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Camping under Snowflakes
For many outdoor enthusiasts, wilderness camping is the ultimate nature getaway. During the winter months, some enthusiasts will even go so far as to pitch their tent in the snow… in the dead of winter! Shivering just thinking about it!? You probably are, but the experience guarantees campers an unparalleled tranquility in an unique setting. This escape from the ordinary, however, includes an element of risk. Here are some solutions to navigate the cold winter and even learn to love it at night.
Winter camping is attracting a growing number of enthusiasts who are partial to the great outdoors. The equipment required for this type of getaway has greatly improved, making winter excursions more and more comfortable. However, this equipment, which is extensive, has a price; and it is not within budget for everyone. In order to experiment without breaking the bank – and without risking frostbite – it may be wise to opt for one of various accommodation solutions, including tents, shelters, and cabins all of which are available in many of Quebec's provincial parks. Fans of winter hiking, as well as adventurers' families, will certainly be satisfied. Far from any reminders of civilization, this type of remote accommodation offers the right dose of privacy while it guarantees, after some long outdoor excursions, some well-deserved comfort.
Winter camping does not necessarily mean you need hard-core survival instincts. It’s possible to experience, in winter, a type of glamorous camping or, as it is now called: “glamping.” A new generation of super-trendy tiny cabins first appeared in the summer of 2013 in Sépaq, Quebec's provincial park system, called Chalet EXP. With lots of windows, the Chalet EXP allows visitors to appreciate being surrounded by nature and can accommodate between two to four people, depending on the location. The Chalet EXP offers you the luxury of a fully-equipped cabin: hot water, heating, full kitchen, bathroom, and two electric stove tops.
Some recreation and tourist destinations also offer the opportunity to spend the night in comfortable cabins perched in trees! Kabania and Vivre Perché, located respectively in Lanaudière and the Laurentians, offer some great models of these suspended constructions. The website Les Toits du monde also offers campers some unusual solutions, such as Hobbit houses, tree huts, and Mongolian youpi tents. For an additional $15, a dog-sled team will transport your luggage to your cabin. When it comes to glamping, you either go all in, or stay home!
Try a Winter Adventure
So, you’re determined to sleep in a tent? If you’re new to this, be advised that it is best to start in the spring or fall, when the mercury starts flirting with zero. In midwinter, it is suggested to get started by carrying all the necessary materials with you before taking shelter at nightfall.
“That way, beginners have the chance to become familiar with the effort that such a hike requires, because there is a lot of stuff to carry,” says Alexander Coser, wilderness survival instructor at Fugitif. “Once night falls, you’ll be glad to be able to dry your clothes. After two or three excursions of this kind, you are ready for some real winter camping,” he says.
“ You Can't Be Serious, Dad!”
You don't need to go on a forest expedition to get a taste the pleasures of winter camping. You can simply pitch your tent in the backyard. “What fun!” Says Jean-François Boily of Mont-Tremblant National Park, who initiated his children to winter camping at -15°C. “The kids were afraid of the cold, but they loved it. They even slept in. You really breathe well at night in a tent.”
For first timers, Jean-François suggests Sablonnière in the La Diable sector of Mont-Tremblant National Park. Located between the welcome station and Lake Monroe, Sablonnière is near the Discovery Centre that offers a nice place to warm up at any time. There is even an emergency telephone.
The Expedition: What a Good Winter Camper Needs to Know
Switching gears. When it comes to adventure, basic technical survival skills can make all the difference. “When you head out to go winter hiking, it's wise to keep in mind the old proverb: hope for the best, prepare for the worst. In fact, you’ll find that winter camping will test your survival skills. It all comes down to the basics: shelter, water, food, and a sense of where you are.” For Alexandre Coser, this quotation from a book by Ben Shillington is the ultimate reference. Consider yourself warned.
Those who still want to fully experience winter camping need to observe some basic rules. First, it’s crucial that a reliable person knows your itinerary and the date and estimated time of your return. It is also highly advisable that your adventure includes at least three hikers/campers.
“In case of a fall or accident, someone can stay with the injured person while the other goes for help,” says Alexander Coser. “The ideal would be to have a guide along. Failing that, having basic survival skills is imperative. One day of training is enough to become familiar with the basic techniques. It can really be worth it,” he says.
So, what do I need?
As we said above, the equipment necessary for winter camping is lengthy. However, it is possible to rent some of the things you may need in specialty stores like MEC and La Cordée. For getting around, snowshoes are essential as well as walking sticks. For the night, opt for a four-season tent. Two floor mattresses are also necessary, one foam and one self-inflating mattress. Ideally, you should also carry a small foam pad in your backpack for sitting on during breaks.
For your hands: mitts or mittens are on top of the list. For your feet, choose very tight mountain boots that you have previously tested in the autumn rain. Do not forget leggings, which will prevent the heat from escaping and snow from getting in.
Also among the necessities are a wide-mouthed, BPA-free water bottle, a folding shovel, a headlamp (make sure to keep the batteries warm), a cylinder stove with a mixture of butane and propane (ideally), a pair of spare socks in a Ziploc bag, and a large sealed bag.
As for clothing, you must at all costs avoid cotton and opt for multiple layers, both for the upper and lower body. The base layer should be made of polyester or polypropylene. The second layer should be fleece, with a Goretex shell on top of that. While sleeping you can add a merino wool layer, under the Goretex. You will also need to wear a hat while you sleep, even if your sleeping bag has a hood. That said, make sure your sleeping bag should can keep you warm at -30°C.
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