Cold camping looks miserable. Sure, tough guys like Shawn James and Joe Robinet can pack up everything they need in a small sled or backpack, fell huge trees blindfolded and with one arm tied behind their backs, start fires with nothing more than some dental floss and pocket lint, and sleep in a snow cave. Good for them for doing so. I, on the other hand, like my creature comforts and warm toes too much.
I don’t ever go minimalist or lightweight, even for summer canoe camping, but all of the gear I do bring serves more than one purpose. I do enjoy being resourceful and using my surroundings to achieve maximum camp vibes, but I also like knowing that the gear I have carefully chosen and brought with me will suffice.
Winter camping is a relatively new activity for me. I’d camped in a foot of snow in my three-season tent, but that was mostly by accident. Last year I decided that it was pretty lame to stay indoors for the whole hard water season, so my partner Andrew and I began researching traditional canvas tents and trail stoves in order to make the most of the snow. I studied Snow Walker’s Companion, by Garett and Alexandra Conover religiously and watched a whole heck of a lot of YouTube videos.
We dithered about the cost of outfitting ourselves for winter, but eventually settled on a 10×10’ Atuk Alaskan all-canvas tent with custom 30” side walls. We chose the Alaskan model because it’s a nice, simple square, and the placement of the stove is next to the door. It cost less because it was made in Canada, unlike other popular canvas tent brands like Snowtrekkers. The Atuk Kanguk model, a pentagon, is extremely popular, but I couldn’t wrap my head around how to arrange the interior of a five-sided living space. We also weren’t too keen on the centre stove placement. I’m a huge klutz, and a stove in the middle of our tent would most likely result in injury, loss of limbs, and a catastrophic tent fire.
Our stove, a Kni-Co Packer model, heats the space easily. The tent is definitely colder at the back, away from the stove, but with so much room to move around inside it’s not a big deal. The stove placement also allows us to build a raised bed at the back of the tent to keep us elevated and in a warmer air space. It’s roomy enough for guests to sleep in as long as we keep the majority of our gear outside.
We built our own 10’ winter freight toboggans and purchased some extra duffel bags from military surplus stores. We purchased an extendable chainsaw pole to use as the centre pole in the tent, as we didn’t want to rely on finding a tree and cutting it to size. Andrew made a heat reflector shield out of thin-gauge aluminum siding and a few hinges, which nests into the same box as our wood stove. He built an ice chisel out of a broom handle and a sharp blade.
We also sewed our own winter moccasins this year, following the patterns generously provided by Lure of the North. Andrew is very handy, I am not. These projects weren’t very easy for me.
We ended up making so much of our winter kit for several reasons:
- This stuff is EXPENSIVE and I am extremely cheap
- There are only a few manufacturers of traditional winter gear, so options are limited
- I am extremely cheap
- I’m a miserly Scrooge
- We weren’t sure if we would love winter camping and didn’t want to fork out thousands of dollars on equipment we didn’t know we would use
- We ran out of cash after buying the tent, the stove, and the materials for our toboggans
As it turns out, we do love winter camping. I love sitting by the warmth of the fire in our tent and being able to cook extravagant feasts on the stove. I love the snow and the cold and the absence of biting insects. I love the way the branches cast shadow patterns on the white cotton tent walls. I love weaving a floor for the tent of evergreen boughs which smells like the north and feels like sleeping on a cloud. Winter camping is a lot of hard work, but it’s so rewarding in a cosy hot tent. I think of our canvas tent as a portable cabin… we can bring all the comforts of home and still be outside when the mercury drops to forty below.
About the Author:
Tierney Angus is a journalism student, canoeing enthusiast, backcountry camper, and Friends of Temagami board member. She’s a granola-munching, recycled sandal-wearing, tree-hugging long-haired hippie freak. Tierney is an insufferable beer snob and cooks most everything in bacon fat. If you liked this piece, check out her blog at thehappyadventure.com or on Instagram @tear_knee and @friendsoftemagami.