I’ve always been a fan of winter camping. I think it’s my way of channeling my inner Minnesotan. The first reaction I normally get from folks (not all of course) in response to winter camping is usually a look of “shock” and “why on earth would you do that?” Here is why, there’s something peaceful about being out on a cold night and when snow is added to it it makes it amplify the solitude. The snow crunches under your feet and echoes around the forest. But most of all, it’s a challenge and requires proper gear and especially some good tricks. After all, there are tricks to staying cool in the heat of summer right? Well there are tricks to staying warm too. I’ll break down my last outing for you all in hopes to inspire you to get out and enjoy winter.
Changing From Tent…To Hammock
Typically when I winter camp I am in a big enough tent to utilize a heat source. There is definitely nothing wrong with this and I still prefer it for obvious reasons. When I use my tipi hot tent, I am using my ammo can wood stove. When I use our big family tent, I use a Mr Buddy Heater set on top of a boot tray. Having those heat sources is a fantastic convenience that I use to preheat my tent and get all warmed up before bed. Once I’m ready to crawl in my sleeping bag I extinguish the heat source and restart in the morning. That all changes when you sleep outside in 1ºF in a hammock and your body becomes your heat source. Believe it or not, I am quite new to the winter hammock camping game. I’ve only done it a handful of times but each time gets better and BETTER.
Say “NO!” to cold feet!
Keep Your Body WARM!
First and foremost, proper layering is key. I wear Smartwool 250 base layers, with a synthetic or wool mid layer, followed up with a nice puffy down coat with removable outer shell as needed to cut wind and outside moisture. In the above photo I’m just wearing some Kuhl pants—probably could have used my snow pants on this outing but “meh”. Tricks to keep yourself warm begin with exercise and sustenance outside of these layers. You MUST build warmth and calories before bed. Your body heat is responsible for warming up your sleeping bag’s insulation!
EAT YOUR WHEATIES!
On my past particular night out I had a very nice warm fire as a warmth pre-boost. As I felt cold encroaching in my toes and core, I ate two 2-serving high calorie Mountain House meals (and a hot coffee with a small pour of whiskey). I then went for a nice trek through the snow that had fallen the day before to get nice and toasty. As soon as I got back to my camp, I warmed up some water and put it back in my Nalgene and threw it in my sleeping bag, and I IMMEDIATELY crawled into my hammock cocoon. I would recommend putting socks on specifically for sleeping so as not to cause cold feet due to moisture from a soul warming trek. Strip off your coat and zip it around the foot box area of your hammock.
The Art of a Warm Shelter
My shelter for this recent outing consisted of a Warbonnet Traveler hammock, a Warbonnet 0ºF Yeti under quilt (torso length), a Thermarest sit pad, and a Mountain Hardwear -30ºF Lamina synthetic sleeping bag. Around my sleep setup was the Warbonnet wind sock which helps boost internal temperatures about 15º or so. I wasn’t worried about wind or precipitation so I didn’t even throw a tarp up over it. To boost warmth in my feet area I put my Thermarest sit pad under my heels within my sleeping bag.
The trick to all of this is to insulate your underside. When you lay in a hammock, you are compressing any insulation on the underside of your sleeping bag exposing you to the cold air below. Hence, the under quilt which hangs directly under your hammock. And trust me, when you miss an area, you will quickly find the cold spots! I must add, do NOT sleep without a beanie. The human body just dumps its heat if you don’t have your head covered. The last time I was out before this, I might add, my toes were in PAIN due to me not using a change of socks and my sit pad under my heels. Every bit of cold air was coming up through my heels into my feet. Follow that simple step paired with a Nalgene of warm water and you will be fine! FYI, ALWAYS make sure your Nalgene does NOT LEAK! You WILL be in a world of hurt if that happens.
Getting up sucks. That’s all there is to it. And on this particular night I slept SOLID and WARM all through the night. When you are so cocooned in your warm sleep setup it is hard to get motivated to face the cold head on. You just gotta go for it. Once you’ve mustered up the courage, unzip that down jacket you put around your foot area of the hammock and get that insulation on your person! The sooner you start moving, the better. By the time you have eaten and taken down your shelter, you’ll be surprisingly warm again. I followed this up with a nice snowshoe trek to an overlook of the Missouri River. By the time I was half done with said trek, I was half unzipped to vent the heat my core had accumulated.
Let me tell you about what you get for your efforts…a rewarding and breathtaking view over the Missouri River Valley covered in “sea smoke”!
Try It Out!
I hope this gives you some inspiration! Missouri winters are easy going compared to our northern states. Comparatively I’m learning how to summer camp in the hot and humid summers we have here, and I’m getting there. For first timers, I suggest camping close to your vehicle in case of hypothermia or other emergency scenarios. Personally I camped close to my truck for this trip not just because I had to but because I knew it was going to be a bit chillier than any other time I’ve hanged my hammock in the winter. It took me years to appreciate a hammock setup and it is now one that I will use predominantly on my solo outings. The weight savings, space savings and amazing night’s sleeps are so worth it. I’m excited for warmer weather so I don’t need to bring as much bulk!
Essential Gear Breakdown:
- Hill People Gear Ute
- Hill People Gear Kit Bag
- Warbonnet Traveler Hammock
- Warbonnet Wind Sock
- Warbonnet 0ºF Yeti UQ
- Thermarest Sit Pad
- Mountain Hardwear Lamina -30ºF Sleeping Bag (looks to be discontinued)
- DD 9×9 Tarp (not used and soon to be replaced with Warbonnet Superfly)
- MSR Pocketrocket 2
- Sea to Summit X Mug
- Pathfinder Cook Pot
- Optimus Long Spoon (perfect length for those dehydrated meals)
- Mountain House Food
- 1L Nalgene Bottle
- 1.5L Nalgene Bottle
- MSR Trail Snowshoes
- Steger Mukluks Arctic
- Firestarter Kit
- 10 Essentials
- Instant Cafe Bustelo Coffee
- Bourbon Whiskey
- Appropriate Clothes, Layered
- There’s A Few More Items But That’s The Gist
Except for the giant synthetic sleeping bag…it all fits in here!