I’ve got this friend who is totally into camping. He’s gone winter camping on our property earlier this season and recently showed interest in doing so again. The last time he camped, he did it alone. The temperature dropped to five degrees Fahrenheit overnight and I had no interest in joining him. I didn’t even have the gear that would keep me alive, so he did it alone. Brave man my friend is. He slept in a hammock and, in the morning, he told me that he froze his ass off. I’m not even going to tell you about the coyotes.
This friend of mine, Ian, recently purchased a tent that he felt would help him brave the elements a little more than the hammock did. The tent is the reason he wanted to camp again – to test it out. I invited Ian to camp in our back woods and he let me know that he’d be doing it this past weekend. This is where the story gets strange. About an hour after he let me know he’d be camping here, I found myself on Amazon purchasing two sleeping bags that were rated for -35 degrees as well as a tent. I have no idea why I decided to join him this time and to bring my lady along. These things just happen, I suppose.
Perhaps I thought it wouldn’t be too cold overnight, being March and all. I guess I thought the overnight temperature would hover around 20 degrees, which is like a heatwave in these parts during the winter. Well, they didn’t and it wasn’t. I’ll tell you about that below.
We camped this past Saturday. I had to haul all of my gear back into the woods. We found a nice spot about five acres away from our house, so if something went drastically wrong, we could all run back to save our behinds. My gear consisted of an ALPS Mountaineering Taurus tent, two huge Teton winter sleeping bags, an air mattress, a tarp, saw and a bunch of other stuff. I wanted to be ready and I wanted to be comfortable.
When Ian and I located our camping spot around noon on Saturday, we immediately began shoveling. He shoveled the snow from his tent spot and I shoveled the snow from ours. That took at least an hour and it was fairly brutal because of the depth of the snow. It’s almost three feet deep back in the woods and I shoveled over two feet from a spot that measured approximately 12 feet by ten feet. Luckily the tent I purchased is extremely simply to put up. It took all of three minutes.
After the tent was up, I inflated the air mattress and put down two moving blankets I recently purchased from Tractor Supply for only about $8. They were on sale and I thought they’d be perfect for this use. They were. I put the sleeping bags on top of the blankets and then added another blanket on top of the sleeping bags. I had never slept in 13 degree weather, so I over prepared. That’s what the weather forecast told me the temps were supposed to drop to. Thirteen degrees.
For most of the day, Ian and I cut down trees for our fire. I started the fire around four o’clock and we had it going until the next morning. Wood burns very fast outside, so we needed a lot of it. This is us processing a part of our stash.
And this is the fire I got going. By morning, this hole in the snow was about eight feet wide and all the way to the ground.
We hung out by the fire for most of the evening and around midnight, we decided it was time to go to sleep. This is the part I wanted to tell you about. It’s the fun part to read.
Let me tell you something. If we had decided not to sleep outside and if we had simply walked back to the house, the entire night wouldn’t have been memorable at all. We would have just hung out in the woods for a while and then left. We were toasty from the fire and things were fine. The fact of the matter is though, we didn’t go back into the house and we did sleep in the tents and I can tell you, it was memorable. I have never done anything like this before in my life.
It was like slow motion. We left the campfire and walked over to the tent. The minute I reached the door and unzippered it, I knew we were in for an adventure. First off, I had no idea where to put my boots. Any warmth I had accumulated from the fire was gone. I was totally freezing and there was no room in the tent for our footwear. My lady took her boots off, stepped in the snow and crawled into the tent and then I did the same. After that, we took off our jackets and gloves and tried to get into the sleeping bags. By this point, we were half frozen. I was utterly shocked by how fast this happened. The time that passed from being comfortably warm to being half frozen was only about two minutes. Apparently, the weatherman was incorrect in his forecast because the temperature fell to four degrees and I’m willing to say it fell even farther than that. I can only describe the feeling as a bone chilling bitter cold. The word “bitter” is all encompassing here. Our hands were cold to the core and again, it only took about two minutes for that to happen. I have no idea why it occurred so fast.
Anyway, both of us wore our thermals, pants, sweaters and big warm hats to bed. Once I got in my sleeping bag, I was fine. As for my lady, she told me that she was less than warm and that she shivered a few times. When we woke up in the morning, I felt as snug as a bug in a rug. She said she was cool overnight, but that the sleeping bags performed well. I think the reason that I did so well was because I had myself completely encapsulated in my sleeping bag and she didn’t. She had her head sticking out somewhat. I can tell you that if you have even the slightest air gap in the bag, all the outside cold air will rush right in. The cinch feature of these sleeping bags truly needs to be taken advantage of.
Also, I learned that when winter camping, you absolutely need to wear a winter hat all night long. Better yet, wear a balaclava. There is no way you’ll make it if you don’t. Your head gives off so much heat that you’ll likely feel extremely cold if you leave your head bare.
When we woke up in the morning, I found a layer of frost inside the tent from our breathing. Any moisture that came from our lungs condensed and froze to the walls and ceiling. It was crazy. I could scrape it with my fingernails. We made it though and I was extremely proud of the three of us for persevering. Even though it got very cold, we all stuck to it and stayed out there and that’s an adventure in itself. I am so glad we did this.
In the morning, we woke up and I broke down the camp. I hauled it back to the house and then we enjoyed a huge skillet breakfast. That was fun. We were exhausted from not getting much sleep and we all napped later on that day.
If I were to do this again, I would change a few things. Things primarily inside the tent. Next time, I wouldn’t use a queen size mattress and instead, I’d go with two twins. I’d put each one up against opposing sides so there’s a clear area in the middle. That way, we could take our boots off inside of the tent instead of outside. Also, I wouldn’t feel like I was going to roll off the mattress all night long. Queen size mattresses aren’t exactly queen sized. Also, I would probably set a tarp up to cover the tent on the outside. I heard that this can keep things somewhat warmer. I’d also use my little propane heater to warm the tent and sleeping bags up before we got inside because warm sleeping bags makes everything better. Just a few ideas.
Have you ever gone winter camping before? What are your experiences? I would love to read about them. Thanks for reading!