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Winter Camping in Wyoming: Not for the Faint of Heart
Winter camping in snowy Wyoming offers exquisite scenery, profound silence and a memorable wilderness experience — with no bugs.
But it’s also not for the faint of heart. It can be difficult, tedious and simply unpleasant. The days are short, the nights are cold and long. And crawling out of a cozy sleeping bag on a freezing morning to melt snow for coffee is not most people’s idea of a dream vacation.
Being prepared for the cold is the difference between a great trip, and a miserable one. For campers who don’t know what they’re doing, a cold-weather trek in the backcountry can be fatal.
So if you’re even considering a wintertime camping trip, pay heed to some tips from the experts.
Rule #1: Don’t Go Alone
As enticing as the empty wilderness might seem, nature is unforgiving. That’s why you should always share the adventure with a winter camping buddy or two. Choose companions who have an assortment of cold-weather skills, such as navigating through snow and setting up camp in winter.
Along these same lines, be sure to let others know where you’ll be and when you’ll return. Include vehicle information, and the names and contact information of your fellow campers.
• Layering your clothes is critical. This means you’ll need more clothes than you would for day-long activities like skiing.
• Your boots need to be warm and waterproof. Support is less important than warmth and durability. And don’t cram extra socks into your boots unless there’s plenty of room for them. Tight-fitting boots will cut off circulation rather than keeping your feet warm.
And if you plan on doing a lot of hiking, you’ll want to consider spikes or snowshoes.
• With regard to hand and head coverings, choose a thick, warm hat and mittens instead of gloves for warmth.
• Don’t forget sunglasses and sunscreen. Reflective snow can really cook you, especially from late February on.
• If you don’t have a winter (4-season) sleeping bag, take two 3-season bags and nest one inside the other.
• For your tent, many three-season tents will work fine, unless you expect heavy snow or high winds. (In which case, as a beginner, you may not want to venture out.)
• “White” gas camping stoves are best for winter, but in most conditions alcohol or canister stoves will also work. If you’re using a gas cartridge stove, you’ll want to use isobutane. You can warm cartridges in your sleeping bag or parka before firing up.
• Lastly, bring a good headlamp with fresh batteries. You’ll want lots of light to deal with those long nighttime hours.
Here’s how one couple tackled winter camping in the Bighorn Mountains during a Wyoming cold snap:
Fueling Your Body
Eating food is like putting fuel on a fire. Your metabolism kicks into action to digest it, heating up your core body temperature and radiating outwards through the bloodstream.
If you’ll be hiking for a while, choose foods that can be eaten cold or require very little prep , time, such as granola, jerky, cheese, or trail mix.
Also, be sure to stay hydrated. (This is easy to forget in the cold, but so important.) Proper hydration maintains good blood flow, which helps you stay warm. Take a break every hour or so and drink some warm water from an insulated thermos.
In forested areas, a campfire can change the whole atmosphere of a winter camp. Your evenings and mornings will certainly be warmer, but much of your time will devoted to finding wood and tending the fire. Be sure to find solid ground to put it on, and it’s best to use established campsites and fire pits. In harsh conditions, a fire pit forms an oven-like reflector that can throw winter back into the darkness.
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Hot water bottles also work miracles for chilled campers. By simply boiling a liter of water, filling a strong, solidly capped bottle, and burying it as close to your body as you can stand, you’ll stay warm sitting around in the harshest conditions.
You’ll probably find that mornings are the toughest time for winter camping. The temperature is coldest just before dawn, and since you’ve been inactive for a while, it’s easy to get chilled. The best thing to do is get up and go for a walk. Once you’ve warmed up, you’ll be ready to break camp and set off on your next adventure.