Cold weather camping is something unusual and really amazing. Those who tried it once crave to get back to blissful silence and mesmerising scenery over and over. Winter camping is challenging and helps you discover new horizons of your personality. It gives you new experiences and the feeling of genuine adventure.
However, because of low temperatures, winter camping can be dangerous. Hypothermia, frostbite and dehydration are three major dangers you can face on a cold camping trip. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at these issues and share a couple of helpful tips on how to avoid them.
The Biggest Dangers of Cold Weather Camping
Hypothermia happens when the body cannot maintain enough core temperature to stay alive. It’s most likely to occur when a person gets wet and cold. Symptoms include shivering, weakness, shallow breathing and lack of coordination.
Frostbite is an injury caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues. First, skin becomes cold and red, then numb, hard and pale. Frostbite typically affects fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin, as these parts are mostly exposed and thus most vulnerable to frost.
Dehydration occurs when more water and fluids leave the body than enter it. In the cold weather, you might think that you’re not sweating a lot, like you would in warmer temperatures, and drink less water. However, it can be a deadly mistake. Even low levels of dehydration can cause headaches, dizziness, increased heart rate, muscle cramps and weakness.
Top Safety Tips for Winter Camping
#1 Take care of a warm shelter
For safe and comfortable cold weather camping, go for a four-season tent with stove jack. A quality four-season tent will withstand high winds and heavy snowfalls, so you won’t need to spend extra time outside in order to strengthen your wilderness fortress against the elements. The stove will keep you warm and dry on cold winter nights and save you a lot of time and fuel if compared to open fire.
What is more important, a wood stove for tent is a perfect solution for quick and safe cooking. And there’s no need to explain that hot food and drinks are absolutely crucial in the freezing weather, right?
In addition, get a sleeping bag with the appropriate temperature rating, and a pad to provide extra insulation from the cold ground.
#2 Make sure that you know the location well
Getting lost in the forest in winter is extremely dangerous. So before you go camping, thoroughly plan your route and familiarize yourself with the place. Remember to get a printed map of the area. You shouldn’t rely on online maps as you can lose Internet access at the most inappropriate moment. If you’re planning national park camping, visit the park’s website to find out information on park rules and safety. Also, avoid avalanche areas. Study the map for bodies of water: you might not be able to see them under snow. Be highly cautious when crossing frozen rivers.
#3 Select the right clothes
The best advice to keep warm in the freezing weather is to dress in three layers. The air that is trapped between the layers provides warmth. The base layer allows the skin to breathe, the mid layer keeps the warmth in and the outer layer provides protection from the wind and cold. However, if your gear is too tight, there won’t be enough space for the air to be trapped. On the other hand, if it’s too loose, the air will easily escape from your clothing. That’s why you need gear that fits you well, not too tight and not too loose. Also, don’t forget about headwear: you can lose up to 70% of your body heat through the head.
Plus, keep in mind that wet gear quickly drains your body heat and puts you at risk of getting hypothermia. That’s why waterproof gear is virtually essential when you’re going cold weather camping.
Finally, take care of a change of clothes, especially socks and gloves.
#4 Food really matters
To keep your body warm and properly functioning in the cold weather, you can’t just get along with any food. Your camp meals and snacks have to be high in nutrients that will provide you with the necessary amount of energy. As a guideline, you can divide your caloric intake into the following parts:
- 50% Carbohydrates (grains, beans, cereals, pasta, candy bars, dried fruits)
- 20% Protein (meat, cheese, milk, grains, bean, nuts)
- 30% Fats (oils, butter, nuts, cheese)
One more essential tip: never leave your campsite for hiking without having a hearty breakfast.
#5 Stay hydrated
As we’ve already mentioned, dehydration is one of the gravest dangers of winter camping. You might think that you don’t need to drink much in the cold weather. However, it’s a huge mistake that can lead to serious consequences. It’s easy to check your hydration level: the paler the color of your urine, the more hydrated you are.
To maintain the necessary hydration level, bring enough water to your camp. As an alternative, you can melt snow, but make sure to purify it by boiling.
#6 Don’t underrate the risk of getting frostbite
When skin on the fingers and face is exposed to freezing temperatures for a long time, you might get frostbite. So make sure these areas are properly protected: use warm waterproof gloves and a facemask. Also, don’t forget about warm socks: your toes are very vulnerable to frostbite as well. Carefully schedule your hikes so you get back to your camp to get warm on time and avoid the risk of frostbite.
Still, if you already start feeling numbness, shivering, your skin gets white or purple, warm the frostbitten skin against warm skin on your (or your partner’s) stomach or armpits. It will provide warmth at a safe rate. As an alternative, you can use a bottle of warm water, but never warm frostbitten skin over the fire or by friction. Frostbite is a serious condition that requires immediate medical treatment.
#7 In case you might get lost
Besides a map, there are a couple of tips that will help you when you get lost. First of all, pick up bright camping gear to stay visible in the snow. Next, try to avoid hiking alone, instead, always stay together with other people. It’s a reasonable solution to pack a whistle and a mirror to reflect sunlight in case you get lost and need to send signals.
Although winter camping is exciting and has a range of advantages like no bugs, no crowds and amazing scenery, it can be challenging and dangerous at the same time. However, knowing your camping location, proper preparation and sticking to basic safety rules will help you avoid unpleasant issues.