Most people don’t choose to sleep outside, atop a pile of snow, in 15-degree weather. Then again, some people do.
Though winter camping is a fringe activity, Jim Swenson said it’s gaining ground. Swenson is the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission east region parks manager.
More people are asking about it, there is more winter-ready gear available and rangers are seeing more campers on the grounds, he said. Parks across Nebraska sold more than 12,000 campground registrations between October 2011 and March 2012, according to Game and Parks. Camping is still almost nine times more popular in warm-weather months, though.
Swenson, a winter camper, thinks those who enjoy being outdoors should try both.
“There’s just the winter solitude,” he said. “It’s a neat experience in the park. It’s really peaceful. I find the coolness of the evening to be invigorating.”
“It makes that campfire a lot cozier at night, too.”
Laura Friesell, a manager at Backwoods outdoors store in Omaha, is a seasoned camper and regularly pitches a tent when there’s snow on the ground. She camped in the winter a few times with her family as a child. Her first experience winter camping as an adult was in Wyoming. For two nights, she slept in a tent, surrounded by snow, just outside a cabin. She recommends first-time campers stay near a heat source.
“I knew that if it got too cold, I could bail,” Friesell said. But she didn’t.
It’s the challenge associated with braving the elements that drew her in.
“Life is so easy nowadays,” she said. “People want to see if they can survive in the cold.”
They can, with the proper gear, said her Backwoods colleague, Dave Stoltenberg.
“You have to take appropriate precautions, know what your limits are, what you could sleep in and survive in,” he said.
Moisture-wicking layers are key — wet cotton clothing might abet hypothermia. A camping pad and the right sleeping bag is important, too. Not all are made for winter weather, but most include a temperature rating so you can distinguish those that are.
Stoltenberg pulled a blue Marmot bag from the wall and pointed to the tag. It listed comfort ratings for men and women as well as an extreme rating, or the lowest survivable temperature the bag allows — many offer protection below freezing.
Joel Bauch, the assistant director of the Outdoor Venture Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said winter camping is a lot like camping any other time of the year — you’re just wearing more clothing, and your sleeping bag is a little thicker.
Every other year, he leads a group on a winter camping trip to Yellowstone National Park or the Teton Mountain Range in Wyoming, organized through UNO.
“There’s a degree of adventure,” Bauch said. “Not a lot of other people are doing it so they have a story to tell that nobody else has.”
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