Winter Camping Tips

Here are some handy cold-weather camping tips that can make camping more comfortable through the fall/winter camping season. Stay warm!

1. Keep hydrated during the day and avoid drinking lots of fluids at night, so you won’t have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

2. Eat a big dinner with lots of calories. Calories are a unit of heat, without them the furnace won’t burn hot.

3. Keep a snack with you for the middle of the night, so if you do wake up cold you can replenish lost calories and warm back up again.

4. Go to bed warm. Warm up by taking a brief hike around camp or doing some jumping jacks. If you wrap a frozen salmon in a sleeping bag, will it stay frozen? Yes, because your sleeping bag will insulate cold or heat, just like a Thermos.

4. Select a protected campsite out of the wind and off the valley floor and other low areas where cold air settles. A good rule is to be about 50 feet above the valley floor.

6. Fluff up your sleeping bag with vigor to gain maximum loft before you climb in.

7. Use a good insulating pad between you and the ground. Studies show that what you have under you is more important in keeping you warm than what is on top of you.

8. Wear a stocking hat to bed, you lose most of your body heat through your head.

9. Keep your nose and mouth outside your sleeping bag. Your breath contains a great deal of moisture that can cause dampness to collect in the bag as you sleep. To keep your face warm, wear a balaclava or wrap a scarf around your face.

10. Roll the moisture out of your bag each morning when you get up (roll from foot to head), then leave it open until it cools to air temperature. If weather permits, set it out to dry.

11. Use a layered sleeping system (i.e. sleeping bag, liner, half bag, bivy sack). A layered system helps to remove the frost buildup that naturally occurs when your body warmth meets the cold air (a concern if you’re staying out multiple nights).

12. Avoid overheating at night and make sure you go to bed dry. Being too warm produces perspiration, so vent your bag if needed or take off your stocking hat.

13. Make sure your feet are as dry as possible before going to bed. This can be done by having a pair of dry sleeping socks in your bag for sleeping only. Also, you can “dry” wash your feet with a good foot powder that contains aluminum chlorohydrate, which helps dry the skin and reduce perspiration.

14. Wear loose fitting clothing to bed so it doesn’t restrict circulation.

15. Keep your sleeping gear clean. Dirt clogs air spaces in the material and reduces insulation value making it harder to stay warm.

16. If you have cold feet, sleep with your feet together in an elephant foot or half bag. It’s a bag that uses the principle of the buddy system, where the feet share heat instead of being isolated, much like mittens are warmer than gloves. The bag slips over your feet and legs and then drawstrings pull it shut or you could just use a fleece jacket wrapped around the same area.

17. Fill a water bottle with hot water before you go to bed and then strategically place it at any cold spots in your sleeping bag. Just make sure it has a screw on lid like the Nalgene bottles. A variation of this is to use disposable heater packs or hand warmers, which costs a little extra money. Or, in the old days they would take some heated rocks from around the campfire and place them in a wool sock. Just make sure they’re not too hot. (Editor’s note: If using this old-fashioned method to keep warm, make sure that the rocks are completely dry before heating. Trapped steam may cause so much outward pressure that the rocks may explode.)

The Art of Getting Kids Outdoors

My generation had an extensive range from home base.  We’d disappear for a day.  No helicopter parents, no cell phones.  If we crashed our bikes, we fixed them as best we could and limped home.  I took a nice header five miles from home (I still have the scar on my knee), used a t-shirt as a bandage, made it home, and from there to the emergency room. I got 8 stitches and a great story to tell my friends.

As the owner of a company which produces family camping tents, I am often asked, “When is the best time to start taking kids on outdoor excursions?”

My answer is always the same: on the way home from the hospital. We owe it to our kids to get them outside.  We owe them scratches and scrapes, summits and snakes, sunburns and sunsets.  We owe them an authentic life.

Practical Matters

Kids are not little adults.  Their needs are very different, and if you want to enjoy your time with kids, pay attention.  There are five things I tell people when they ask about taking kids camping:

o   They get cold faster.

o   They get hot faster.

o   They get hungry faster.

o   They get bored faster.

o   They want to be helpful.
They get cold faster.  It’s simple thermodynamics. Little bodies lose heat faster than big ones.  They get cold before you do, so don’t assume because you’re not cold that your little ones aren’t either.  The solution is easy.  Take more clothing than you think necessary.  Because their clothes are smaller, it’s no big deal, and after a certain age (around six for our kids) they started carrying a lot of their own clothes and gear.

