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The Great Outdoors - Family Camping Guide

Posted in Features on November 1, 2001
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Contributors: Wendy Frazier4-Wheel & Off-Road and Hot Rod Archives
Photographers: 4-Wheel & Off-Road and Hot Rod Archives

*Winter Wilderness Basics
*Vehicle Winterizing
*Giant Get-Gear Directory

Pack It Up
Camping Clues For Winter Fun
This isn't your average arctic, warm-your-toes-by-the-cabin-fire, hot-cocoa, off-road trip. This is your frozen nubs, winter wilderness camping trip guide. If there weren't a need for nonfreezing shoelaces, they wouldn't be available. Camping in the winter is COLD. But it does have its advantages. Like no gnats, mosquitoes, or other pests. And if you're lucky enough to live in a snow state, that means there'll be no brushing up against poisonous green stuff. But with the good comes the bad, and that is surviving the bitter cold by evading frostbite and hypothermia.

So why do people defy Mother Nature's torture and go camping when it's cold? Is it the yearning for a primitive sense of natural surroundings, the crisp clean air, or the responsibility of roaming unmapped freedom?

There are many reasons people like to camp in the wilderness. However, you can never outdo the reason of listening and telling great camping stories. They are the best-especially the "how I survived winching, Pull-Paling, and digging our way out of the snow" stories, or the "how I had to defrost my digits" stories. Plus, how often do you get an opportunity to dream under the stars?

Snow or sleet, rain or shine, tent or truck camping, hunting or bird watching, cold weather camping can be possible. Here are the basics.

Snow Sanctuary
When looking for a new tent, look for setup ease, strength and durability of materials, and cost. Newer tents include shock-corded poles so that you can easily pop together a shelter in 5 minutes. If you're planning on camping in the winter make sure that your tent has a rain fly and that the seams have a plastic tape construction. Mountain Hardware makes a practical Room for Three tent that has a killer rain fly and is designed for extreme conditions.

Practice setting up your new tent before you actually get out into the wild. That way you won't get frustrated and ruin a perfectly good camping trip. Use a little common sense when picking a spot for your tent. Be certain to set down a waterproof ground cloth or tarp like Mountain Hardware's Footprint, and remember to check the surrounding area for hibernating bear caves and the like. Carefully check the ground where you want to place your tent, as you don't want anything poking into your ground cover or the floor of the tent. Check for stones, branches, and the like, and then get to work setting up the tent.

Sleeping Pads
There are three types of sleeping pads-open cell, closed cell, and air mattress styles. Pads that use self-inflating technology are mostly open-cell pads like the Therma-Rest LE, which uses an AirChannel foam (picture tiny plastic air bubbles squished together). All you have to do is open the air valve, which allows air to fill the pad, and then close the valve before you lie down. These pads are simple to use and convenient to store and carry and offer waterproof protection from the ground. They are also beneficial in insulating your body's heat during a cold night. Plus, you can roll them up and stuff them into a pack.

Closed-cell pads are made of Polyolefin closed-cell foam (picture tiny popped air bubbles squished together) and offer insulation and protection from snow and sand, and they won't absorb water.

While regular air mattresses are the least expensive sleeping cushion, they are not very effective in cold weather, as your body heat has to convect in the large air chamber below you to keep you warm. The process is not very energy efficient, as you should conserve your energy for keeping yourself warm instead of the mattress. Single pads are OK for spring/summer nights, but during the winter you'll want to double-up to keep your body heat as close to your body as possible.

You'll want a closed cell close to the ground and an open-cell pad close to you for comfort.

First Aid Kit
It should have:
*First aid tape
*Hydrogen peroxide
*Antibiotic ointment
*Burn ointment
*Thermometer and/or Hypothermia thermometer
*Heat packs
*Throat lozenges
*Heavy space blankets
*Antacid tablets

Wintry Weather
Is Your Rig Ready?
There are those people whose entire lives are motivated by a fanatical fixation with getting outdoors during the fall and winter. Getting there can be a problem if your vehicle is not ready. Whether you consider yourself a leaf looker, a die-hard trail master, or an avid outdoorsman, we know you already know it all. We're not here to point fingers-we're here to remind. And remind you we'll do in preparing your vehicle for the coming winter. You'll thank us when you're sitting in the toasty cab of your truck while your friends are outside winching their truck out of stuck, their cotton jacket is wet, and they're complaining about their digit popsicles. Believe it, we've been there.

Mama Says
Mama always said to keep a small pack in the vehicle as a winter safety kit. Here's what she recommends:
*Use an old backpack to put items in
*Throw rug, towel, or old shower curtain, tarp, canvas tarp
*Ice scraper
*Spare bottle of windshield washer fluid
*Tire chains
*Spare tire
*Small roll of wire
*Jumper cables
*Basic first aid kit
*Sand, salt, or kitty litter for traction
*Nonperishable food (trail mix, dried fruit...)
*Extra set of mittens, socks, and a warm tuke (beenie)
*Pocket knife
*Several blankets
*Bottled water
*Plastic bags
*Rain gear
*Extra sweatshirt/jacket
*Small shovel
*Small tools (pliers, wrench, and screwdriver)
*Set of tire chains or traction mats big enough for your tires

Simple Things
*Check brake lights, turn signals, and headlamps, and cover up off-road lights. They all should be completely functional.

*Check hoses and belts. Get rid of old, damaged belts and hoses, and tighten loose components.

*Check antifreeze level. During the winter your water-only radiator fill might betray you by freezing your cooling system. Ideally a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water is great. For colder weather your mix would include more antifreeze and less water. Add up to 70 percent antifreeze if you're expecting temperatures below 20 degrees F.

