Winter Camping

Kathleen Roberts
Learn about winter camping shelters.

Winter camping can be an exhilarating experience but it requires a great deal of planning to be safe. Having a pre-plan will not only give you peace of mind so you can enjoy your winter adventure more fully, it can also save your life. Recently survival expert Brian Brawdy offered some safety tips for anyone considering camping in the winter.

About Brian Brawdy

A former New York police investigator, Brian Brawdy is known as the "Outdoor Adventure Expert". He has appeared on Good Morning America as well as all the major television networks.

Prepare for an Outdoor Adventure

Getting ready for a winter camping trip involves much more than just choosing a destination. Your body is very vulnerable in the cold, making additional planning essential.

For example, while you may be fine with just a sleeping bag in the summer, winter camping will be safer if you have an air mattress under your sleeping bag. This will prevent heat from gettings lost, which happens when you lay on the frozen ground.

According to Brian, the most important pre-plan is to know the area you are exploring. You should also let someone know where you are going, how you plan to get there and when you plan to return. Your equipment list should include:

  • A light
    winter camping
  • Food
  • Water
  • First aid kit
  • Boots
  • Gloves
  • Gortex jacket
  • Signal mirror
  • Whistle

Winter Survival

Winter camping requires some knowledge on winter survival. The best tip is to always camp with a buddy. If you get hurt or need help, your buddy can assist you. It is also essential to wear clothing that keeps you warm and dry. Brian recommends Gore-Tex for outer layers. "The human body donates its heat 23 times faster when wet than when dry. Waterproof and breathable, Gortex could save you from hypothermia." Staying dry is imperative to preventing things like frostbite and hypothermia.

If you get lost, Brian recommends building a snow shelter. "Get out of the wind and elements. Conductive and convective heat loss are killers."

Above all else, stay calm. Brian says, "If you panic, you perish. If you have let someone know where you will be, they will come looking for you."

Cold Weather Injuries

During cold weather, your body is more susceptible to injury. Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine as these will cause you to chill more easily. These things also cause dehydration, which is always dangerous, but more so in the winter.

Be especially vigilant when it comes to keeping your feet dry. Cold, wet feet can quickly lead to trench foot. Trench foot causes your feet to become numb, swollen and very painful.

Eye injuries can also occur during winter camping and hiking. Protect your eyes with goggles or sunglasses. Even when it is cloudy or overcast outside, you can still burn your eyes or even develop snowblindness.

Avalanche Awareness

If you intend to camp or hike in the mountains you need to be aware of the possibility of an avalanche. Avalanches kill hundreds of people each year. Most of these deaths are skiers but hikers can be in danger as well.

You are wise to call an area avalanche center to check on conditions in the area you have chosen for your winter camping adventure. A center staff member can tell you what areas are considered safe and which are not.

It is also a good idea to be able to judge for yourself if an area is safe to walk on. Shady slopes should be avoided because weaker snow layers are often preserved under the surface. Likewise, if the snow sounds hollow as you walk on it, avoid doing so. Weaker layers under a solid surface are likely to break loose and cause an avalanche.

To really be prepared, consider taking a course in avalanche safety. One great option is the American Avalanche Institute. Here you can learn basic and advanced guidelines from the American Avalanche Association.

Level one courses cost around $190. Level two courses range from $225 to $320. Level three ranges from $340 to $620. Even a basic course can save your life, and if you spend a great deal of time in the outdoors during winter months it is well worth the investment.

Winter Camping