much better cold weather camping experience.
I use a layering system with my gloves.  This gives me options in the cold without exposure.  I start with a “Base layer” glove.  The Mountain Hardwear Stimulu.  It retails for $40.  When not wearing them I wear a Fingerless mitten called the Mountain Hardwear Bandito.  They retail for $45.  My outer layer is a combination mitten.  The Outdoor research Meteor.  They retail for $70.
I added the retail prices here so you can see the value that I place on good gloves.  I could spend more, but I have been using this system for some time and know that it works to keep me warm in extreme cold temperatures.  Using the gloves in a layering system gives me a lot of options and works well to regulate my comfort.
What questions do you have?
What gloves system do you use?
Share…
Have a Great Scouting Day!

 

Selecting your winter camp site

Start, Stop, and to be ContinuedMuch like camping in fair conditions there are principles that should be followed when winter camping site selection.  First plan ahead.  Know where you are going and try to get there with enough daylight to relax and set up camp.  Remember that it will get dark much earlier, so set your pace from the start of planning to arrive early.
When using your existing gear site selection is key.  Using your standard 3 season tent will require you to think about where you put it and how it is anchored.
Stay out of the wind.  Trees, outcroppings, and a large pine all provide protection from wind.  Watch for loaded branches of snow, and place the tent so that you are not directly under them.  Take a look up and look for widow makers and other potential hazards.
While planning take a look at the terrain on the map of your proposed location.  Avoid camping on any slope or at the bottom of any slope that would have the remote possibility to avalanche.  It is always important to learn the telltale signs of avalanche conditions.
Consider your nearest water source.  Are you going to melt snow?  If so, plan to use a lot more fuel.  Is there a nearby stream, pond or lake?  Make sure you know how to use your filter and protect your filter from the conditions.  Some filters do not work in the cold or will freeze once the water passes through it.  You need water.  That is important.  But plan ahead for your water sources.  Carrying in water is heavy unless you are pulling a pulk sled.
Cold air settles in low ground.  Avoid the bottoms of hills, camping in a valley.  Stay out of low meadows.  Finding a nice platform above a valley will be warmer and give you fantastic views to wake up to.
Be prepared to work.  You will more than likely have to prepare a tent platform, dig a cold sump, and gather fire wood.  Don’t overheat while setting up your camp.  Consider the amount of work that will go into setting camp and prioritize that work.
Leave no trace.  Yep, just because you can’t see the ground does not mean that you are not leaving an impact.  Use the leave no trace principles when selecting and staying in your winter camp.
Have fun out there.  Winter camping is great.
I’d love to hear some of your winter camping tips.  Drop in the comments section.

Have a Great Scouting Day!

Winter camping and the backpack

>The harder the challengeWe 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.
Clothing.
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.
The Pack.
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!

The COLD Attitude

When preparing for winter camping or camping in colder temps than you are typically used to it is important to get your mind right.
It is a must to have the right gear, train for the conditions and practice before venturing out into the cold.  But the most important thing to prepare is your attitude.
We teach that COLD means to stay clean, keep from overheating, wear your clothing loose and in layers, and stay dry.  Those things should keep your warm and comfortable while camping in the winter.  I have known people that just never seem to be warm.  They can add layers and layers and still won’t be warm.  When they are constantly cold, they dont want to be there.
I was stationed in Alaska while I served in the Army.  Before I was assigned to Ft. Wainwright in Fairbanks, I was in Georgia, I think this is the Army’s idea of humor.  When I arrived in Alaska I was sent to a course called Cold Weather Indoctrination Training (CWI).  The first thing that they tought us was that we had to get our mind set to be cold.  Once we accepted the idea that it was going to be cold, we could focus on our job.  The first night of the training we took our sleeping bags and sleeping pads an went out into a near by stand of trees about 100 yards from the barracks.  We were told that we would be sleeping out there for the night.  “Trust the gear and accept the cold” the Sergeant said.  I thought I was going to die that night.  I got in my sleeping bag, wiggled around a bit, and then settled in for a nights sleep in the snow.  The guy next to me tossed and turned all night, his teeth chattered, and at about midnight he got up and ran to the building.  I remember watching him through the face hole of my sleeping bag.  I was toasty warm in the bag and would not have gotten out of that warm bag to run if the forest was on fire.  The next morning, the Sergeant came out and woke us up.  The air was crisp and it was cold.  He told us that we needed to get up and get moving.  It was like jumping into a cold pond.. you just hold your breath and go for it.  I sprang from my sleeping bag throwing clothing on as quick as I could.  Once I got my boots on and started rolling up my sleeping bag I noticed that I was not cold, I was working up a little sweat even.
We marched to the dining hall for breakfast, then right back out into the cold for more training.  The more we trained, the more I got used to the cold.  The more I got used to the idea that it was just going to be cold, the more I accepted it and it was just another thing.
I can remember my second winter in Alaska, when it warmed up to the single digits above 0, we would run around with sweatshirts and t- shirts on.  The cold was just a matter of fact.  We had our minds right.
Now, I dont want to confuse anyone by changing up the meaning of COLD.. but I remember my Squad leader came up with a new version for us to keep our minds in the right attitude for the cold temps.
C- Can’t is not an option.  When the tents need to be put up, camp chores need to be done, Can’t is not an option.. the work has to be done.  Can’t is not a phrase that gets us out of any situation.  YOU CAN be in the cold… You just have to accept it.
O- Operate with the mind set that this is a challenge I am willing to face.  Challenge yourself mentally, physically, and prepare your self for the Challenge.
People do not summit Everest because they have North Face gear and lots of money.  They accept the challenge and push themselve in the preparation.
L- Look around, you are not the only one out here in the cold.  Your buddy counts on you and you count on them.  We do this together.  When one man is not mentally prepared the whole team suffers.
D- Dont forget your training and have confidence in your gear.  Training for the enviornment settles the mind.  The less you think about the cold, the more at ease your mind is.  Just like athletes rely on muscle memory to esure that they are fundementally sound, thus they can focus on the other aspects of the game and their oppenent.   Never forget your preparation and training and you will have the right mind set.
Some of the Scouts wonder why I seem to love camping in the winter.  It is quiet, I love the crisp air, and you never have crowds.  Above all I love the challenge.  I love to test my skill and training.  I love to safely push personal limits.  I trust my gear and my training and know that I can have fun out in the winter just as much as I do in the summer.  I try to teach our Scouts those same things that I learned 30 years ago.  Just like then, I accepted the challenge and adapted to the winter conditions.  As a result I gained an appreciation for camping in the cold.  Now I love it.
Your mind is powerful and will allow you to do just about anything that you want.  As long as you trust yourself, your training (the people that trained you), and your gear, you will have an awesome time camping in the cold.

