19 March 2019
There are several technical hurdles that must be overcome before someone can comfortably sleep in the freezing cold and, for someone such as myself, who would rather sleep in the freezing Colorado winter than submit to the whims of mother nature, surpassing these hurdles is a requirement.
Most people would consider cold-weather camping to be a form of self-imposed exile or torture, but it is quite the opposite. As long as an adventurous soul covers the basics and thinks things through, there is honestly nothing to it. With that being said, here are my top four tips to consider before you explore the outdoors during the winter.
Tip 1: Always check the weather.
I can sleep comfortably down into the negative single digits; however, there is a limit to everything. Therefore you should always check the expected temperatures to see if your gear is capable of sustaining your journey through the night.
This is especially true when taking the mountains into consideration. Heavy wind and snow often have the added threat of avalanches.
Incredibly low temperatures means that even a roaring fire will not offer much in the way of comfort.
It is also recommended that you start at a warm temperature and work your way down. New campers should not be venturing into forty-below weather on their first try, or even their fifth.
Tip 2: Spend money on adequate gear.
There are several essentials that cannot be overlooked, no matter how outrageous the price may seem.
Your cocoon sleeping bag and apparel should be capable of keeping you warm, yet not so warm that you begin sweating.
This goes for all of your cold-weather gear.
Sweating during sub-freezing weather is a common fault of beginner campers, and it can make your adventures cold, uncomfortable and even dangerous.
Test your gear before venturing out. You should remain slightly on the cool side with your base gear, as you can always add layers to slightly increase your temperature.
You should also consider buying an insulated, closed-cell sleeping pad. It adds two things that I find essential.
First, it gives an even and soft surface on which to sleep, though this applies to all types of camping.
Second, and more importantly, it limits your contact with the frozen ground.
A common misconception is that you need a heavy-duty tent with thick fabric. This is not the case, as the tent’s purpose is not to provide any form of insulation but to stop the wind.
Your main source of warmth comes from your sleeping bag and your insulating pad. A tent that is light, low to the ground and easily secured is preferable. Using a small tent can also help reduce heat loss.
Tip 3: Habits and Actions
Do not breathe into your sleeping bag. This is a cardinal sin of cold-weather camping. You introduce moisture into your bag, which reduces the insulation between you and the cold.
A cocoon sleeping bag should be large enough to fully encase your body, but also tight-fitting enough so that you can pull the draw-strings and close the top of the bag around the lower half of your face. This allows you to breathe comfortably.
Second, do not wait to relieve yourself until the early hours of the morning. Make sure to go to the bathroom before you tuck yourself in.
Finally, do not be afraid to eat a midnight snack and drink some water half-way through the night. A granola bar and a sip of water works well to make your night a more comfortable one.
You should keep a water bottle inside your sleeping bag at night and inside your jacket during the day, thus allowing you to drink some water without braving water that is close to freezing.
Tip 4: Do not be afraid to go home
There are many reasons to like cold-weather camping. A photographer can find clear, empty skies for pictures of the milky way, woodsmen can find quiet contemplation in empty campgrounds and the outdoor extremists can test their skills and willpower. However, it should never put you at risk.
Though I have found it to be a wonderful experience in the past, there have always been times where I have to critically judge my situation before it gets me into trouble.
I have even packed my gear and left on several occasions due to the realization that I was not prepared. An experience like this serves to connect you to nature and reset your otherwise busy lifestyle.
However, the wilderness can be dangerous if not approached with respect. Do not be afraid to try again another day.
A sad result of the harsh winters of Colorado is that the average resident greatly restricts their outdoor adventures. It is hard to blame them. The high altitude mixed with cold winds and unforgiving snowfall can put a negative spin on anything even remotely outdoors.
However, the adventurous can find a good time. There are many places in the mountains of Colorado that completely transform under a layer of snow, something that the non-adventurous may never get to see.