The first line of defense is good outerwear.  Make sure it fits: boots, raingear, hats, gloves, etc.  The difference between a good raincoat and a poncho is not worth it, especially when you have a wet and tired and hungry five-year-old.

They get hot faster.  Keeping kids comfortable in the heat is just as important as keeping them warm. Again, you may not notice because you’re not hot. A red flushed complexion is a good sign things are toasty.  Make use of evaporative cooling.  A baseball cap dipped in water can cool them off quickly, and a wet bandana around the neck is helpful too.

It goes without saying that many adults forget to apply (or reapply) sunscreen.  If you forget, chances are it’s not even on your kid’s radar.  Make it a point to reapply every hour, even if it’s just a touch-up.

They get hungry faster.  That’s probably not exactly true, but it is a fact that kids will not tolerate hunger as well as an adult.  Count on feeding them snacks throughout the day as well as good sized portions at breakfast and dinner.  Keeping high-energy snacks handy is critical and can help avoid meltdowns.

They get bored faster.  This is especially true with passive activities when they’re younger, like sitting in a canoe while Mom and Dad do all the work.   While in camp, have lots of quick, easy and fun activities to keep kids engaged and to prevent boredom.  Finding cool bugs, or looking for different colored rocks are examples of simple, but engaging  activities for kids.  Coloring books, plain white notebooks and crayons and colored pencils are great.  Anything to stimulate their minds.

They want to be helpful.  Kids want to be part of the action, and there are lots of fun duties that will make them feel like they are little campers.  At four, a kid can collect twigs for tinder; at six, pump a water filter.  At eight, they can help start the fire, and at ten they can start the fire themselves.  At twelve they help with dinner; by fourteen they’re cooking dinner. Kids want to be useful.  Resist the temptation to do everything because it’s faster.

About Safety and Risk

Taking these axioms and applying them without an eye toward safety is foolhardy.  Clearly, you want to pay attention to safety, but realize that there is inherent risk in outdoor activities.  The key is to minimize risk through education.

If you are going more than a 9-1-1 call from help, you’ll want some training.  Wilderness First Aid (WFA) is a weekend course designed to give you a basic understanding of dealing with injuries and other mishaps that happen outside.  If you’re hard core, the Wilderness First Responder (WFR) is an eight-day comprehensive course that teaches you how to provide some pretty serious aid while waiting for the professionals.  If you’re an EMT, there is specialized training for you to fill in the gaps when it comes to wilderness.

Some folks still question my sanity for taking my kids into wilderness areas.  My response is that I minimize risk through planning, education and keeping my wits about me.  I also tell them that the risks of not taking my kids to the rivers and woods are far higher than if I take them.  Risk cannot be eliminated, but it can be managed.  Only a foolish person faces the wilderness with a

pocket knife, a piece of twine, and a can-do attitude.  A wise person educates themself, teaches others, and shares their knowledge and love of the outdoors generously and graciously.  After all, we all had a mentor who taught us our skills.  It is only right that we pass them on to the next generation.

 

Tent Camping Tips

Stay Dry in Your Tent

The first rule to keeping your gear dry is buy the niceest tent you can afford. After that the object is to remove yourself as far from the ground as possible. Don’t rely on the tent bottom for this. You want to have a water impermeable tarp down first. This will also save on wear and tear to your tent bottom.

If you are buying, most manufactures sell tarps that fit your tent footprint. PahaQue offers custom sized footprints that provide an extra layer of moisture protection and protect your tents floor fabric from excessive wear and tear.  Aftermarket options are polyethylene, (available at most hardware stores) or a vinyl tarp. The tarp should never extend past the edge of the tent. If it does, it will collect water sheeting off the tent and be WORSE than nothing!

The next most important item in the tent is an air mattress. If you are planning on doing any amount of camping and/or backpack camping, I can’t suggest enough a Thermo rest type insulated air mattress. These units have foam inside an airtight nylon cover. Even though they are only about 1” think, they really insulate well. The small volume of air in them makes the easy to blow up without an air pump.

Another very helpful item is a tent rug.  PahaQue will be offering custom sized tent rugs, with a soft fabric top, and a plastic, water-proof layer on the bottom.  Tent rugs help insulate against ground dampness and coldness, and make cleaning dirt, leaves, and other debris out of your tent a breeze – simply shake it off and you have a clean tent!

Last, but certainly not least, choose your tent location carefully.  Avoid low spots where water can puddle during a storm, and avoid areas near slopes where water can run downhill and into or through your camp.  A level, slightly elevated spot is ideal for pitching your tent and keeping dry.