With spring just around the corner and the drive to get into the woods tough to control, the option for a cold weather campout can be just the ticket to put the fever on hold. A few extra considerations and precautions are all anyone needs to ensure a good and safe time.
Late winter campouts can be timed to coincide with sunny, favorable weather while still avoiding the bugs and crowds that will both become more common later on. As long as the winds are calm and precipitation is mostly avoided, camping in the cold can actually be among the most comfortable times in the woods all year.
Any camping consideration should begin with clothing. By paying careful attention to layering, a camper can be just as warm and dry as they’d like to be. February does demand actual attention to the layering process, however. The base layer, the on in contact with skin, should be of a wicking fabric, one that does not lose its insulating properties when it becomes damp. This is where wool shines and where cotton does not. New products like those from Smartwool are extremely comfortable and very light weight.
Cotton should be avoided as a cold weather base layer because, as you’re active and warm up, even a small amount of sweat will saturate cotton clothing and cause it to lose its insulating properties.
The outermost layer of any cold weather outfit is the weatherproof layer. This one should be calculated to stop the wind and keep out rain. The layers in between should be light enough to be adjustable.
When cold weather experts talk about shedding layers as you warm up, it’s the middle layers they’re talking about. That’s why the middle and outer layers should be a few thin or medium weight items instead of one or two very heavy ones. Middle layers of fleece, wool or down are ideal.
Make sure the sleeping bag you’ll take is rated to function in temperatures at least 10 degrees colder than you expect to find. Also make sure you have the rain fly for your tent and will be able to keep out any moisture that might fall overnight.
One common pro tip is to sleep with the clothes you plan to wear the next day tucked inside the bag with you. This will help fill the excess space in the bag, leaving less room for your own body’s heat to have to fill, and it’ll give you a warm and toasty dry set of clothes to put on that you won’t have to leave the comfort of the bag to hunt around for come morning.
When choosing the site for a tent, take the weather into consideration as well. In the other three seasons of the year, a shady campsite is generally preferable but, for winter, some extra sunshine to get the day started can be very welcome.
Make sure you’ll have something to put between sleeping bag and ground besides the tent floor. A closed-cell foam pad is essential, even if there’ll be an inflatable pad in play as well. Inflatable pads are great but any puncture or leak can leave the user in an uncomfortable situation. That’s when it’s best to have a foam pad already in place for backup.
Whether you’re headed for a state park campground or simply striking out for the back country on your own, don’t count on being able to find suitable or sufficient firewood to last the night. Available deadfall wood at improved campgrounds is apt to be long since used up and, in either case, it’s certain to be wet. It’s best to bring your own firewood, plus a few extra measures for the initial fire starting.
A few lumps of Match Light or other accelerant-infused charcoal or a few sticks of fat wood, splintered pine kindling of the sort easily lit by match, can be a life saver when it comes to getting a cold camp on its way to warmth.
Don’t get burned
Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean sunburns are out of the question. In fact, a high sun in a clear blue sky is just as likely to cause a burn in February as any other time, and a cold wind can cause plenty of irritations of its own. Remember sun screen, lip balm and sun glasses when packing for the possibilities.
Further, don’t forget to bring and drink plenty of water along the way as well. Dehydration is a legitimate concern and one that’s easy to forget in cooler weather.