Cold weather camping may be for the heartiest of outdoorspeople, but in the North it comes with the territory. There’s always the chance of waking up to unzip a rigid tent fly, frosted by the sub-zero night. After all, many popular campgrounds in our territorial parks do stay open until the end of September.
But really, cold nights are no reason to avoid weekend camping adventures in the Northwest Territories. Take your canoe out for one last paddle on Hidden Lake in the fall to marvel at the enthralling dance of the Northern Lights far from city lights. Or drive down the Dempster, while there’s a dusting of snow on the Richardson Mountains, to pitch a tent and get comfortable around a roaring fire in a territorial campground. Cold weather camping is the perfect excuse to cuddle up with someone you love—like a four-legged furball. Just make sure you’re prepared—and maybe practice your fire-starting skills if they’ve gotten rusty.
In case you’re still not convinced you can hack it, here are a few handy cold weather camping tips that will ensure you have a memorable trip in the Northwest Territories:
The coldest part of the night hits right around sunrise, so if you can find a tent spot that gets the earliest rays, you’ll warm up a lot faster. If your spot also offers windbreak, you’re set!
If you’re doing some true winter camping, you’ll need to stay hydrated. Heaping piles of fluffy snow into a boiling pot might seem like the quickest route to melting a couple litres of water. But if you’re camped near a frozen lake, a hatchet can make for even quicker work. While it can take a half-dozen pots of snow to melt down to a full pot of water — even with your best efforts to pack it down — ice is only slightly less dense than water, meaning that full pot isn’t so far away. And remember to pack more stove fuel than you might in the summer, since the ice isn’t going to melt itself.
Those shiny silver blankets that fold down to wallet-size are great for swaddling yourself in an emergency, but they can also help keep the heat in a tent on a cold evening. Lay the blanket out across the floor under your sleeping pad to reflect your body heat back up into the tent, rather than letting it get absorbed by the cold ground. Are you camping in some really cold weather? Bring a couple extra emergency blankets along and drape them along the tent walls to keep that heat radiating back at you.
You’ve probably already heard that the worst thing you can do in the cold is get sweaty, and it’s certainly true. Keep that in mind while packing and stock up on layers—from light to heavier layers that can come off at the first sign of perspiration. And skip the cotton when you’re packing: stick to wool or synthetic fabrics to stay warm even if you do get damp.
If you’ve got extra hot water on-hand after chipping away at that frozen lake, pour it in your canteen for a little extra heat while you sleep. Cover the canteen in a sock and pop the DIY hot water bottle into your sleeping bag before you go to bed. While you’re at it, you may as well slip the morning’s clothes in there as well so you can put on something toasty when you wake up. Trust us, you’ll be glad you did.