Have a Great Scouting Day!

Staying warm in your Hammock

phoenixI had a fun discussion this weekend with a reader of the blog that is interested, but not sold on the whole hammock camping thing.  We were talking about when I camp in my hammock.  The answer is all the time, every month in every season.  So the question was, “so how do you stay warm in the hammock?”
There are many ways to keep warm while having a great nights sleep in the hammock.   I use a Top Quilt and an Under Quilt.
It’s science.  You see, when you lay in a sleeping bag on a pad (or in a hammock) you crush the fibers or the down that is creating loft that keeps you warm.  Down feathers and synthetic fibers must have air pockets to allow for the warm air to become trapped and create warmth.
The quilts made for hammocks are designed to create the most insulation.  They are constructed with a nylon shell filled with either down or synthetic materials.   The Under quilt hangs below and on the outside of the hammock.  When you lay in the hammock, you are surrounded by the underquilt and none of the material is compressed.  Because the hammock is made of nylon also and as such is a breathable material the body generates heat and fills the insulation keeping you warm underneath.  If you are worried about wind robbing your quilt of the “R” value, Underquilt cover is hung below the quilt and snugged up to the quilt to protect it from wind, rain, snow, or other heat stealing agents.
The top quilt is basically a blanket with a foot box.  It is easy to get in and out of and coupled with the under quilt provides comfort and warmth.
For added warmth, a sleeping bag liner can be added.
A good under quilt and top quilt will cost you about $550, but because there is no wear on them, they last a long time, if you take care of them.
If you don’t want to spend that kind of money, there are other options that will keep you just as warm.
A regular sleeping bag works just fine.  It is a heavier option and is a little harder to get in and out of, but you can stay just as warm.
Use a closed cell foam pad in the hammock to provide insulation and take away what hammock campers call CBS or Cold Butt syndrome.  Your self inflating pad will work also, just don’t fill it all the way.  The CCF pad works much better though.  Air on air is not great insulation.
Reflectix pads or a sheet of reflectix material or emergency blanket works real well to provide a great heat source.  Reflective materials or reflectix will bounce 70% of your body heat back at you.  That’s pretty good for the size and weight of the materials.
Once you have the gear, the rest is up to how you sleep.  In the winter, I will sleep in Poly Pro long underwear and a beanie cap.  When it’s really cold I will wear down booties on my feet.   I have also placed my down puffy jacket over the hammock and zip it up creating a foot pocket.
I try to keep my load down, so I use clothing that I already have in my pack.
A tarp is a must to keep the elements off of your hammock and you.  A tarp pitched in a tight “A” frame is roomy and provides great protection from the elements.
As we prepare for our winter camping this season, I will post some video to illustrate my winter set up.
As you can imagine, I love to talk about gear, hammock camping, and being out in the woods, so I was thrilled this weekend when the questions started coming.
Hope that helped you get a better picture of how to stay warm in your hammock.

Have a Great Scouting Day!

Just do something…

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It has been an interesting week or so and the blog once again, while always on my mind took a back seat to the daily working of being a Scoutmaster.  As we prepared for the camp out and then went out on another winter adventure the Scouts of Troop 664 kept me busy
and looking for new ways to reach our Scouts and peak their interest.
On our way home from our camp out yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with the Senior Patrol Leader of our Troop.  We were talking about the morning and some of the challenges that we encountered.  Taking advantage of a good teaching and learning opportunity we shifted the conversation to what we could have done different.  James talked about how he could have been a better example in that he should have got packed up before the young guys allowing him to be more available to assist were needed and he could have worked better as a team with the Assistant Senior Patrol Leader and the Patrol Leaders.  I told him that he was right, a leader needs to always set the expectation by being a good example and that pretty much goes for everything.  We talked about some of the decision-making of the group this weekend and why some Scouts seem to get it and others don’t.  It comes down to decision-making and common sense.  We agreed that common sense is not as common as we would like and then talked more about decision-making.

