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Good snowcamping techniques are critical for a fine adventure

Equipment Critical To A Rewarding Cold-Weather Trip

The Bulletin
By Deanna Darr
January, 2000

Throughout the summer, campgrounds and forests are teeming with people who will take any excuse to get back to nature.

On any weekend during this season, throngs of campers can be seen fleeing the confines of town - tents, coolers and lawn chairs in tow.

Of course, the situation is slightly different in the winter. Once snow blankets the landscape, the majority of the population is happy to curtail its outdoor activities to brief daytime excursions, returning to a cozy home each night.

But for a few die-hard campers, winter is the perfect time to grab the tent and head to the hills. Winter camping is more than just a night outside for these enthusiasts, it's the evolution of camping, providing a new challenge for them to master.

"It appears kind of an insane thing to do," John Gonter, clinic coordinator at Tri Mountain Sports, admitted. "It's the next level of challenge for campers."

"It's a much more challenging game to play," said Kent Howes, promotions coordinator at Mountain Supply of Oregon. "It's a challenge to get it right."

Getting it right is the key to having an enjoyable winter camping experience. "If you get out there and you get cold, it takes all the fun out," Howes said.

Staying warm and keeping dry are the most important considerations for the activity, and to achieve this, campers need to be prepared.

First on the "need-to-have" list is a good, four-season tent. The four-season designation means the tent is constructed of sturdier materials than an average three-season tent and can withstand the strong winds and heavy snows that winter campers often have to endure.

Howes warned against trying to stretch a three-season tent for winter purposes, because heavy, wet snow can cause lightweight tent poles to collapse.

A good sleeping bag is the next consideration. A lightweight summer bag isn't going to cut it for cold-weather camping. Every sleeping bag has a temperature designation, approximately marking the coldest air temperature at which the bag will keep the user warm.

These designations are just a guide for consumers. Howes said the type of bag that will be adequate for the situation depends greatly on the user's gender and body type.

In general, women tend to, need a heavier bag, as do children or anyone who is smaller than average. Howes urges future buyers to take this into consideration before heading out.

Another issue is the bags filling. Robert Speik, Central Oregon Community College mountaineering instructor and an avid winter camper since the early 1970s, said he prefers down-filled bags, which tend to be the warmest bags available.

Unfortunately, if a down filled bag gets wet, "it' a death trap," Speik said

To help avoid that predicament, a wide variety of synthetic filled bags ;are available. While they might not be as warm, they handle getting wet much better.

Just as important, if not more than, the sleeping bag itself, is the sleeping pad. These pads offer far ore increased comfort; they act as insulation between the ground and the camper and are the main reason a sleeping camper will be able to stay warm.

Speik said the best winter pads tend to be made out of closed-cell foam, which will help maintain the camper's body temperature. Gonter added that many serious campers will use two pads to keep themselves off the ground.





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