A lot of people love camping but tap out when the temperature drops and the snow falls. But as long as you have the proper gear there is no reason why you have to stop enjoying the outdoors just because the mercury has plummeted. One of the most comfortable ways to enjoy winter camping is by using a canvas tent with a portable wood stove. This setup will make you forget about the temperature and enjoy camping with friends or just the solitude of being alone. Here are some things you need to know first.
What kind of Tent do I need?
If you are going to use a wood stove you will need the proper tent for it. Most are made of canvas with a special heat resistant material around where the stove pipe passes through the tent wall. Some have floors and some do not. My tents have a zip off durable vinyl floor that I find convenient. Also, it makes it bug proof and usable in all 4 seasons. They are much bulkier than regular 3 season backpacking tents but we will get into that a little later. Here are few examples of the most popular options.
What kind of Wood Stove do I need?
The type of stove you choose will depend on
how big your tent is and where you decide to camp (see below) Having the largest stove possible will make it easier to to cook on and keep a constant fire going but will be heavy and difficult to move around. Canvas tents heat up quickly but do not retain the heat very long so you will want to be able to keep a fire going consistently. I use a Camp Chef Alpine Cylinder Stove Here are a few examples of the most popular options.
Where to camp?
This will be the biggest factor in deciding what size tent and wood stove to buy. In Ontario there are several Provincial Campgrounds that stay open year round and offer all the amenities you could ask for: plowed roads, hot showers, electrical hookups, etc. This would be the most convenient way to start because you can drive right up to your campsite and unload your gear. The disadvantage of using a canvas tent and wood stove is that they are bulky and heavy. Unloading them directly from your vehicle to camp is by far the most convenient way. For the more adventurous campers public land is an exciting option and offers more solitude than some of the parks. Venturing off to find your own campsite in the snow is exciting but can make getting your gear there difficult.
I use a ice fishing sled in the snow and a deer hunting cart designed for hauling animals out of the woods in the fall. If the you have access to open water an exciting option is to load your tent and stove into your canoe or whatever vessel you may have and paddle to a campsite. This is my favorite way to get solitude and still have the comforts of a warm tent to stand up in, cook, and sleep.
What to bring?
Follow a standard camping checklist with a few more considerations. Even though your wood stove will keep your tent warm while you are awake you will not get much sleep having to keep a fire going all night. Choose a sleeping bag that is warm enough for you in case your fire goes out. If you do not already own an appropriate rated sleeping bag than consider buying a sleeping bag liner instead of new bag. The liner will boost the warmth rating of your bag and is much cheaper than buying a new sleeping bag. I prefer to let the fire die down and have kindling all set for a quick fire in the morning. That way the tent can warm up before my wife has to get out of her sleeping bag. You will go through a lot of wood and need to plan for either bringing some of your own and/or processing in yourself from dead trees near your campsite. If you are camping in a park you should call ahead to see if they sell firewood.
Winter camping also means shorter days. It will get dark early so make sure you have enough lighting. Consider bringing extra batteries because electronics lose their battery levels much sooner in the cold. A portable charging power bank is convenient to charge electronics by USB. A Water Lily works great if you are near a stream or river. Having cards and games to pass the times after dinner is also a good idea.
Cots are handy if you are able to bring them. They will get you off the ground and provide extra storage space under them. With winter camping you tent to have more gear and this frees up floor space within the tent.
There are many activities available that are unique to winter camping. Fat biking, ice climbing, and snow shoeing are just a few that I routinely enjoy during my winter camping trips. But aerobic activities will make you sweat and you need to make sure you have dry layers back at camp to change into. Smartwool merino wool layers have been my favorite for years. I find footwear choices will depend on what activities you plan on doing. Whatever footwear you bring it is always a good idea to bring toe warmers. Pro tip: adhere them to the top of your socks not under your toes. It will be more comfortable to walk/run/cycle with.
Dogs need base layers too.
Scout is wearing a Ruffwear cold weather jacket.
You will need a small shovel for moving snow and keep in mind if you have a fire outside the snow will melt around the fire area. Take the time to shovel it away as much as possible. Snow can be a source of drinking water but it is best not to rely on it. If you can bring in as much water as possible. It takes a lot of snow for a little drinking water plus you will have to use fuel to melt it and then still sterilize it.
What you can cook while winter camping is limitless. You'll have no problem keeping things cold and you can cook inside your tent on the wood stove or outside over a fire. Keep in mind that cooking on the wood stove will heat up your tent probably more than you would like. Remember to secure your food when you leave your campsite. In the winter the bears are hibernating but there are still plenty of critters who will eat your food.
Hopefully this guideline will get you thinking about winter camping in a canvas tent. If you have any questions that I can help you with please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also watch some of my canvas tent camping videos on my YouTube channel Drenalin Adventures.