If you have not noticed, we are rapidly approaching winter here in Bozeman. Although most people find themselves trying to stay out of the cold, there are people who take comfort in being tougher than the elements. I understand all too well the idea of finding the coldest, most uncomfortable place to be in and take pride in staying strong and roughing it. If this is not your mindset, bear with me, because although it sounds like it would suck, winter camping can be a blast with the right attitude.
How to Stay Alive (and at least relatively warm):
Wear lots of weather-suited clothes. This may seem intuitive, but there is more to it than you realize. First, when I say “lots,” I mean you should wear multiple layers of clothing but it is also important to wear clothes designed with cold temperatures in mind. Clothes can be insulating by reflecting heat back or by holding space for air. All clothes do some of both by nature, but certain items favor one over the other. Clothing which holds space for air includes wool shirts and down jackets. Heat reflecting apparel is often tight-knit or uses specially designed heat reflective fabrics.
Beyond staying snug while you are awake, you want to make sure you are warm while you sleep. The first part of the equation is a good, waterproof tent with a ground cloth. If it is really cold out, you do not have to worry about rain, but water can still seep into the tent because your body heat will melt snow. In addition to the tent, you should have a sleeping bag rated to around the temperature in which you will be sleeping. I usually recommend sleeping in your clothes, the primary reason being when you wake up, you don’t have to put on cold clothes before you get out. Another thing that will help is a thick pad to sleep on. The pad provides a barrier between you and the cold ground and helps reduce how much heat your body loses.
There are two separate groups of people to consider when planning a trip: people that come with you and people who stay behind. For those joining, remember it is neither weird nor silly to huddle or cuddle if it keeps you warm. In fact, I would always recommend you put at least two people in each tent for this exact reason. For the people who stay behind, make sure at least one person knows your plan (yes, you should have a plan whenever you camp). Tell them where you are going, and when you will be back. This person should know to call the authorities and inform them of where you went if you are not back by a designated time.
Keep all this in mind and your trip should be safe and enjoyable for everyone. For more advice on how to be prepared, I would recommend reading this article by Geoff Irons at http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/winter-camping.html.
Quick checklist of essentials for winter camping:
___Map and compass (or alternate method of knowing where you are)
___Shelter (bring a tent and ground cloth/tarp)
___Warm sleeping conditions (good sleeping bag and pad)
___Water and more water
___Lighter, matches or both (know how to make a fire)
___Clothes (both heavy and light with extras)
___Flashlight with extra batteries
___Sunscreen (this is still important in the winter)
___Hat, gloves and warm shoes and socks
___A buddy, do not go alone
___A well-developed plan known to someone who is not going on the trip