Me: I really want to try winter camping.
My wife: (Silence)
My daughter: Cool!
Sleeping in a tent in the snow never sounded daunting to me and Emilie. Paying an outfitter for the experience sort of did.
As you might imagine, it takes specialized equipment. We didn’t have any. But a friend did.
He had been camping in snow for about 25 years, his first trip at age 12, and was willing to introduce us to the experience.
A friend with know-how and proper gear is a great way to try winter camping, if you can. It might not cost you more than gas, food and a thank-you meal at a decent restaurant. Or hire an outfitter.
Purchasing your own gear and heading for woods in January without someone experienced at your side probably isn’t the smartest idea. Things can go wrong on any camping trip, but extreme cold could quickly compound even a minor challenge.
We planned for the first week of January, in the Boundary Waters, a half hour outside Ely, Minn. If the weather forecast called for daytime highs below zero, we would postpone till March.
Close to the opposite happened. The coldest night was 8 degrees above zero. We shed layers during the day to avoid sweating too much. It’s worth remembering: Soon after you stop exerting yourself outside in winter, sweat turns cold, so if you go, wear clothing design to wick away perspiration.
We hiked four miles through the woods, then crossed a mostly frozen bog, during which our friend fell through an air pocket past his knees, to reach Angleworm Lake. The lake itself was slushy. We had the right boots for it thanks to his advice.
Smoke, his 8-month-old Alaskan Husky, pictured above watching Emilie drill a hole for ice fishing, pulled one of our sleds across the lake to camp. We unpacked, set up tents and began cutting dead wood for our tent stoves.
How much wood? We cut and hauled for two hours each day. Contrast that with summer, where we need only strike a match to our gas stove.
If you’ve ever been to Miami in July, then you know what it’s like inside a tent when the wood-burning stove is cranking.
We slept comfortably, no different really from being home in bed. Except for the getting-out-of-bed part, when the temperature inside our tent was in the single digits. I once gutted out a broken furnace at home for a weekend to avoid paying emergency repair fees, but as cold as that felt, the temperature in our house remained above 50.
Sure, we could have stoked the wood burner throughout the night, if we wanted to take turns leaving our warm sleeping bags. Emilie sleeps like a rock, so that wasn’t going to happen.
At home, the first thing I do in the morning is eat. Out here, the stove eats first, a steady diet of pine. In 10 minutes we were warm enough, and it only got warmer from there.
We caught fish, hiked through the woods and imagined what it might have been like had we brought a saucer to sled down snow covered metamorphic rock that lines the much of the shore.
A blast, no doubt.
How much does a sled weigh, two pounds, maybe? It’s already on our packing list for next winter.