Why Winter Camping Is Your New Favorite Thing

Adjusting your glasses, you look across a vast snowscape, blinding even in the low angle of the season’s sun. The field glitters in perfection, except when an occasional wind dislodges the snow, sending it into a plume that skirts the frozen surface. There’s a bird hopping about, as curious about you as he is about lunch.

Other than him, summer’s camping crowds have trickled down in number to just you and your partner.

It’s winter, and not many are hardy enough to face the cold temperatures that the season brings, let alone go camping in it. Yet here you are, one of the brave few that willingly sets up shelter amongst barren trees and evergreens.

To everyone else, it’s a suffer fest. To you, it’s something entirely different.

So, why do you do it?

“The solitude, the chance of feeling at one with nature; the challenge; and the experience,” says Chris Sunnen when asked for the reasons he enjoys winter camping. Getting his start 25 years ago in midwest-US backyard igloos, Chris now takes his winter camping to greater heights as a mountaineer.

Winter camping also gives him an opportunity to expand on his artistic endeavors. As a photographer, he finds shooting in winter offers a unique aspect, commenting that in this season, his surroundings seem sharper and more vibrant. To him, even the outdoor lighting feels different than at other times of the year, something he credits to the earth’s position with the sun.

“It’s surreal,” says Heather Balogh, another active proponent of carrying over this summer activity into winter. “Everything looks so clean…the snow…covers any of the earth’s blemishes.”

While winter’s beauty is a common theme for many who enjoy the season’s camping, there is more to the experience than just aesthetics. Take, for instance, professional explorer and guide Eric Larsen’s keen awareness of the stillness this season brings. After 35 years of exploring some of the earth’s most untamed environments — many of them considered hostile because of their searingly frozen state — he reflects on what he loves most about sleeping in the snow: the lack of people.

Eric Larsen winter

In his own words,  “Big wild untracked spaces: so good!”

That feeling pervades nearly every winter wild environment, whether in a small state park or a remote backcountry campsite. With most people doing all they can to avoid even the slightest touch from Jack Frost, those who hunger for a respite from civilization will find it if they’re brave enough to step out of their comfort zone.

But how uncomfortable do you have to get?

If winter camping’s appeal is primarily because of the challenge it presents, you won’t mind taking yourself into rough terrain in order to experience the brunt of winter’s force. David Sandel revels in the hardships winter presents, saying that the heightened risk of exposure is what draws him to camping in winter over summer.

“It feels like I’m actively trying to survive, as opposed to sitting around drinking beer in flip-flops,” he says when contrasting the off-season experience to summer’s ease.

Eric agrees with at least a portion of David’s sentiment. “Winter requires more thoughtfulness and preparation,” he confirms. While that may mean you can’t jump into an overnight trip with just the clothes you have on, it doesn’t mean the uninitiated are unable to enjoy the benefits winter campers claim.

As with most things in the outdoors, cold-weather camping takes skill building and practice before becoming proficient at it. Those who have a solid foundation in layering clothing, campsite selection and winter safety will find themselves already ahead of the game.

Building on that education can be done by heading out with more experienced friends. Alternatively, taking trips close to home on relatively “safe” overnighters when the risk of storms is low and temperatures are mild can help newbies get a few notches under their belts.

As campers work through nights outdoors and explore different ways to increase their comfort — likely through a combination of finding the gear that works for their environment and figuring out what tweaks need to be made to “in-season” camping routines — they’ll grow in confidence and the ability to thrive in remote regions in the harshest of climates.

Or hang out on a sun-drenched snowy bank just outside of town.

No matter the style of winter camping, simply going out in winter will increase enjoyment of the season and bring a fresh twist to an activity most have likely enjoyed since childhood.

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Although she’s a Florida girl, exploration called her away after the final bell of her high school career. Leaving home to journey westward alone, she chased the sun to Utah. Over the years, she was consumed with skiing, climbing, kayaking, mountain biking and getting lost on back roads. But exploration continued to call. After closing her bakery — which funded college courses and adventure — she stored her possessions and hit the road again, on a quest to reach the distant places of North America. For three years she lived in her little Mazda 3 and skied the backcountry of Alaska, slept under the northern lights in the Yukon Territory, ice climbed Colorado's frozen canyons and rock climbed across the continent, photographed Nova Scotia’s coves, backpacked in southern US wildernesses and munched on sugared tamarindo in the jungles of Mexico. But living in a car started to feel limiting, so after seeing the many glories this continent had to offer, she chose the only place fitting for an explorer to spend a lifetime of wild wonder: British Columbia. Dual citizenship in hand, she settled along the Powder Highway in the Selkirks and is now making her home between four walls and deeply wooded mountains. When she's not playing the part of a photojournalist, Gina can be found collaborating with women worldwide through her nonprofit, Outdoor Women's Alliance, and working to improve her outdoor skills and wilderness safety certifications.

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