When it comes to making decisions, especially in a cold weather camping environment, there is a simple rule in that for every action there is a positive or negative reaction.  The worst thing that a leader can do is nothing.
A Scouts skills is the knowledge base that his decisions are formulated and made from.  The Scout can choose to do the right thing, or he can choose to do nothing.  What we have seen from our Scouts is that when the make the choice to do nothing, they are cold, wet, and tired.  In short, they do not have a good time.  We have watched as Scouts that do not have fun on camp outs tend not to camp as much and lose interest in Scouting.  There are a few arguments for and against.  I have been told on one hand that it is my job to make sure that the Scouts have fun.  I have also been told to stay the course.  Now, before anyone jumps down my throat about this, let me tell you that we are not weeding kids out by camping in the snow and maintaining our Troop camping as backpackers.  Every Scout that joins our Troop knows how we camp and see the calendar so they know when, where, and how we are camping, climbing, and find adventure.  They make a choice at that time to join us or find another troop.  As long as our Patrol leaders council wants to head down that trail, we will.  We do a great job in training up our Scouts to be successful.  But we require that they make a choice.  They need to make a choice to learn or not to learn.  That is up to them.  Like I have explained over and over again, it is the jobs of the Scoutmaster and the Assistant Scoutmasters to assist Scouts in making it to First Class.  I am not to interested in Eagle Scouts, that will come with hard work, determination, and developing as a young man.  the skills learned and habits formed on the trail to First Class is the foundation of the making a man.  Camping Skills, Citizenship, Fitness, and Character are all elements of the trail to First Class.  But the first step on that trail is a choice.
So as I talked with the Senior Patrol Leader on the way home from the camp out we discussed possible reasons why the Scouts we have now are less mentally tough and unwilling to push themselves.  Why can they not take what they have learned and apply it?  Why have they not made the choice?  Is it a lack of training?  Is it a lack of want to?  Is it something that we have done or failed to do?  We could not put our finger on it.  Whats different in the Scouts we have this year opposed to the Scouts we crossed over 4 years ago or even 2 years ago?  We don’t really know.  They all come from good homes, great parents, and none of them have learning disabilities… so they all have the ability to learn and make sound choices.  So what is it?  We will find out I guess.
In the mean time, what does this mean for the Troop?  Tonight the PLC met and started getting ready for the next camp out.  Next month we will head into the woods to develop our Wilderness Survival Skills.  The plan won’t change and I am sure that some of the Scouts that have not been having a great time, well, they won’t go camping.  I asked the PLC what they thought about that.. they said that it was fine, at least they won’t have to have bad attitudes on the camp out.  I think the boys get tired of dealing with it too.  It’s that “one bad apple” thing and the majority of the Scouts really would rather camp with the guys that want to be there and have a good time.So what?  I think it is great the SPL is aware enough to have this talk.  I am encouraged by a PLC that is willing to stay the course and take a part in having a Troop that they want to belong to, that they want to lead, and that they want to share with their friends.
We will have to see where this takes us.  For now, we just get ready for the next outing and keep working with the young men that want to be there.  These last few months have been challenging for the Scouts of our Troop, some are stronger for it, some developed better leadership skills because of it, and some have made a choice not to camp in the winter.  I am ok with all of it.
What do you think?  I think that things will be just fine.  I think that the Troop will be fine and that we will continue to have great adventures in the future.  I think that while some of the Scouts choose to turn away from challenges, most boys want to be challenged and want to see just how far they push themselves.  I think this is the way boys are no matter how hard we try to be over protective and keep them in a bubble.  Some how.. some way.. boys need to be boys and Scouts gives them that outlet when we provide the program and allow them to make a choice.  That’s what I think.  I am curious to see what your thoughts are.

Have a Great Scouting Day!

Attack of the Snow Blower

This weeks Sunday Coffee with Scoutmaster Jerry is full of coffee and adventure..
This weekend our Troop camped out up at White River on Mt. Hood.  It was a great time and lots of skills practiced and learned.
Sunday Morning around 4:00 AM our Troop encountered an unexpected attack.  We typically camp on the other side of a creek that flows adjacent to the White River snow park.  This is a good location as this camp out is always the first Winter camp out in snow for the new Scouts.  The location provides a good bail out plan and the comfort that the cars are not to far if we need them.  Anyway… this year the snow bridge was gone so we picked a camp site a bit closer to the parking lot.  We have camped there before, but this year was different.  At 4:00 AM the Oregon Department of Transportation snow crew cleaned up the snow park.  They plowed the parking lot and then sent in the snow blower  Now I don’t know about you but I had never felt the wrath of 100 lbs of snow shot from a cannon before.. until this morning!
Hope you enjoy the video.
Have a Great Scouting Day!