So you’re all set to go. You’ve ditched the cotton underwear for polypro, got yourself a warm sleeping bag, food and water and other necessary equipment and now you’re ready for just about anything winter has to throw at you. At least that’s what the books you’ve read tell you.
Before you venture into the wilderness you need to test your gear and here’s the way I do it. First, I go over my list to make sure I’ve got everything and then put it all in my pack. I went camping in ten degree weather once and forgot my gloves. Believe me, after a trip like that you learn to make a checklist and go through it.
Does everything fit in your pack? Excellent! Go to the next step. What? It doesn’t fit? Time to rearrange or get rid of some gear you might not need.
Next step. Once it’s all packed I put the pack on and head out into the woods, preferably in the snow, to see how heavy it is. I hike at least a couple of miles with it on and if it looks like I can keep going without killing myself I’ll stop for the next phase of testing. If it’s too heavy I’ve got three choices: find another way to carry it; get rid of some of the gear; get in better shape.
Now it’s time to pick out a temporary winter campsite. If there’s deep snow I’ll stomp an area flat with my snowshoes to compact it and then set up my tent and lay out my sleeping bag and basically act as if I’m getting ready to lay down and go to sleep. That includes getting into the sleeping bag. (Don’t forget to leave the boots in the vestibule or snow gets everywhere.) After all that hard work it’s nice just to lay there for a little while and relax. This also gives me some indication of how well the sleeping bag will work. Nice and toasty? Probably ok for an overnight. Already cold? Better re-evaluate the sleeping bag.
Another important aspect of this test is to take notes as you go. The gloves are no good after they get a little wet? Write it down. Cold in the sleeping bag and it’s not even zero degrees? Write it down. When you get home fix it before you have to go into the field with equipment that won’t do the job for you when you really need it.
Once you’re satisfied your gear is in good shape and you feel confident you can get by overnight it’s time to put your money where you mouth is. Wait for a night when the temperature won’t go below 20 or 25 degrees and head to your camping spot in the woods. If, for some reason, your gear is inadequate you can start a fire and stay warm that way or just pack up and head home. But if you’ve followed the steps here and properly tested your gear the only thing you’ll have to worry about is whether to get up in the middle of the night or try to wait until morning to take a leak because it’s COLD outside!
A bug-out bag is something that is always in transition for me because I use it for hiking and close-to-home camping trips. When summer turns to fall then winter you need to update the contents of your bag so that if TSHTF you don’t get caught in sub-zero temperatures with a lightweight sleeping bag and a water filter that will freeze up the first time you put water through it.
In a later post I’ll list out winter camping gear that I have in my pack so you can get an idea of what I take. Keep in mind this list is what works for me. If you talk to another experienced winter camper you’ll find a different gear list to go along with their philosophy. Who’s list is right? If the camper lives through the night comfortably then they’re right!
My Wife’s First Winter Campout. -4 F. I’m on the right.