The first thing to know is that camping in winter in the Adirondacks demands real skill and mountain savvy just to remain comfortable. It also requires planning and the right gear. So why do people go camping in the winter? Because the experience, the snow-covered views glittering under a rising sun, the snowshoeing and campfire-cooked meals, is unlike any other experience you'll have in your one adventurous life.
Temperatures Dip Low
Winter temps dip low – like negative 30 in some places in the Adirondacks. While we do not recommend going winter camping in negative temps, or even temps below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, this does help freeze lakes and ponds, making remote areas easier to access. How do you know if the body of water is frozen enough? Experts recommend staying off any ice where there's flowing water underneath – so no go for rivers and streams – and that ice should be four or more inches thick to truly support your weight, and the weight of all the snow laying over its surface. Bring an ice auger if you can to check as you go because ice is rarely uniformly thick. And remember: not all ice freezes equally. Clear ice is stronger than bubbly ice.
Don't Camp Alone
Don't go winter camping alone. Aside from the benefits of traveling with a buddy, you'll have someone to share the experience with, and someone who can keep an extra eye on conditions and your personal well-being. Buddy system it when you go winter camping in the Adirondacks.
Don't Over Do It
Ease into it. Mother Nature is not someone to mess with, test your limits first with a day trip so you can better understand your gear, how you layer and dress for the weather, how to stay warm, and conditions to look for and those to avoid. Plan to cook a meal outside so you have practice building a fire and feeding yourself. Doing this a couple of times will help you anticipate the unanticipated – the break-throughs on partially frozen streams, the wet boots, the sweaty baselayers – and change your approach accordingly. No cotton! Wool and wool blends are best for baselayers. Waterproof winter boots with removable inserts are essential.
Learn About Avalanches
Avalanches are real, and knowing the basics of avalanche safety is a necessary precaution. Rather than outline the different types of avalanches, we're going to let Princeton University do the honors. Find out all you ever wanted to know about avalanches.
Pack Plenty of Food & Water
Bring enough to eat and drink. A higher calorie intake is essential for keeping your body functioning and maintaining a proper body temperature. DO NOT EAT SNOW! It takes a lot of energy for your body to melt snow and you're burning enough calories staying warm. If you run out of water, melt snow or ice over your heat source. Purify it before drinking or cooking with it.
Check Sleeping Bag Rating
Speaking of body temperature – your sleeping bag needs to be rated to at least 20 degrees below zero.
Get in Shape First
Lastly, for this list, you need to be in good physical shape. Sounds silly, but it's a good reminder that you need to be able to navigate terrain for a few miles, set up camp, and get yourself back out. According to the ADK Winter Mountaineering School handbook, you should be able to run 5 miles or hike 10 miles over hilly terrain and feel good the next day. Not the case? Time to whip yourself into shape!
Check out the ADK Winter Mountaineering School Handbook for essential tips to keep you safe, healthy and happy on your winter camping adventures.