That time I … went winter camping

By Jack Baudoin

It is wild how small you can feel when in the woods. Take away the sounds and structures of humanity and you are reminded just how vulnerable you are without any of the comforts of civilization. During the winter months, camping dies down around the country, and even though it is not as comfortable during this time, that should not be the case.

It is a very popular pastime to give up these luxuries for a day or two of roughing it. In 2018 41.67 million Americans went camping, according to the German market and consumer data company Statista. This means that about 8% of the population pack up their tents to go spend some time in nature.

It is rare to find someone who has never been camping. It is even more rare to find someone whose first time camping was in the snow. A couple of weeks ago this is exactly what I did.

Before I go any further I want to make something perfectly clear: I had wanted to go camping for a long time. It was always something I knew would be right up my alley, but I had never had the opportunity presented to me. When my buddy said he was looking for someone to go winter camping with, I jumped at the opportunity. If I was going to jump into the camping pool, I figured I may as well jump headfirst into the deep end.

I soon realized the most important thing is warmth. If you are interested in winter camping, put on multiple layers to the point that you feel ridiculous. Then, put on another layer. Without any buildings or even leaves on trees to block the wind, it will feel extremely cold to be outside for long, much less sleeping in it. Also, remember to use more than one sleeping bag. 

In addition to having lots of clothes for warmth, having access to a fire or a heater is quintessential to a comfortable winter camping experience. Most campsites have fire pits, so bring as much firewood as you can. My friend and I had a Mr. Heater “Big Buddy” that we kept in our tent as well. This propane-powered space heater made sitting in a tent in 32-degree weather feel like sitting in a tent in 70-degree weather.

Safety still has to be of the utmost importance. If using a space heater, make sure to put it on a metal tray so as not to burn your tent. Also, your tent must, and I stress this, must have ventilation. Using a space heater in a tent without ventilation is the quickest way to turn your fun winter camping trip into a funeral. It is important to have a carbon monoxide detector in your tent if going this route, and also to use the heater sparingly on the lowest setting. A fire extinguisher is also a must-have. You will still be cold, but it will be less like jumping into a frozen lake and more like stepping into a walk-in freezer. As this was my first camping experience there was more preparation than I was expecting, seeing as I was unsure of what I would need for the winter, let alone camping in general.  Getting all of this equipment together only helped to heighten my excitement.

As someone who had been wanting to go camping for years, I genuinely loved the experience. Being out in the woods and not having to deal with the mundane parts of human existence for a bit was a very welcome experience. I enjoyed feeling like a part of nature, just another animal going about its business on Earth, not any more important than the deer and squirrels that were surrounding me. The real question is would I do it again in the winter?

Absolutely not. While the camping experience was fun and everything I could have hoped for, I was uncomfortable and cold the entire time. Also, camping in the snow took away from some experiences I would have liked to have partaken in, such as seeing leaves on the trees or taking a dip in the nearby river. Would I recommend winter camping to people who love the outdoors?

Absolutely. While not the most comfortable, it was still an amazing time. For those who have gone camping in the summer frequently, winter camping might just be the change of pace you need to make camping that much more exciting. It makes the feeling of roughing it even rougher, and it feels like a fun little adventure.