winter camping

Although i have spent a ridiculous proportion of my 60 plus outdoors, winter and summer, and have so far survived some pretty near misses involving weather conditions which can at times be brutal in both southern and northern canada, the first time i heard someone mention “winter camping” i kind of went, huh?

Trapping one winter in saskatchewan, it wasn’t going really all that well but finally i met some success. Near the end of the day, i found i had made a catch, a nice prime saskatchewan coyote. The temperature was around neg 40 and the west wind was blowing hard, picking up snow from the stubble fields and turning the setting sun into a barely visible glow. I dropped into a coulee and floundered through the snow, chasing up a grouse which was buried there for warmth. The sudden unexpected flurry of wingbeats startled me but the thought i had been pondering quickly returned. Should i try it or hunker where i was in the coulee bottom for the night?

I had a mile to go over an open field in a vicious blizzard with night coming on quick. The alternative of spending the night in the snow, didn’t appeal any more than the trek and i began, soon realizing the impossibility of facing the storm bare-faced, so with the body of the still slightly warm coyote wrapped around my neck i turned my back to the storm and made my way across that mile of open land walking with my back to the wind, feeling the cold penetrate my back right through everything i was wearing as i travelled. How much farther i could have travelled like that i do not know, but not too much.

When i finally arrived home i threw the rock solid animal down the steps of the basement for skinning, worrying a bit that the tail might break off on the way down. I can still hear the clunk clunk clunk as he bounced down the steps to the concrete floor.

So knowing how vicious conditions can be in canada in the winter from many such experiences made me leery of the idea of camping in the snow, but in subsequent years i have learned that with a bit of effort the experience can be absolutely enjoyable, perhaps even more so than in the summer or autumn months.

Very few mosquitos trouble you when it’s thirty below. Secondly, when it rains, the raindrops float gently to the ground and are easily brushed off your clothing instead of soaking your clothes and chilling you to the bone.

With felt lined Sorrels or similar bushpacks your feet stay pleasantly warm in extremely cold temperatures, unless you get the liner wet and freeze your whole left foot solid as a rock, like i once demonstrated can happen in only an hour or two outside in neg 40. Likewise, insulated coveralls or perhaps even better, the traditional skidoo suit, is a comfort, particularly if your trip includes a trek by snowmobile or other open conveyance.

A sleeping bag is not absolutely necessary but one that is good for neg 40 is an excellent thing to have about you and adds a measure of certainty of survival provided you keep it dry. I spent an extremely frigid night in only an insulated skidoo suit once and burned probably a cord of firewood without which i do not believe i would have survived the night. The tarp behind me probably made up all the needed difference, reflecting the warmth of the open fire back down on me. I do not know what the temperature was that night but my breath instantly froze as it left my mouth and it hurt a bit to inhale the air. Crisp! I’m sure it was 40 below but i think it was more. Always been curious about that!

Recently i’ve been toying with a new setup i call the richtige teepee, with apologies to my native friends and acquaintances. It is sort of an improvement i think on the traditional stack of poles with the familiar skin wrapping, in that instead of the poles being simply bundled at the top, four poles go through a metal or plywood plate, which also allows for the insertion of a stovepipe right through the center.

Not even sure how the idea arrived. It came as a sort of epiphany based on the realization that a great many tent and stove combinations approach the stove issue as a sort of second thought. The tent is up now how to install the stove? Instead of approaching the idea with the stove as being a central feature and the surrounding tent secondary.

As always, a picture is worth a book full of words, or even more for those like myself who learn pictorially. I’ve always had trouble understanding verbal instructions, a feature of mine which drove my dad nuts sometimes when i fed the wrong cows the wrong hay with the wrong truck in the wrong pen. When hearing verbal instructions, i have to convert all the nouns to pictures in my mind and this takes a bit more time than it takes to tell me all about it, so for those poor brothers and sisters of mine who are similarly learning challenged here is a pictorial representation of what i’m doing for entertainment those days:

My first attempt used plywood in an angle iron frame, the upper picture is the second prototype using a 20 by 20 inch 3/16 steel plate, with holes cut to fit a standard 2 by 4. Logs can be cut down to 2 by 4 status as well if you don’t wish to carry the frame with you, meaning only the plate and the woodstove/chimney/ tarp are necessary for a warm zone for the night.

I also found that cutting a half dozen poles and laying them lengthwise on the ground added comfort by keeping my carcass off the frozen tundra. And yeah, the 3 inches of foam didn’t hurt a bit either, although one of those thin blue matts or a spruce bough bed would have done as well.

The benefits of this system versus the traditional wall tent, are less framing to haul around, a simpler setup, better performance in a windstorm, and greater ease of transport.

My initial trial trip turned out to be a lot of fun and i slept in extreme comfort in neg 15 celcius or whatever it was. Next up, i want to get out on the lake and try some icefishing. Even though the icefish do take a bit longer to cook, they are delicious all the same!

winter camping can be a soul-satisfying experience!

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