Winter's inching closer and closer and with that comes the dreaded expectation of snow, ice and cold — three words that are enough to send just about anyone packing for a sunny, sandy beach. But for the traveller looking for an adventure, lounging under a beach umbrella may come no where close to their idea of a vacation.
Adventure travellers — those who seek thrills or to get in touch with nature through travel — looking for something more challenging this during the year's chillier months may just find their ideal solution in winter camping. Yes, the prospect of roughing it out in the wilderness may sound intimidating (not to mention how much tougher roasting s'mores over an outdoor fire becomes), but it doesn't have to be if prospective adventurers are willing to plan ahead.
Donald Stables, an instructor with Frontenac Provincial Park, runs training sessions geared towards winter campers. He says he typically gets people of the hardy, outdoors type who are used to the cold but suggests those new to the activity take it slow.
"People should take their time when winter camping and learn to practice during the day before going out over night. Take your time and educate yourselves," said Stables. A typical training session for Stable runs over two weekends — one in-class seminar that deals with safety and equipment training and another weekend where participants put their knowledge to use by camping overnight at a provincial park.
Seminars range in size from 35-40 people but the outdoor portion only allows 20 participants. It's here that Stable says campers learn first hand about how to stay warm.
"They learn how to regulate their body heat and how to wick away moisture from the body to stay dry and stay warm in a sleeping bag — sleeping bags don't keep you warm, they just lessen heat loss," said Stables.
In addition to sleeping bags, typical equipment for cold winter camping includes tents, parkas, snowshoes and sleeping mats. Those looking for something less intensive have the option of using yurts (wood-framed dwellings used by nomads in Central Asia) or heated cabins in some provincial parks, a trend that's rising according to Lori Waldbrook, a rep with Ontario Parks.
“We're seeing more young families who camp in summer at Ontario Parks book winter yurt or cabin adventures especially at parks that have skating, snow tubing and tobogganing,” said Waldbrook in an interview with Canoe.ca
While the use of yurts or cabins takes away the challenges of staying warm overnight, Stables says there's one universal benefit.
"Why do people do it? Well there's no mosquitoes," he jokes.
For more tips on winter camping, check out the slideshow below.
There's hundreds of provincial parks as well as a dozen of national parks in Canada. With so much choice, it's not a bad idea to do some research ahead of time to see which parks are open year round and which are only seasonal. Certain parks have reports which include information on fire bans, boil water advisories and seasonal actives.
Tents, parkas, sleeping bags and mats are all necessary for winter camping. However, campers will also want to pack things like waterproof barrels to store food to avoid unwanted visitors when sleeping.
When travelling in the wilderness, a first aid kit is always a good idea as access to hospitals may be delayed. Ontario Parks also recommends wilderness first aid certification which can be acquired through the Canadian Red Cross.
...and leave nothing but footprints. There's nothing more irritating than a camp ground ruined by litter, so be sure to pack reusable containers and bring home all your litter.
Depending on how deep in the wilderness you are, a cellphone or GPS system may not be enough to get you out of trouble should travellers find themselves lost. With a topographical map, campers can mark key locations and trails to avoid a camping trip turning into a nightmare.
After travellers have settled on a park, it's a good idea to call park staff who know the grounds better than anyone else. They can offer advice on park details that are not found anywhere else.