Sunday, December 29, 2019

When is it Winter Camping?

High Peaks in Winter (DEC Photo)Winter is associated with migration, hibernation, changes in animal behavior, plants becoming dormant, and humans experiencing special health concerns ranging from hypothermia to seasonal depression. Winter even invokes its own special vocabularies to describe the conditions (e.g. black ice, whiteouts, and corn snow).

Descriptions of winter camping depend on geographic location, opportunities to go camping and desire to impress your friends and relatives. There are groups from northern Canada to the Ozarks that claim winter camping experience; although I am sure their conditions and experiences are greatly different.

How you define winter camping might depend on your definition of ‘winter’.

Meteorological or thermological winter is defined as the three month period associated with the coldest average temperatures so the start of meteorological winter can change depending on how far north one lives. This corresponds to the months of December, January and February in the Northern Hemisphere and June, July and August in the Southern Hemisphere.

Astronomically, winter can be defined as beginning on the winter solstice, the day of the year which has fewest hours of daylight, and ending on the following equinox. In the United States this defines winter as roughly beginning December 21 or 22 and ending about March 20 or 21.

Practically, winter may be defined by the organization with perhaps the most winter camping experience, or at least the most participants, the Boys Scouts of America. The Boy Scouts define cold weather camping as taking place when the temperature is below 50F and involves cold, wet and/or windy conditions.

Many adventurers view permanent snow cover and/or ice as a critical aspect of winter camping, requiring cross-country skis or snowshoes to traverse the winter landscape.

One might decide that winter camping is camping which requires specialized cold weather gear such as snow shovels, white gas stoves, crampons, insulated clothing and four season tents and/or require specialized skills such as building snow shelters.

Regardless of your location, most agree that nighttime dominates the winter season and lower temperatures are part of the equation. Dealing with the weather, cold temperatures and inclement conditions challenge a winter camper’s physical comfort.

Winter camping has been described to me as a time when one switched from “camping to enable hiking to hiking to enable camping.”

Regardless of the definition you chose, winter camping provides an opportunity to be out of doors 24 hours a day. Winter camping is not an end in itself; it is merely the vehicle that allows us to enjoy being outside.

Photo: High Peaks in Winter courtesy DEC.

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Jim Muller is an avid Adirondack winter camper who publishes The site features news, information and tips and tricks for winter campers, along with stories and photos from his own adventures.

Jim has recently been taking canoe trips around the ADKs, documenting his trips on Visit to find out more about the joys of winter camping.

3 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    Camped in winter ADKs for about 25 years and loved it. Maybe not every minute of it – especially the extra weight of the specialty gear needed – but I do not remember an outing that wasn’t ultimately satisfying. No bugs, mud, heat, or crowds. What’s not to like??

    • Steve B. says:

      “ What’s not to like??”

      I remember waking to freezing drizzle at Marcy Dam on New Year’s Eve……. having skied I …….

  2. James M Schaefer says:

    Nice article about the wonders of hiking in all conditions especially in the winter and in our Adirondacks! It brought to mind 1957 when the Adirondack Mountain Club hosted a Winter Mountaineering Course at the ADK Lodge — Heart Lake facility. My late cousin Cub Schaefer and I were in attendance at age 14-15. We spent the nights in a lean-to at -40 to -50 degrees — snuggled deep in our 3 pound down sleeping bags…stoking the fire from time to time to gain reflective heat from the large stone facing us. Cooked meals over the open fire — a test of patience and flavor ingenuity!
    After a warm meal and hot drink each morning we met outside the Loj to get instructions about climbing that day. We carried a summit pack with extra socks and layers along with gorp. We used boots, skis or snowshoes to take turns breaking trail up Wright, Algonquin, Iroquois, Cascade, Porter and Giant. One of our goals was that darned “V” patch for climbing 5 of the High Peaks. I think the organizers knew about ruling the world with “baubles,” and that patch was everything to us!
    The day we climbed Wright, Algonquin and Iroquois was memorable because Mother Nature decided to dump some fresh and blow 20-30 knot winds in our faces once we were exposed above timberline. The two of us stuck together and kept track of frostbite and overall energy levels a periodically, as trained. The downslope plunges in the deep snow gained us 5 to 10 vertical feet at times. Great fun! As I recall we never go cold in our multi-layered gear.
    On the last day we stowed our bags, packs and left over food and carried it all to our awaiting parent’s car. Foolishly I left my mitts in the car to get the last load and even in the short time from car, across-frozen-lake to lean-to and back I had badly frostbitten my fingers… -30, go figure. For the past 60+ years I have been reminded every time I pick up something hot or adventuring outdoors. Good memories. Lessons learned!

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