Winters are indeed the most beautiful season of the year. Newbie winter campers may perceive this season as an exciting time to plan their camping trip. But, for those who are aware of the dangers, plan it cautiously before heading on – because you might not get a second chance if you come across the deadly dangers of extreme weather.
This is why, for winter camping, you require accurate preparation (in terms of food, shelter, and safety), pre-weather forecast, trip planning, and execution to be safe and alive! (literally). you may get to have the whole campsite to yourself, or you may get to see the beauty of snowy nights, BUT the things that can go wrong during these trips are way more in numbers than you think!
Cold camping is not for the faint hearts, remember?
So, Is winter camping safe? Winter camping is safe, but it requires you to be cautious all the time. Unlike other seasons, the health risks and weather risks associated with winter camping are more. Having said that, a perfectly planned trip, with all the weathering precautions, safety measures, correct clothing, insulated gears, and avoiding extremities, can hardly go wrong!
Now, if I were you, I’d be thinking what the hype is about, I mean it’s just winter right?
No! cold is not your only enemy out there in the wild! A tough chilly night is hard to deal with, but other dangers are equally harmful, just like the cold. Let me tell you what they are and how you would tackle them! Let’s get on it…
#1 Beware of the health risks of cold
Let’s first discuss the obvious and the most terrible ones, which are frostbite and hypothermia.
Hypothermia is a medical condition in which your body starts losing heat readily after extreme cold exposure. This gets to a point where your pulse rate slows down to a dangerously low level.
At this point your vision gets blurred, your activity level reduces, and worst, you can start hallucinating or having seizures. This can be a fatal situation for solo campers.
It is the most common danger that most people who camp below 20F experience.
The other medical condition that can happen is frostbite. Frostbite happens when your body comes in contact with extremely cold surfaces or endures cold weather for prolonged periods.
The bite freezes the skin, muscles, and vessels so much that they gradually start losing a life. This usually happens to the most exposed extremities, like the nose, cheeks, hands (fingers), or feet.
What to do If it occurs?
To prevent this, make sure you have the correct gears (sleeping bag, clothing, and electric or battery operated heaters) for the forecasted temperature of your campsite. After the exposure, the best thing you can do is get back to your campsite and cover yourself up to get optimum warmth – in cases of hypothermia. Avoid spending long time periods outside the tent.
In case you’ve gotten frostbite. Dip the affected parts in warm water for 20-25 minutes or, let them stay in it until you feel the sensation again. then, wrap them up in a warm cloth (don’t expose frostbitten skin to direct heat/ heater)
Make sure you are bone dry and dress up in at least three layers, including a moisture-wicking layer. Consume loads of hot water and drinks as they work best in cases of hypothermia. Cover your hands and feet just like your body with woollen gloves, mittens, and socks.
#2 Beware of avalanche and frozen lakes
This is where things get scary.
So, what is an avalanche? Avalanche is basically the land sliding of snow which happens when the top layer of snow collapses and slides down the hill.
Snowcapped or white mountains may look appealing, but it’s not always a good idea to be around them in the cold. This mercilessly kills a good number of hikers and campers every year.
It is very common and pretty unpredictable as the snow can break at even the slightest change of wind speed! So the dangers hover around campers at all times if they are camping in hilly areas.
Avoid experiments because if you face an avalanche, there are chances of you dying of Asphyxia (trauma of the accident, cardiac arrest).
Watch where you step!
The danger associated with frozen lakes is not about how thick the snow is, or if you can walk on it or not! The main danger is that after the snowfall, the frozen lakes get covered in snow! So much so that an average camper cannot tell if it’s land or lake before stepping on it.
This is dangerous because if the ice layer above the lake is not thick enough, you can fall into the lake. The water inside is so-called that it traumatized your whole body. And this may shock you because frozen lakes are more dangerous than frostbite or hypothermia because it can kill you within minutes!
What to do If it happens?
The best thing you can do to avoid these situations is to either know the history campsite, know the map (exact location and route), check the current weather forecast, and follow the planned path without getting experimental. But, the second best and safest thing to do is to camp in the pre-set campsite.
To avoid avalanches, make sure you don’t camp anywhere on, or around steep snowy mountains that have no signs of trees or greenery!
#3 Be cautious of wolves and coyotes
In terms of wild animals, winters are better than summers. Because most wild animals that campers fear, like bears, rats, or hedgehogs, hibernate in winters.
This is why bear attacks are less likely to occur in winters. But these bad boys (woolfies) are way more active in winters than in summers.
Winters is wolf and coyote’s breeding season, which is why they are more aggressive and irritable during January and February. Though wolf attacks are not that common, you can still have an encounter with them as they are present in more than 7 states of America, some parts of Europe, and other parts of the world.
And one wrong step in front of an aggressive wolf can make you lose your life!
What to do If it happens?
The best thing to do is to avoid the areas with a wolf population. Check the history of the area you are about to camp in and avoid it if it has a history of wild attacks.
If in case, you encounter one. Remember these things about them.
- Wolves cannot climb, so if you are near a tree, climb it as fast as you can and wait till it leaves.
- Don’t try to run. Running makes you seem weaker and an easy target. Make yourself seem bigger by spreading your hands high up. Look him in the eye and move back slowly until you are at a safe distance.
- Light up a fire. Wolves are scared of fire and won’t come near it
#4 Be careful of dehydration
Dehydration is the most silent danger of all. During winters, you don’t feel thirsty or tired because you don’t sweat as much or feel the heat. But that doesn’t mean that you do not need water.
Though dehydration doesn’t kill you, it can make you lose your warmth, strength and can make you faint. If you faint out in the cold, you can get hypothermia or get frostbite!
How to avoid dehydration during winter camping?
Keep your water intake in check. Buy water bottles that notify ‘ml,’ so you know how much water you’ve had in a day. Keep the warm water bottles with you and have water at equal intervals in a day. Just know that you need to drink more than 3/4 of a liter every hour.
#5 Carbon Monoxide Intoxication
CO poisoning is widespread in winter camping trips because campers prefer gas heaters over electric heaters. Electric heaters are safer, but they require camping generators which are loud and ruin your camping experience.! This is why gas heaters being common, but they cause CO poisoning!
CO is a byproduct of propane and oxygen. This is a highly toxic, odorless, and flammable gas that can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and, in the worst cases, affects your ability to see, hear or concentrate!
CO gas has killed more people than any wolf attacks every year!
How to avoid it?
There are many ways to avoid it. You can either ventilate your tent well or use a gas heater with oxygen level detectors. You can also use candle heaters or hot stones, or water bottles to keep your tent warm all night. If you have access to electricity, you can use an electric space heater or use one of those battery operated heaters for tents if you are camping totally off-grid.
During winter camping, any wrong step can make you lose your life. So for trips like these, it is best to avoid solo camping or going to extremes for the huger of adventure as winter is not really a good time to get yourself in danger. Be in contact with your loved ones at all times and make sure you are safe while having the best adventure of your life! Happy camping!