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Preparation needed before winter camping

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Winter camping on Lake Winnipeg: Reserving a site is never a problem.


Winter camping on Lake Winnipeg: Reserving a site is never a problem. Photo Store

Back in 1870, Louis Riel dragged Manitoba into Confederation with a promise of a long weekend in February for everyone except federal employees.

While that wasn't exactly the pitch -- there was something about Métis property rights -- most of us now get to enjoy three days off in the middle of February.

The Louis Riel long weekend offers a perfect chance to get outdoors and maybe squeeze in a night or two in a tent.

If it's been a while since you've tried that in the snow, here are some winter-camping pointers to consider:


1. Don't plan on sleeping in a quinzhee or an igloo

That is, unless you've practised building quinzhees or igloos. Reclining in a sloppy pile of collapsed slush is no fun. If this is your first winter-camping experience, you need to bring along a four-season tent. And yeah, it's a good idea to practise setting that thing up in your backyard to make sure you can manipulate the poles and snaps in the cold.


2. Double your insulation, double your comfort

If you're concerned your sleeping bag isn't warm enough, borrow or buy an overbag, which can turn a bag rated to -7 C into a -20 C bag. Place hard-cell foam or another form of thick insulation below your regular sleeping pad. Wear long underwear, socks and a tuque to sleep. If you sleep really cold, do a set of jumping jacks right before you crawl into bed or place warm water bottles inside your bag. It's easier to remove layers if you're hot than to get warm if you're cold.


3. Double up on handgear and footwear

Whether you're skiing, snowshoeing or walking to your site, you'll need dry shoes for the campsite. Down booties, moccasins or mukluks work the best. Consider keeping your moist boot liners inside your tent or sleeping bag at night; left in your boots, they will freeze solid. And since you'll be using your fingers a lot more often than you would otherwise in the cold, consider wearing five-finger gloves inside larger mitts. This will reduce the chance of minor frostbite, while still allowing you to manipulate zippers or tools when you need to do so.


4. Choose easier, shorter routes

Most people who go winter camping find it takes twice as long to do anything, compared with when they go warm-weather camping. Fewer daylight hours will also restrict your travel time. So even if you're a long-distance-travel rockstar in the summer, consider choosing easier routes in the winter -- at least until you're comfortable with winter camping.


5. Stay dry whenever possible

Carrying or dragging a pack across snow is strenuous work. So is clearing snow for a campsite. Wear minimal layers when working hard to prevent getting too sweaty, as that sweat will quickly cool you down when you stop working hard. Waterproof gear is handy but doesn't breathe and can make you even sweatier. It's important to regulate your body temperature and be conscious where you sit or stand to avoid needlessly drenching yourself with melted snow. Once you're wet, you will get cold very quickly.


5. Drink lots of fluids

This isn't just good advice for cold sufferers. Even though you'll be surrounded by snow, it's easy to forget how much fluid you're losing by sweating. Some winter campers skimp on the water because it can be a pain in the posterior to melt snow or auger a hole in the ice for water. Don't make that mistake. Boil plenty of water when you have the chance; your campstove will be put to good use on this trip. Some models work poorly in the cold, so test yours out in the backyard, or prepare to build a fire.


6. Be judicious with fire

While warm-weather fires are rarely necessary, winter camping without a fire can be a major drag. If you're staying at an established campsite, use the existing firepit. If there isn't one, be aware the fire you build in the winter will scar the ground in the spring. If you can, build that fire on a durable surface like a granite outcropping and burn only the fuel you need. if you're pulling a sled, consider packing your own firewood.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 15, 2014 C12

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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