Winter Camping: Improvised Shelter Lesson

The sun peeked through the cracks where our tarps didn’t overlap.

Winter Camping

I resisted the urge to burrow into my sleeping bag, opting instead to wrest my left arm free to look at the time. 6:30 am. I had another hour before I had to get up. A squirrel ran across the main beam of our improvised shelter, on her way to her nest three trees north. We had clearly interrupted her usual morning routine. She scolded us as she ran by. I listened to the crows chatting with one another. One very early chickadee sang an optimistic “spring’s here!” In the distance, the Ottawa River rushed over rocks and around iced-over eddies.

winter sleep system during winter camping

Eventually my overactive brain got the better of me and I couldn’t lie there any longer. I mentally prepared myself to leave my warm cocoon for the -15 degree (Celsius) March morning. My REI leather hiking boots had hardened overnight in the cold temperatures and I struggled to get them on my feet. Lesson learned: loosen the laces better and pull out the tongue further, before bed.

I grabbed the pots and headed down the trail to find some untrampled snow that we could melt and boil for our morning coffee and oatmeal.

winter cooking winter camping

Other classmates emerged from quinzhees, a mini log cabin built the day before, tree well shelters, and tarp contraptions. After breakfast we took a tour of everyone’s structures. We described how warmly (or not) we slept, what we thought about when deciding on and building our design, and the pros and cons of our designs. The night had been cold, clear, and dry so what worked well for us under those conditions may not have been possible under a heavy snowfall or freezing rain.

With the lesson complete we dismantled our improvised shelters, scattering boughs and branches and kicking down snow kitchens. As best we could we returned the forest to the state we found it in and then snowshoed out to our bus pickup.

For more on winter camping considerations, check the archives.

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