Friday, November 28, 2014

A Guide to Winter Camping With Kids (in 10 easy steps!)

In keeping with my November writing theme of learning to love winter and embrace the cold, I wanted to do a story on family winter camping.  I love getting into the wilderness and backcountry all year long and I can't sit inside for 6 months waiting for the snow to melt.  As you've figured out by now, we kind of like the white fluffy stuff too!  Snow means skiing and snowshoeing, sledding, snow angels, snow ball fights, skating,...AND winter camping.

Winter Camping at Elbow Lake (photo:  M. Schulze)

My definition of winter camping however, is perhaps not what one would typically refer to as "camping."  When I go into the backcountry or wilderness in the cold months from October through April, I stay in a hut, cabin, or hostel.  I'm a bit of a princess when it comes to tenting in the snow and I like to have four walls around me, a bed, and an indoor fireplace if I'm going to go camping in the winter.  I've done a ton of winter backpacking and I've spent many a night in the wilderness during the cold season - but I've never slept in a tent.

This is my idea of winter camping (Elk Lakes, Alpine Club of Canada Cabin)

Being that I am not a traditional winter camper, I figured I should call in some help on this story and get some real solid tips for you on how to camp in the snow with kids - in a real tent!  Honest to goodness camping and not the "glamping" that I like to do.  Fortunately, my new friend Melissa Schulze and author of the blog, Rockies Chick, has just completed a winter camping trip at Elbow Lake in Kananaskis.  She took her 4 year old daughter with her and they survived the night.  More than survived in fact, because they want to do it again!  So, I begged Melissa to share some tips with us on how to take children into the backcountry in winter. 

Heading into Elbow Lake with loaded down sleds

A Guide to Winter Camping with Kids - By Melissa Schulze

Camping at Elbow Lake (M. Schulze)
If a beautiful landscape covered in a white blanket of snow and sipping on hot chocolate around a fire while stargazing is something you would like to experience, then winter camping might be for you. If you are willing to brave the winter cold months and would like to try winter camping with your kids, do not fear.  There is a way!  Just remember that everything in the winter takes longer and that preparation is the key.

1.  Choose either a drive in campsite or a backcountry site that isn't too far from your car. This will put you at ease in the event things do not go as planned.

2.  Have an all season tent or if this is not possible, try to find shelter for your tent. You do not want the wind to enter your tent during the night. The temperature can drop dramatically with wind chill. Snow or rocks around your tent can act as a brilliant shelter.

3.  When setting your mattress and sleeping bag down, place an emergency blanket down at the bottom of the tent under your mattress.  This will act as an extra layer and can make a big difference.

4.  Once your tent is set up, look for a cooking space while you still have daylight left. If you are in the backcountry there is usually a designated location separated away from your sleeping area. Keep in mind that wind may pick up and cooking may become difficult. Find a space where you might have a bit of wind shelter. This can be harder to locate once the sun has gone down.

Camping at Elbow Lake (M. Schulze)
 5.  Before cooking, place your stove fuel canister in your jacket.  This might help get things warm enough to get started. The same thing goes for your lighters. It can be extremely hard to light your lighter once it is cold, not to mention how hard it can be to do so with frozen fingers. Make sure you also have waterproof matches.

 6.  If you start getting cold before the sun goes down, get moving, go for a walk, play a game, or do anything to get you moving. This might be a good time to explore the area, perhaps go snowshoeing, hiking, skiing or perhaps just build a fort.

 7.  Drink plenty of warm fluids. Hot chocolate, tea, soup, etc. Just make sure to slow down on consumption close to bedtime. A trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night can be challenging.

 8.  Once the night has set, the temperature will change fast. Build a fire and make sure everyone stays warm. If anything became wet during the day, such as socks or mittens, make sure to change into new dry ones.
Entertainment in the dark at camp (M. Schulze)

 9.  What to do with your kids once darkness has arrived at your campsite? Play ring toss with glow rings, play with glow in the dark toys, build your fire, tell stories and sing songs, sip on warm drinks and enjoy the company!

 10.  Before bedtime boil some water and place the water in Nalgene bottles or equivalent bottles, making sure they are tightly closed, and place the bottles at the bottom of your sleeping bags. You will not regret it as it will make you quite toasty for a great night spent in the cold outdoors.

Just remember, things like weather can change fast and be prepared for the worst.  Then, everyone should enjoy a wonderful night of winter camping!

To read Melissa's full story on her recent winter camping trip at Elbow Lake, go to her story:  An Introduction to Winter Camping

More Inspiration for Winter Camping

Despite the fact I enjoy sleeping in a cabin when I go winter camping, I have written a lot about the subject of cold weather camping lately.  Below are my recent stories should you want further inspiration on the subject.

Winter Camping and Backpacking Tips - Recent Story for Campers Village

Winter Backpacking and Ski Touring

Tips and Tricks for Cold-Weather Backpacking - Recent Story for Snowshoe Magazine

Our First Backpacking Trip to Elbow Lake

Raising Tough Kids - Our Annual Winter Backpacking Trip - Story I wrote last winter after our annual backcountry trip to Elk Lakes in BC (where we slept in an Alpine Club of Canada cabin.)

This is why we go winter camping

Winter Camping with Kids - Warmer than you Think - Story I wrote for Calgary's Child on using wilderness hostels for camping.

Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel, Banff National Park

Thanks Melissa for collaborating with me on this post. Follow Melissa on twitter and instagram @rockieschick22 and check out her blog at  Rockies Chick .


  1. I'm with you Tanya! Not quite ready to brave the real cold, wet and snow in an actual tent, but we just did some "glamping" in a cabin about an hour or so from Seattle and it was so nice! Outdoor fire pit, so we still had the fun of a camp fire, but got to settle in for the night with electric heat! These are such great tips though if if I ever want to take the plunge for real!

  2. wow! relay very nice camping. I love this post, really enjoy when people understand how important outdoor family time is. I totally agree with you that it teaches children hard work equals good results. Lovely post.

  3. Nice article, I'm all about sleeping outside, no m atter what the season.
    We often skip the fire in winter, either because of places where they aren't allowed, or because of smoke, or just to avoid triggering the body's cooling response.
    To me, one of the best things about winter is that you can pull a pulk sled if the trail isn't too steep. And of course the lack of bugs.