Everything You Need to Know About Winter Camping
If I said you could camp in Saskatchewan and not be pestered by one single mosquito – would you pack your gear and hit the road ASAP?
What if the trade off was camping in the cold and snow of winter - would you still go?
This winter I spent nearly as much time camping as I did in the summer. I promise, it’s just as fun! In fact, it’s might be better because you often get the campground to yourself and the longer nights mean a better chance to see aurora.
It requires a few extra preparations but if you do it right, you’ll find yourself around a fire melting marshmallows for s’mores just like any other camping trip.
What to Wear:
The first reaction I get is “how do you stay warm?” If you grew up in Saskatchewan or lived here for more than one winter, you’ll likely have the necessary clothes to survive a night in the snow.
The most important tip is to stay away from cotton clothing. When damp or wet, cotton retains moisture and cools you down. Wool is a great alternative. Even when wet, it conserves body heat more efficiently.
I wear a minimum of three layers starting with a thin baselayer made of Merino wool or synthetic polyester. On top, I wear a fleece or a light down jacket. Then I layer a down vest and cover up with a winter jacket or a waterproof and windproof shell depending on the weather and temperature.
It’s easy to sweat while setting up camp, even in the cold. Once I’ve completed all physical tasks like chopping wood, packing down my campsite and setting up my tent, I change my base layers – even my underwear – so I don’t get chilled. I usually sleep in this same layer as heavier clothing can be uncomfortable and cause you to sweat then cool down.
What Gear to Pack:
Pack typical summer camping gear like cooking supplies, a hatchet and a lantern. Swap the sunscreen, bugspray and bathing suit for winter boots, mitts, a shovel and snowshoes. Consider bringing a small utility sled to haul the extra gear.
Start a fire as soon as you arrive so you can stop to warm up anytime. Bring a large pot to melt snow constantly and a thermos to store it in. It takes a surprising amount of snow to get a little bit of water.
Fruits, vegetables, eggs and liquid-based foods will freeze overnight. Consider carrying food like oatmeal, toast or wraps for breakfast and lunch the next day. Carry extra fuel if cooking with a camp stove and keep the set-up out of the wind to help food cook faster.
Four-season tents are ideal, but I’ve camped most nights in the three-season tent I use during summer. My sleeping bag is rated to -26 and I use an inflatable sleep mat and a thick reflective emergency blanket underneath. When car camping, it’s easy to carry in extra layers to keep warm.
Where to Camp:There are several great vehicle-accessible spots in Saskatchewan that are equipped in winter with an outhouse, chopped wood and a warm-up shelter.
My favourites include Birch Bay or Paignton Beach in Prince Albert National Park, Pike Lake Provincial Park outside Saskatoon or Blue Mountain Adventure Park near North Battleford.
Remember to let people know what you’re doing and where you’re going. Don’t forget to carry a basic first-aid kit and consider alternative accommodation nearby in case the weather changes suddenly.
There’s something special about winter camping in Saskatchewan. It’s truly not as scary or as challenging as it seems. Don’t worry about the cold - just get out there to enjoy all the province has to offer during the other half of the year.