I’ve been camping and backpacking a lot lately. I like the gear, the challenge, the beauty, and getting away from it all. But there’s always some new horizon to explore or a new trial to endure. Once I’ve tried something, I always find myself looking for something just a little bit harder. For me, that was winter camping. Summer camping is delightful. The temperature is generally comfortable. You have sunshine and light until almost nine o’clock at night–giving you tons of time to hike and set up camp. Basically, you can make a lot more mistakes without dire consequences while summer camping.
But winter camping is a much more serious endeavor. With fewer people out in the woods, you are generally more isolated. Also, mistakes in clothing and gear can easily lead to hypothermia. In fact, just twisting an ankle and being unable to walk is significantly more dangerous in winter. Really, everything is harder and more uncomfortable, from cooking to going to the bathroom. And there’s potential avalanche danger. Winter camping seems especially hard for me because I get cold so easily. The only thing you generally don’t have to worry about is bears because they should be hibernating.
What I usually do when starting anything new is pick up a book on the subject, and that’s why I read The Winter Camping Handbook by Stephen Gorman [originally printed in 1991 and revised in 2016]. I’d prefer to avoid at least some of my stupid mistakes through book learning rather than experience. The Winter Camping Handbook is a very broad overview of camping in general, gear recommendations, and cold injuries. Unfortunately, none of it was specific enough to be very helpful for me. I was interested in learning more about skiing in the back country and avalanche danger, but I really needed more information for it to be useful.
While reading, I had the feeling that even though this book was “revised” in 2016, they may have not done much with the actual content. It is always disconcerting to be reading an advice book and find that you know more than what’s in the book. This was very true of their section on sleeping bags. Basically, Gorman’s advice for winter sleeping bags is that mummy bags are warmer. He goes on to say that warmth ratings are not helpful because there is no standard; you can really only go by trial and error. But there is a standard. The European Norm or EN classifies most sleeping bags with a “comfort rating” and a “lower limit” rating. The comfort limit is generally when a woman, or a cold sleeper will stay warm, and the lower limit rating is generally when a man, or a warm sleeper will stay warm. Generally women get colder than men. Thus, women’s sleeping bags, even the same brand, style, and rating will actually have more insulation than the men’s. Because I’m tall, I chose to get a women’s tall version rather than the men’s version (which would have been tall enough) because it had more insulation. You still have to figure out what works for you, but these are incredibly helpful guidelines. Anyway, I was shocked that a book on winter camping would not have this information on sleeping bags. It’s very basic and very important. After that, I simply did not trust this book to have the latest and greatest information.
Now, I’m sure this is going to be TMI for those of you who are not campers, but I’m also guessing that you are only reading this at this point if you are a backpacker. So, the other question I had about winter camping was what to do when you go to the bathroom. How do you bury your waste if you are surrounded by snow. Now, Gorman mentions that you want to get out of camp to do your business, but he doesn’t address my question. Burying waste in snow doesn’t do much come spring time. I was curious what the Leave No Trace principles were on this, or if Gorman thinks it’s okay [I don’t] because there aren’t as many winter campers. Unfortunately I did not get a clear answer to my question.
So, on the whole I was disappointed in this book. I wanted more detail and more information. This may be better for someone who is new to camping, but even then I think there are other books out there with better information.
Find all of my reviews on my blog.