Braving the cold for camping
Shayne Kawalilak loves camping, especially in the winter.
For most of us, camping stirs memories of swimming in lakes and warm summer nights next to a campfire.
For Kwalilak, camping isn’t just restricted to the warm summer months.
As a Scout leader, Kwalilak spends his time sharing his passion for the outdoors with his five kids and the local Scouts and Venturer Scouts. He manages to make it out camping from ten to 14 times a year. Many of those trips are during the winter.
“It’s nice because you don’t sweat and there are no insects,” Kwalilak said. “It’s just you and nature.”
Although he enjoys 20 C, he said that perfect camping conditions are when temperatures are around 0 C.
When sleeping in the great outdoors when there is snow on the ground, Kwalilak recommends sleeping in a snow shelter. It may take a few hours to build and is quite a bit of work, but he said the end result is much warmer than a tent.
The kids he takes camping typically sleep in a quinzee. These are shelters made from hollowed out piles of snow. The Scouts will pair off and spend two hours building their shelters for the night.
Once the mound is shovelled high and hollowed out, the snow insulates against the cold and keeps any body heat inside the structure. The longer a person spends inside the structure the warmer they will be, as a layer of ice will form on the inside of the hut and further protect against the cold.
“If someone is going to be out for a few days and they have time and snow, building an igloo or a quinzee is by far the warmest way to camp,” Kwalilak said.
A traditional tent is not recommended by Kwalilak because the nylon fabric breathes too much and a tarp does not provide enough warmth. Most of the body heat will rise and seep out of the tent but in a quinzee the snow insulates the shelter and keeps any body heat inside the structure.
Despite his own advice, Kawalilak sleeps in a hammock all year around. He crawls in with a warm sleeping bag and thick mats underneath. If the temperature drops to below -20 C he has to light a fire to stay warm and snuggle into his bed with his clothes on.
Kawalilak says the trick to staying warm, day or night, is light layers.
“The most important thing is the clothing,” Kawalilak said. “Make sure you’ve got layers on. Make sure you stay dry.”
The best way to guarantee you always stay dry is to pack plenty of clothing and don’t forget the socks.
The Scouts wear two pairs at a time and Kawalilak suggests layering with long underwear, two pairs of pants and big winter boots. For a two-day camp he suggests the kids pack six to seven pairs of socks to ensure their feet always stay dry.
Another way to stay warm is to move around and enjoy some outdoor activities.
The kids will get to try ice fishing, snowshoeing and curling to keep themselves warm and busy during the day.
“You get to do activities that if you only do summer camps you would never experience,” Kawalilak said.
Even with every activity meticulously planned, Kawalilak recommends having an emergency plan in case conditions change. The weather is the most difficult factor to plan around and he says it can be difficult keeping the Scouts and Venturers entertained when temperatures drop.
Luckily, the Scouts camp at official Scout sites with access to warm cabins, but Kawalilak suggests always having a back-up plan for changes in the weather.
Before the Scouts head out on any camping trip, they have to be prepared with emergency plans.
“You have to be much more attuned to your emergency plan,” Kawalilak said. “Winter can make the smallest thing an emergency.”
A situation like an injury or a broken bone can be made much worse by winter temperatures. In the summer, a camper with a broken leg can sit and wait for help without freezing but Kawalilak said in the winter the risk of hypothermia is much higher.
It is also more dangerous if a camper gets lost during bad weather. Kawalilak said that relying on footprints in the snow to stay on track can lead to emergencies if the wind comes up and covers them with snow.
He recommends using maps, compasses and tree markers, known as fire tacks, that become reflective when hit with a beam of light.
Despite the potential complications, Kawalilak said winter camping is a great time to enjoy some solitude and get away from crowded campsites.
“There are a lot less camping stalls booked in the winter, I will tell you that much,” Kawalilak said. “Your neighbour is much farther away and it’s much quieter. If you’ve gone camping on a May long weekend you know exactly what I am talking about.”