Relish in the chills and thrills of winter camping

For the hearty adventurer who wants to try something new, snow camping offers a dorm room reprieve and an opportunity to celebrate the solitude of our New York winter. A bug-free wilderness, barren trees and acres of visibility, and a coat of white blanketing the wooded landscape: what's not to love? Amanda Benton, a senior communication major, is making plans to camp once she returns home to Spring City, Pa. For the past three years, she has assisted young Girl Scouts in their winter camping endeavors.

"I like it because it's a challenge. And," she said with a laugh, "it's also really awesome bragging rights. Seriously, how many people do you know that are like, 'I camp...in the snow?"

In New York, the Adirondacks host a number of parks that encourage visitors during the late fall and into the winter. However, one must take extra care in order to happily -- and safely -- chill out in the chill.

Dressing the part
Benton said that, while layers are key, "Don't put on your layers before you drive there. Your car ride will be miserably warm." Side note: savor this warmth; remember what it feels like while you still can. Leave the cotton shirts, fleecey sweatpants and constricting jewelry at home: cotton and other non-wicking fabrics will trap moisture, leading to chances of hypothermia, while constricting jewelry will hinder proper circulation. Instead, opt for formfitting base layers of nylon, polyester and/or spandex, as well as waterproof shells. From there, thicker layers will trap your heat. Always keep extra dry socks and pajamas on hand, said Benton, as well as plastic bags (to line your boots with), and a set of mittens and gloves (have you ever tried to start a fire with mittens?). Trapped moisture can lead to an array of conundrums, so it is best to be avoided at all costs. And, a word of warning: the old adage that you never miss a good thing until it's gone certainly rings true with your 10 toes. Thickly soled, insulated boots are a crucial determiner between a jubilant trip to the wilderness and a sore trip to the ER.

Packing it in
As a general rule of thumb, if you travel light, you travel fast. While it may be important to play by this motto when you're globetrotting, be careful that you do not skimp too much when packing food for your trip. This is not a case of "less is more." According to http://getoutdoors.com, winter campers on average eat more than two pounds a food a day. The cold will cause you to burn calories far faster than if you were frolicking about during the summer. Stash some high calorie foods, especially those chock full of protein and fat. They advise to, "eat even when you're tired, eat when you're hungry; above all, eat when you're cold." Notably, the most experienced winter trekkers carry along butter or margarine, adding it to everything from soup to cereal. An hour before consuming your treats, stash them in your pocket to absorb some bodily warmth. It's always a good idea to keep instant soup on hand -- with a little snowmelt heated over the fire, it's an instant elixer that will warm you up and keep you hydrated. And, as much as we enjoy the old childhood (or last winter's) pastime, avoid eating the snow: your body will exert much valuable energy warming your body back up.

Gimme shelter
Once you find an ideal site, creating a proper shelter is crucial. With a variety of options -- from building an igloo to creating a covering out of fallen branches and brush -- the most practical option is to purchase a four-season tent. A lot beefier than their meshy summer counterparts, these tents are crafted with multiple pole-intersections and thickly insulated walls. When sealed tight, the temperature inside will raise as much as 30 toasty degrees from trapped body heat alone. Pack a ground covering, such as a tarp or a space blanket, in the event that inclement weather takes you by surprise. Be sure to leave snow-covered boots outside of your tent as well, and attempt to hang up damp items. Keep in that precious body heat by keeping your noggin covered at night -- a pair of booties and mittens are also recommended.

If all else fails and the situation goes awry, Benton advises to call it a day and go inside for warmth. Frost bite and hypothermia are no beasts to mess with. However, with proper preparation, you'll be able to enjoy a fun-filled snowy getaway. Don't forget to pack up your snowshoes, your camera and a handful of your closest friends. Channel your inner Yukon Cornelius. It's not every day that you get to take on the wilderness in your spandex and snowsuit.

[Originally published December 2, 2010]