Winter Camping & Overlanding…

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This topic contains 5 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  Dale Avery 2 months, 2 weeks ago.

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    Guy Miner
    Area Coordinator

    It’s coming… Winter weather is about to hit. Our Nov 4th & 5th trip to Douglas Creek is likely to be chilly, with highs in the 30’s, lows in the teens, and snow predicted every day, Friday, Saturday & Sunday.

    This can be intimidating. Here’s some advice on how to handle the low temps and snow, based on decades of cold weather camping, backpacking and driving:

    We get cold by losing body heat, via: convection, conduction and radiation. Convection is the breeze sweeping away our warmth. Conduction happens when we sit on a cold rock, log, or in the snow. Radiation is simply our body heat radiating away without being trapped near our skin.

    Clothing: I’m a strong believer in the layering system used by backpackers & mountaineers: start with a base layer of “wicking” long johns that will keep your skin dry & warm, passing perspiration on to the next layer. Add an insulating layer, fleece or wool will work fine even if it gets damp. Have an extra insulating garment on hand, just in case. Something like a down jacket. Cover it all with a good breathable shell garment, like Gore Tex, that will shed rain & snow.

    Hats, scarves and gloves take up little room in your bag, yet are very important to keep us warm & comfy. Consider a pair of mittens, which are even warmer than gloves.

    For your feet… I’ve noticed that overlanders are often not very physically active on trips. We drive. We get out of our rigs, take photos, stand around. We drive some more, then we set up camp, build a fire, and stand around… I’m guilty as charged! We’re not generating a lot of body heat by exertion. This is where warm feet really help. Good, thick socks, preferably wool, stuffed down inside a nice roomy, warm, insulated boot! This is a great combo for keeping your feet warm and dry. If your feet are happy, you’ll have an easier time being happy. Note, big bulky boots can make driving more difficult, particularly if using manual transmission & clutch.

    Oh, don’t leave boots, particularly wet boots, where they will freeze overnight…

    Fuel the fire! Your internal fire. Eat, eat often. Snack a lot. Keep the energy foods coming in, and your body will have fuel to produce warmth. Warm drinks help a lot.

    Sleeping in chilly weather can be tough. Most of us don’t have a big canvas wall tent heated by a wood stove. That’s a really nice way to camp by the way, but those tents are usually large, heavy and take a crew to erect. There are some smaller options available now, and I’m looking seriously at some of the tents & stoves offered by Kifaru:

    A good sleeping bag, rated to 20 or lower, is very important. I prefer a roomy mummy style bag with a good hood, and synthetic fill. Equally important is good insulation under your bag! Two backpacker’s foam sleeping pads, or a good insulated air mattress, or both, help a lot. Get up off that cold ground!

    Consider some hot food and/or drink just before going to bed.

    A good tent will shed wind, rain and snow, protecting us all night long. Small backpacking style tents are actually quite good at this, as their low profile lets most of the wind just slip on past. After driving to Alaska, I spent nine days in the Arctic last spring, living in a backpacking tent, and was quite comfortable.

    Winter nights can be long, particularly if bad weather drives people into their tents early. Consider a battery powered lantern or other light source inside the tent, for reading.

    A campfire is always nice, and in winter weather, is usually the only place outside of our vehicles where we can get some additional heat. It works well on overlanding trips if everyone brings a bundle of firewood. Often we tend to camp in desert-like areas or other places where firewood is scarce.

    Vehicles need a little extra attention too: Batteries should be fresh & strong. Jumper cables should be carried by everyone. Tires need to be in excellent condition. I prefer a good all-terrain tire over a mud tire, in snowy conditions. Tire chains should be carried, though they’re seldom needed on a good 4×4 vehicle. Make sure they fit! Max Trax boards have proven very useful in the snow, along with of course the ubiquitous shovel. Winches can be useful as well. All vehicles should have strong front and rear recovery points, and everyone should carry a recovery strap or rope.

    Particularly later in winter as snow depths increase, I like to toss a pair of snowshoes into my rig. The newer ones are very easy to put on, and very easy to walk in. Walking atop the snow is so much easier than sinking in, mid thigh, with every step!

    I started winter camping as a kid, nearly 50 years ago, and have had some grand adventures. The Marine Corps sent me to a few winter & mountain schools, and even to Norway, above the Arctic Circle. Despite being a gray-haired “winter warrior” now, I still love the winter trips! Nordic skiing and snowshoeing are favorite winter activities for me.

    A few weeks ago on a NWOL trip to Hart’s Pass:


    My home for nine days in the Arctic last spring:


    Winter camp in Douglas Creek, previous NWOL trip:


    My Wrangler about to be pulled out by my son’s Cherokee, last winter, near Douglas Creek:


    Snowshoeing above Wenatchee last winter. Note the three layers: base layer, wool shirt insulating layer and the Gore-Tex shell. My mittens are on my ski poles and I’m using a lightweight ball cap, though there’s a wool cap in my pack. The sunglasses are also good to avoid snow-blindness:


    Winter imposes it’s own set of challenges on our driving and camping. We can meet those challenges and have fun!

    Regards, Guy





    Jason VanderSluis
    Basic Member

    Thanks for the reminders Guy.  Cold weather camping is so much more fun when prepared.  I got a little cold on the Hart’s Pass trip.  Went home and got all of my cold weather gear out of storage.

    No mention of heated seats? 😉


    Aaron Kravik

    The season of being justified in excessive snacking!


    Guy Miner
    Area Coordinator

    Yes! 🙂


    John Russell
    Premium Member

    Good stuff Guy, you can never be over prepared for winter and it’s so easy to gloss over the basic things that end up mattering the most.  At the simplest level, if you’re not comfortable, you’re not having fun, which is why you’re out there.  It can turn dangerous real quick, with real consequences.  Even a simple drive over the passes can turn bad in a hurry and being able to hole up in your vehicle for a while can prevent a bad situation from getting worse.

    One of my favorite stories is about what happens when things do go from bad to worse, a simple trip that turned bad.  “To Build a Fire” by Jack London, .  Don’t push those critical decisions…


    Dale Avery
    Basic Member

    Thanks Guy!  Great writeup.

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