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franklin county times

Meet the challenge winter tent camping

By By Otha Barham / outdoors editor
Dec. 27, 2002
Last May in this space I addressed comfortable camping in a piece titled "Primitive Camping Staying Cool and Dry." I made a note to explore the flip side of hot weather camping when the leaves had fallen and the nights became long and cold.
My response? Wimps! All of you! Chicken is what you are! Winter camping on the ground can be lots of fun, and even if it's not you wind up having something interesting to talk about. But if you had rather go to the mall and come home and fix supper and watch TV and go to work and talk on the phone and on and on like that, just go ahead and be normal. Me, I get a kick out of thumbing my nose at the elements and doing something like camping out in the snow and the rain and the cold.
You are at a party and polite conversation ensues. "How has your week been?" "Oh, I've had a bad cold (sniffle, cough) and hasn't the traffic been bad and didn't the Saints play lousy?"
Wouldn't you rather answer, "Camped out on the river and saw two eagles and an otter and made breakfast and hot coffee over a campfire." Or, "Pitched a tent at timberline and climbed the rocks after ptarmigan. Got caught in a storm and had to spend the night in a snow cave with a couple of candles and a candy bar." Livens up the talk at any party!
Choose adventure
Break away from the crowd. Do something the hard way for a change. We are getting too comfortable. Spoiled rotten.
I have a brother who has never done a single thing in his life like anyone else does it. He was born knowing how to make life interesting. I am lucky to have a bit of that trait myself I suppose, because I am always camping out in bad weather and stuff like that. And I have found out why I do it. It's to put myself to the test. When you test your mettle and prevail, you get a buzz. You feel capable of handling the next adversity.
Am I saying to go freeze your body parts in a tent and come back smiling? No! No! I am saying go camping in winter and stay warm and enjoy it. Beat the weather that might do the next guy in.
Similar to the "stay cool and dry" formula for summer camping, the idea in a winter camp is to stay warm and dry. And we are talking tent camping here.
First, staying warm. This is overlapped by the staying dry part because damp means cold but here we go.
Pitch the tent out of the cold wind in thick timber, behind a hill or best of all in the shelter of a big boulder that is warmed by the sun in daytime and holds that heat during the night. Don't face the tent door where it catches the downslope air movement at night. Use a couple of ground cloths for insulation. Ditch the tent if there is any possibility of rain or snowmelt running under your tent.
Fresh air
Always use a breathable tent (openings that can't be closed) for safety, no matter how cold it gets. Snow collapsed my tent fly down tight against my window openings this fall at 9,000 feet elevation and even though I had an additional slit beneath the tent door, I woke up in a panic from lack of oxygen. It was a dangerous situation. I grabbed the oxygen bottle and took several minutes worth through the mask. Never, ever shut your tent up tight.
And never use a heat source that consumes oxygen in your tent as you sleep. It's a sure way to not wake up.
Sleep on a cot or a mattress to keep your body away from the cold ground. Warning; don't use a rubber air mattress for winter camping. Rubber will drain your body heat straight to the cold earth. Use cloth covered or foam type mattresses. Air your sleeping bag each day to clear it of moisture.
To stay dry, pack changes of clothes in plastic bags and change out of wet clothes often. Dry clothes outside the tent in the sun. Pull off your boots before entering the tent to keep moisture and mud outside. Change underwear often if you are active. Wicking underwear with a wool over layer is a combination that helps you stay comfortable.
Wear breathable rain gear in snow or rain. Cheap, plastic rainwear is as bad as none at all when activity picks up because body moisture accumulates inside.
Learn the ins and outs of primitive winter camping and have some fun. The skills could save your life someday too.