Jon Finley's Snow Camping Tips
I have snow camped almost every winter since
1974 in one form or another. Sometimes by choice other times not. After
almost freezing my tail off sleeping in the back of my truck, snowed in at the top of the
pass of the Beartooth mountain range one September, I have gradually learned how to be
prepared for winter traveling and snow camping.
Winter traveling: Put an old coat, sweats, a
pair of socks, a sleeping bag and a small shovel (2 foot military type) somewhere in the
back seat or trunk of your car. Carry a gallon of water and some sort of food
(Breakfast bars, Pop-tarts, granola bars, etc.) enough for at least one small meal.
Plastic bags can be used as liners to keep your feet dry in wet boots. Extra
socks with Plastic bags can be used as mittens. Flares are cheap and they work; you
may want to carry three or four flares and some extra match books. Your whole
"emergency kit" can fit within one 40 gal garbage bag which will keep everything
dry and clean until you need them. Last: ALWAYS TELL SOMEONE
WHERE YOU'RE GOING.
I slept warm at the top of the pass because of my kit. I woke up the next morning
to find two feet of new snow, gusting winds and a 4 foot wall I had to dig through that
the snow plow had made when it passed.
Snow Camping: What fun, right?? Well, it
can be, if you approach the sport with the right frame of mind and the right equipment.
You don't need to spend thousands of dollars on equipment. You WILL need to
carry more clothing and camp a little smarter than you would for 3 season camping.
- Clothing: The buzz word is "Layers". Wear
several layers of clothing that can be removed or un-zipped as you warm up. You
should never wear a single warm layer. If you get too warm you sweat. If you
sweat, your clothing gets wet and looses its ability to keep you warm. You should
start with a mid weight hydrophobic (water hating) layer. The next one or two layers
should be insulating layers (Polartech for high activity, Down for very low temperatures)
with the last layer as wind and water (rain or snow) protection. The same should
hold true for your feet, head and hands.
- Sleeping bag: If you are using a tent with someone else,
you may never need to have a sleeping bag that is rated lower than zero (0 degrees
f.). If it's zero outside, it may be as warm as twenty inside the tent. One of
the most important things to remember is that the cold ground will rob your body of it's
heat. Use two sleeping mats during the winter. Use a closed foam or insolite
pad directly on the ground, then on top of that place a self inflating pad. During
the Summer you can get by with the 3/4 length pads, but in Winter use the full length pads
(the insolite pad may be 3/4 length if necessary). As for the bag itself: Down
or fiber, either will work well. The only limitation will be in the amount of weight
you will want to carry and the cost to go light (you can find a zero bag that weighs 8
lbs. for $40 all the way to a -55 degree 5 lb. bag that costs $700). Get a bag that
is longer than you are tall. This will give you enough room that you can put
clothing or water bottles at the foot of the bag to keep them from freezing. Also,
never totally cover your face with the sleeping bag so that you are breathing into the
bag. This will cause water vapor to gradually dampen your bag. If you have to
sleep with your head and face covered, throw one of your extra Polartech layers over your
face. The water vapor will pass through the layer, but your head and face will stay
- Food: Eat well. Your body works harder when it's
trying to keep you warm. You will want to eat high protein and high fat
combinations. Snack a lot. Hard candies and "Tech" bars are great.
Instant breakfast drinks turn out to be great morning snacks while you are trying
to get breakfast cooked (mix carnation instant with an instant coffee packet for a great
boost). Cook smart by making your morning supply of water (melted snow) right
after dinner. Drink your fill of water (hot Tang, cocoa, coffee or tea), then fill
your bottles before you go to bed. When you wake up in the morning you can start by
heating the water you already have for your morning drinks. After breakfast, make
the water you need for the rest of the morning (or day).
- Equipment: This list can get VERY long, and can vary
depending on the type of snow camping trip you go on. You can get by with almost
nothing extra other than the pack to carry all of your supplies in, or all the way to a
full expedition with a 6' to 8' toboggan, ropes, ice axe, crampons, skis, oxygen bottles
and 50 pound pack just to get you to the first stage of your camp.
Suggestions to start with:
Start with the proper clothing for the type of
mountain, altitude and weather.
- Internal frame backpack (5000-7000 cubic inches).
- Ice Axe (length will depend on your height) 60-90cm.
- Adjustable ski poles (depending on the type of mountain you may only need the axe).
- Stiff mountaineering boot (plastic seems to provide a wide range of use).
- Ski goggles.
- Possibly Backcountry skies (wider than normal x-country) and or snow shoes.
- Sleeping bag rated -20f or lower.
- 4 season tent (these will usually have 3 or 4 aluminum poles, two doors, vestibules
and back, etc).
- Sun block (SPF-50 or better).
- Aspirin, Motrin, etc (something that works well for you for High Altitude headaches).
Start with the proper clothing for the weather.
- Cross country skies or snow shoes.
- Toboggan (to haul your gear in).
- Sleeping bag rated +5 or lower (will depend on your local winter weather).
- 3-4 season tent.
- Sun block (SPF-50 or better).
Here are some vendor links that might help you in selecting
Comments to: Jon