*Check body and floorboards for chips and holes in metal. This means rust. For the most part it's the cancer that will eventually lead to you not having anywhere to put your feet. Oh well, you didn't need the extra weight anyway.

*Check out your brakes, engine, and transmission. If you motor a lot, you already know what needs to be fixed. Get it done.

*Check your oil. Most vehicles use a standard 10W30 oil. But you should check manufacturer specs for their recommendations. And again, you should be changing your oil every 3,000 miles or three months. Get off your duff and do it.

*Check the garage floor for oil and coolant puddles. This will clue the clueless that something needs fixin'.

*Check and fill window washer fluid. And keep a bottle of it handy in the garage so you don't have to trek back to the store for a 99-cent bottle of fluid. In states where it snows, you'll use it especially if you do a lot of driving.

*Get new wiper blades. We know you should check them but why not spend the $3 now? What's better than having a perfectly clean windshield?

*Check tire pressure. Off-road vehicle users are already pretty conscious of this.

*Check tire tread. Avoid driving with bald tires in any season. Snow tires make a huge difference in traction. Check for uneven wear, damaged sidewalls, and air leaks.

*Know how to use your tire chains and that they fit your tire size. Yes, do this even if you have massive tire tread. As a precaution, install your new tire chains in your garage. When you do, make sure to trim overhanging chain because it will act as a weed whacker inside your fender. For tires larger than 33 inches, you'll need to get chains at an off-road specialty shop because they generally don't carry them at Wal-Mart in large sizes. On a recent winter trip we saw people putting chains on the rear of their front-wheel-drive vehicles. Craziness, we know.

*Spray graphite lubricant in locks to keep them from freezing up.

*Check heater/defrosters. FYI: They are important for visibility and passenger comfort.

*Always, always, always keep your gas tank full. Running out of gas really sucks. In the winter it's way worse.

*Frozen locks can be a problem. Use a lighter to heat your key, then insert it into the frozen lock or try going in a different door.

*Brake carefully, steer gently, and accelerate like your foot is a feather.

*Finally, remember that you are always supposed to steer into a wet and wild snow skid.


Golden, CO 80401
Lander, WY 82520
Olathe, KS 66062
Adventure Medical Kits
Oakland, CA 94621
Sidney, NE 69160
Portland, OR 97220
Lowa Boots
Stamford, CT 06907
Sierra Designs
Boulder, CO 80301
ITT Night Vision
Roanoke, VA 24019
Mechanix Wear
Valencia, CA 91355
Columbia River Knife & Tool
Lowrance Electronics
Buck Knives
Magellan Corp.
Golight Inc.
Seattle Sports
Essential Gear Inc.
Greenfield, MA 01301
Princeton Tec
Alico Sports
Alpina Sports Corp.
Alps Mountaineering
Apelco/Raytheon Electronics
American Camper
Artiach/Appalachian Mountain Supply
Artisan Gear
Avid Outdoor
The Brunton Co.
Burris Savvy Optics
Byer Manufacturing
Camping Gaz
Camp Trails
Canon USA
Caribou Mountaineering
Climb High
Crazy Creek Products Inc.
Dachstein/K.D. Sports
Dalgren Footwear
Danner Shoe
Deep E Co.
Design Salt
Diamond Brand
Downright Ltd./ Wolverine Sleeping Bags
Down-to-Earth (Metolius)
Eagle Creek
EDKO Alpine Designs
Ferrino USA
Fila USA
Five Ten Co.
Fujinon Inc.
General Ecology
Glacier Gloves
Granite Gear
Gregory Mountain Products
Helly Hansen
High Country
Hi-Tec Sports
Integral Designs
J. Edwards Co.
JANDD Mountaineering
JanSport Inc.
Ka-bar Knives
Kelty Inc.
Kenwood Communications
Kershaw Knives Kai Cutlery, USA Ltd.
Kluane Mountaineering Ltd.
Lafuma America Inc.
Leica Camera
Lifeline Medical Inc.
Limmer Boot Inc.
L.L. Bean Inc.
Loon Outdoors
Lowe Alpine Systems
Madden Mountaineering
Marmot Mountain Ltd.
Maxon America Inc.
MEI (Outdoor Legacy)
Merrill Footwear
Moss Tents
Mountain Equipment Co-Op
Mountain Quest/ Kutmaster
Myerchin Inc.
Nalgene Products
Natural Balance
Nikwax USA
Nite Lite Co.
Noall Tents
No Rinse Laboratories
Optronics Inc.
Osprey Packs
Outdoor Innovations Ltd.
Outdoor Products
Peregrine Outfitters
Phillips Environmental Products Inc.
Polar Barriers
Polar Equipment
Raichle Molitor USA
Ritchie Navigation
Safewater Anywhere
Salomon North America
San Martin
Savage Gear
Shakespeare Electronics
Sog Specialty Knives
South Bend
Speedtech Instruments
Standard Communications
Steiner/Pioneer Research
Streamlight Inc.
Superfeet Worldwide
Supply Pro
Swiss Army Brands Inc.
Swiss-Tech/LKL Innovations Ltd.
Timberline Filters
Tough Traveler Ltd.
Trukke Winter Sports Inc.
Ultimate Survival
VauDe Sports Inc.
Vortex Backpacks
Western Mountaineering
Wiggy's Inc.
Wild Things Inc.
Wisconsin Pharmacal
Woods Canada Ltd.
Yeoman/Weems & Plath
Zee Medical Inc.
Zodiak Outback Gear
ZZ Manufacturing

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