I’ve read a bunch of articles about winter camping in the last couple of months. Most of the articles make winter camping sound great, what with the uncrowded campgrounds, pristine air quality, and beautiful winter wilderness. I admit that the wilderness in winter is spectacular. A single walk through silent snow-frosted woods can change my mood for months. If I’m feeling spry, downhill skiing is one of my favorite sports in the world. Even when I feel like crap, I adore sitting in a window watching a storm blow in from the ocean.
But camping in it?
Been there, done that…here’s what winter camping really means, travel writers’ hyperbole aside:
Step 1: Drive out to a suitable campground, probably in the woods or by a beach. If there’s weather, drive through it, getting as tense and stressed as necessary to navigate treacherous slick roads, four-wheel drive and chain snow conditions, and low visibility.
Step 2: Exit the car warm, dry car into whatever weather conditions prevail. No umbrellas–it’s time to set up camp! Assemble tent and sleeping bags, secure food, and arrange anything else that’s needed for the trip.
Step 3: Build a fire. Hopefully I remembered to pack some dry wood and tinder, because reasonably combustible materials don’t always abound in soggy forests in February.
Step 3: Then it’s time to cook up a meal and eat it! Outdoors in the cold or rain or snow, I fire up my Coleman stove and heat up a nice can of beans or soup. Then I take a seat on the provided slab of chilled wood (aka picnic bench) and chow down on my feast.
Step 4: Find the bathroom. If I’m shivering my way across a formal campground, a charming concrete block building or a smelly little outhouse will be someplace within a couple hundred yards. If I’m doing the dispersed camping thing, the “bathroom” will consist of some sort of camp toilet perched behind a tree.
Step 5: Go to bed. That is, crawl into my nylon dome tent and zip myself into a super-arctic-uncomfortable-mummy-style sleeping bag that sold for cheap at the big-box discount store. The cold seeping up from the ground, the hard ground, and the sharp rocks and sticks ares not quelled by the 1/2 inch foam camping pad that lies under my sleeping bag.
Step 6: Repeat steps 4 and 5 several times throughout the night.
Step 7: Slog out of the tent, make coffee, drink coffee, eat a cereal bar. Attempt to hike, fish, or do some other outdoorsy activity. Shiver a lot.
Step 8: Over the course of several hours, curl into an exhausted, pain-racked, frozen ball of misery. Repeat steps 3, 4, and 5.
Step 9: Go home, with an optional stopover at the nearest ER for a refreshing bag of warmed IV saline and a couple of hits of Toredol. Spend the next 5 days in bed recovering from my weekend getaway.
Winter camping is NOT a viable lodging option for most travelers with chronic pain. I don’t recommend even trying it–the potential is far too high for brutal misery during the trip, followed by days or weeks in bed recovering from the so-called vacation. For that matter, winter camping doesn’t work too well even for the fittest, healthiest of female travelers. If you can’t pee out of a 1-inch unzipped gap in a tent door while your sleeping bag and jammies cover 99% of your body, winter camping sucks. Trust me.