Don’t let the cold keep you from en­joy­ing na­ture

4WDrive - - Front Page - WORDS BY TOM SEVERIN

At this time of year, thoughts of­ten turn to es­cap­ing to sunny, sandy beaches. Some folks, how­ever, en­joy romp­ing in the snow. They brave the el­e­ments, and camp out in the wild. One ben­e­fit is that you can have the park or wildlife area prac­ti­cally to your­self.

Just as you need to ac­count for the ex­treme heat of sum­mer, so should you plan for the chal­lenges of camping in snow and cold.

Start by check­ing the fore­cast. You should know go­ing in what to ex­pect. Never camp alone, and al­ways tell some­one where you’re go­ing and when you’ll be back. Pre­pare for the worst so you’re not taken by sur­prise. (And if a bad storm is pre­dicted, stay home.)


The most im­por­tant fac­tor is to stay warm and dry. Frost­bite and hy­pother­mia aren’t just an­noy­ances. They can be killers.

Need­less to say, you’ll need warm cloth­ing and lots of it. Cloth­ing that in­cor­po­rates Gore-Tex (or sim­i­lar fab­ric) is very use­ful. You need to wick out as much sweat as pos­si­ble. Damp cloth­ing can chill you quickly, and bring on hy­pother­mia.

Outer coats should have a ny­lon shell to break the wind. Thin­su­late is a great in­su­lat­ing ma­te­rial for coats and gloves.

Layer your cloth­ing dur­ing the day. Make sure there’s some give, though. If you feel con­stricted, the fab­ric will be packed so tightly that it’ll lose some in­su­lat­ing abil­ity.

Hav­ing ex­tra cloth­ing also en­sures that you can change into dry stuff at the end of the day. Look for sturdy boots. Sorel is a good brand, but there are oth­ers. You’ll want rub­ber soles with good trac­tion. Leather up­pers are nice, but treat with a sealant.


I rec­om­mend a four-sea­son tent. The walls on these are solid ma­te­rial to block wind and shed snow. I pre­fer those with a full fly over the tent as well. Un­be­liev­able, it makes for a bet­ter desert tent too. The fly cre­ates shade and the com­bi­na­tion of two walls keeps blow­ing sand out. Look for a model that has a vestibule. That’s where you’ll store your out­er­wear and boots. A vestibule pro­vides a tran­si­tion area to re­duce the snow you track into the main tent. It pro­vides more room for sleep­ing, and your bed­ding and dry cloth­ing won’t get wet.

In­ci­den­tally, never sleep in clothes you’ve been work­ing in. They will be damp with per­spi­ra­tion, which means you’ll be un­com­fort­able all night. Set aside dry cloth­ing for sleep­ing, that in­cludes socks, heavy py­ja­mas (or sweat shirt and sweat pants) and a warm hat.

Prior to set­ting up, pack down the snow for a firm base. Create a berm around the sides for a wind­break, and re­mem­ber to face the front door away from the wind.

A good sleep­ing bag is a must. If you can’t find one rated to the proper tem­per­a­ture, take along two. You can stuff one in­side the other. Un­der­stand that man­u­fac­tur­ers take lib­erty with the tem­per­a­ture rat­ings on their prod­ucts. As­sume your boots, sleep­ing bag, and cloth­ing won’t re­ally keep you com­fort­able at the man­u­fac­tur­ers’ rated tem­per­a­ture. That’s why you pack heavy cloth­ing, and even feet and hand warm­ers.

Use a foam mat­tress or blan­kets as in­su­la­tion un­der your sleep­ing bag. Ther­marest mat­tresses work but the $20 / $30 6 inch type air mat­tresses don’t pro­vide much in­su­la­tion, be­cause the air in­side cir­cu­lates too much. Dead air space is a great in­su­la­tor but it has to be dead (i.e. not cir­cu­late).

Tent heaters are nice, how­ever be care­ful. To­day’s mod­els are small and easy to use. The Lit­tle Buddy by Mr. Heater, for ex­am­ple, uses the stan­dard 1 lb. propane cylin­der. The man­u­fac­turer claims it can heat up to 100 square feet.

Do not leave the heater run­ning all night. Even though it has an oxy­gen sen­sor and a very sen­si­tive tip-over switch, I wouldn’t want to take the risk of fire or CO poi­son­ing. Run the heater be­fore you snug­gle into your tent, then again when you wake up.

If you are on a hunt­ing trip, store guns and out­er­wear out­side but away from snow (in the vestibule or your ve­hi­cle). A gun warm­ing up will gen­er­ate con­den­sa­tion if brought in­side. Any snow on your outer cloth­ing won’t melt if left in the cold, so you’re not likely to get damp (at least from that).

Also, don’t leave gear, in­clud­ing shov­els, axe, etc. out­side. They could get buried in the snow. Store those in your ve­hi­cle.


Cook­ing, as you can imag­ine, presents its own chal­lenges. In­ter­est­ingly, the cold

temps can work against you. To pre­vent (or min­i­mize) freez­ing, keep fresh food in a cooler. (Se­cure dur­ing the day to thwart crit­ters.) You may want to stash the cooler in your ve­hi­cle overnight.

Use wooden or plas­tic uten­sils as much as pos­si­ble. Metal ob­jects get blasted cold in the winter. Propane is fine for most winter ap­pli­ca­tions, but it is slug­gish in se­vere cold. If you an­tic­i­pate those temps, pack a stove that runs on white gas.


This is a good time to recheck the vi­tals. In­spect your tires. Ro­tate and re­place as needed. Test the bat­tery and wind­shield wipers; re­place if nec­es­sary. Check your an­tifreeze: Is it still at full strength? Are you low on wind­shield washer fluid? Make sure you have a sur­vival kit and tire chains (if ap­pli­ca­ble).

Room per­mit­ting, pack a snow shovel—small mod­els are avail­able—and ice pick. Orange spray paint comes in handy for mark­ing the snow in the event of an emer­gency.

Re­mem­ber to in­clude a fire-starter kit. Fill a bag­gie with matches and cot­ton balls coated with Vase­line.


Keep your cell phone charged up. Be­fore you leave, iden­tify the fre­quen­cies of the ham ra­dio re­peaters in the area you are vis­it­ing. Make a habit of lis­ten­ing to the NOAA weather broad­casts each day. If you’ll be in a re­ally re­mote area, con­sider a Sat phone or other de­vice dis­cussed in “Com­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment is crit­i­cal for off-road driv­ing.”

Mother Na­ture puts on a new per­for­mance dur­ing winter. For those hardy enough, camping can be very en­joy­able and re­ward­ing. As with any other four wheel­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, prepa­ra­tion is key.

Tom Severin, 4x4 Coach, teaches 4WD own­ers how to con­fi­dently and safely use their ve­hi­cles to the fullest ex­tent in dif­fi­cult ter­rain and ad­verse driv­ing con­di­tions. Visit www.4x4­train­ing.com to de­velop or im­prove your driv­ing skills.

A good four-sea­son tent with a vestibule will keep you out of the el­e­ments.

Your first line of de­fense is the clothes you wear on your back, en­sure they can han­dle long stays in cold tem­per­a­tures.

While a good shovel will get you un­stuck, it is also an im­por­tant tool for build­ing wind­breaks around camp.

Hav­ing good satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tions means you can al­ways find help when things go wrong.

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