Winter camping offers breathtaking snow-covered scenery and unparalleled solitude and silence.
In exchange, however, you have to prepare even better than you would in summer. You must pack thoroughly with a list in hand, as forgetting gear can mean the end of the trip. How you pack is important, too, as time spent finding gear or fussing with it is time that you are stopped (cold) instead of moving (warm). Additionally, you'll need to be more conservative as you travel. The difficulty of administering first aid in cold conditions can not be understated.
Here is some practical advice on setting up camp in the snow.
Setting Up Camp
• Find a good spot, considering wind and morning sun.
• Using your shovel, create a platform for your tent by digging up blocks of snow and using these to build a wall around your platform.
• Stomp the flattened area with your boots and level with your shovel.
• Anchor your tent with stuff sacks filled with snow that you dig and bury. (Don't use tent stakes in the winter, as the snow will melt around them and make them useless.) Stake your tent firmly.
• Remember that your stove is now your source of warm food AND your source of water.
• Test your stove before leaving if it hasn't been used in a while. Use a liquid fuel stove instead of a canister stove, as the canisters can freeze.
• Use fresh fuel and carry more than you need.
• Bring a small square of foam - or use the blade of your shovel or an extra pot - to keep your fuel and stove off the snow.
• Find clean snow to melt and add water as you melt it to prevent your pot from burning.
• Winter is not the time to simmer and sauté. One pot meals work best. • Pack lots of hot drink mixes to prepare and drink whenever you are boiling water. Bring a small water bottle or a small vacuum bottle to keep these drinks warmer longer.
• Don’t skip dessert! Burning calories while you sleep will help keep you warm.
• Make water for the next morning at night.
• Avoid cooking in your tent, dues to the dangers of carbon monoxide.
Using the Facilities
• Pack "blue bags" in and pack everything out including your toilet paper. (Digging a six inch hole does little good where you have several feet of drifted snow.)
• A snowball makes good substitute for or supplement to TP. Bury the snowball.
• Go right before you get in your tent at night, but if you wake up feeling that you have to go again, do it. You'll sleep much better and you will stay warmer.
• Consider creating a clearly-marked "pee bottle." Seek further advice as necessary.
• Fluff up your sleeping bag and put a few more puffs into your insulated mat.
• Place dry gear (rain pants, rain jacket, etc.) under your mat to create another layer of separation between you and the snow.
• Go to bed warm. Run around camp or do some jumping jacks before turning in.
• A hat and a shirt will keep your top half warm if you wriggle out of your bag. Wear a balaclava rather than cinching your sleeping bag tight against your face, as your exhaled breath will condense and get your bag wet.
• Sleep close to others in the tent to make use of body heat.
• Keep food and water handy by your head.
• Put the clothes you want to wear in the morning in the bottom of your sleeping bag.
• A tightly sealed water bottle filled with hot water will keep your toes warm and can be used to prepare breakfast.
• A few other things to consider keeping in your bag: your boots, contacts, transceiver, radio, cell phone, GPS and anything else that might freeze.
Snow camping tips compliments of Pat O'Brien, Washington Alpine Club.