Bushcraft, the art and science of using resources available in the environment for survival in the outdoors, can be a critical component of winter camping. Winter is a majestic time to be outdoors, but without bushcraft winter camping skills, it can quickly become a miserable time.
If you’d like to learn about, or improve, your bushcraft winter camping skills, there are lots of tips and tricks to use. Read on for help with bushcraft winter camping basics like staying warm and dry, maintaining an adequate water supply, and sheltering yourself from the elements.
Bushcraft Help for Staying Warm While Winter Camping
Obviously, a primary concern with winter camping is staying warm. While clothing certainly can help in that regard, bushcraft winter camping demands that you have some skill in starting and maintaining a fire. Read on for some help in making fire-building part of your bushcraft winter camping skills.
Constructing a Cold-Weather Campfire
Building a campfire in winter can be particularly challenging. Routinely, you’ll be contending with wind and wet ground, if not active precipitation, including snow.
1. Select a location
As a first step, select a location for your campfire that is protected from the wind. If there is no natural spot protected from the wind, collect rocks or logs and build a windbreak within which to locate your fire.
Also, don’t try to start a fire on wet ground. Once you’ve selected a location, cover the ground with rocks or logs to ensure a dry place for your blaze.
2. Find dry kindling and wood
For assembling your fire, you’ll need lots of dry kindling. A good place to look for dry material will be at the base of bushy trees or other vegetation.
Also, you’ll need to find the driest wood available. If you can’t find wood that is dry to the touch, use a hatchet or saw to get to the dry wood in the logs’ interior.
Collect lots of wood to keep your fire going, and stack any unused wood next to your fire to help dry it out.
3. Build and start your fire
Set up your fire in either a teepee shape or a log cabin shape, placing the kindling in the interior of your structure before lighting.
When you’re ready to light your fire, there are a few options available. One of them should be a regular part of your bushcraft winter camping gear and skills.
First, you can carry a regular disposable butane cigarette lighter — or if you prefer, a reusable lighter — as part of your winter camping gear. Alternatively, you can carry a ferro rod, which creates a shower of hot sparks to ignite your campfire.
What Are Shelter Options for Bushcraft Winter Camping?
In addition to getting your campfire squared away, you’ll need to turn your attention to shelter as part of your bushcraft winter camping adventure.
There are tents available as winter camping shelter, but true bushcraft winter camping means knowing how to construct a workable shelter from native materials. This post will look briefly at how to choose a winter camping tent, but only after going into bushcraft shelter skills.
Bushcraft Tips for Building a Winter Camping Shelter
Broadly speaking, bushcraft winter camping skills for constructing a shelter will involve collecting large sticks or logs to use as a framework. Atop that framework, you’ll use tree boughs and other available vegetation to seal the structure as much as possible against the cold.
Because you can’t be assured of enough deadfall limbs and branches for bushcrafting a winter shelter, your winter camping gear should include a hatchet. One particularly good option, which includes a saw embedded in its handle, is the Camillus Camtrax.
Perhaps the simplest bushcraft winter camping shelter is the leaf hut. To construct one, find a sturdy log about 9 to 12 feet long, and set it at an angle in the fork of a tree. You can also set it between two forked sticks, or anywhere else it can remain secure.
Next, collect sticks and logs and arrange them at an angle along the length of the main log. Finally, use leaves and other vegetation to further seal the interior of the structure from wind, rain and cold.
The lean-to is a variation of the leaf hut. For a lean-to, set your long log in the branches of two adjacent trees. From there, follow the instructions for the leaf hut to complete your shelter.
In choosing a site for your shelter, try to find a space under evergreen trees that will provide at least some protection from falling rain or snow, and may also help shield you from the wind.
Choosing a Winter Camping Tent
If you’ll be packing a tent as part of your winter camping gear, the most important thing to remember is to choose a four-season tent. These tents will typically be more rugged than other tents, better able to withstand winds and heavy snow loads.
In choosing a winter camping tent, always opt for a size that will accommodate one more person than the tent’s advertised capacity. The extra space will ensure more comfortable sleeping, and can also serve as gear storage space.
Be careful, though, to strike a balance with regard to tent size. A tent that is too large will not stay as warm as a smaller tent. As you’re choosing a winter camping tent, you’ll find that they aren’t temperature-rated. Instead, you should rely on temperature ratings for sleeping bags.
Among the better winter camping tent options is the two-person GEERTOP, weighing just slightly more than 6 pounds. For more help, check out Beyond The Tent posts on insulating your tent for winter camping and staying warm while tent camping.
Bushcraft Cooking Tips for Winter Camping
In truth, about the only piece of cooking gear you’ll need for bushcraft winter camping is a pot. Whether boiling water for coffee or heating up stew, a pot is indispensable. However, having a pot on hand won’t meet all of the cooking challenges of bushcraft winter camping.
For example, you’ll need a tripod to support your pot above your fire. Making a tripod is as simple as finding three long and sturdy sticks and arranging them pyramid-style around your fire. Lash the sticks together and hang your pot from the top of the structure.
Another bushcraft winter camping skill is to arrange rocks around your fire and crisscross them with small green sticks to form a temporary grill for cooking. Alternatively, you can place two forked sticks on opposite sides of your fire and spear your meat or other items with a sharpened stick for rotisserie-style cooking.
Coals Are Key to Bushcraft Cooking
It’s tempting to think a roaring fire is the best way to ensure your bushcraft winter camping experience will include plenty of hot food. Tempting, but wrong. Instead, what you want is a fire that will produce a bed of long-lasting coals.
In contrast to a roaring fire, a bed of coals will provide sustained and even heat that will ensure your camp food is thoroughly cooked. The key to generating a good bed of coals is to choose firewood that will burn slowly.
The best woods for producing great coals for cooking are hardwoods like hickory, oak, ash and maple. Softer woods, like aspen, or woods with lots of resin, like pine, are good for quickly starting a fire, but won’t produce usable coals.
Safe Practices for a Winter Camping Water Supply
Just as with any type of camping, having a reliable and safe water supply is key to a quality outdoor experience in bushcraft winter camping. Read on to learn how you can ensure that your water resources are both safe and adequate for your adventure.
How to Melt Snow or Ice for Water
There are only two ways to ensure that water gathered from outdoor sources is safe to drink — boiling it, or purifying it. If your bushcraft winter camping adventure includes having to melt snow or ice for drinking or cooking water, there are specific things to consider.
1. Allow sufficient time for boiling
LongerFirst, you’ll need lots of firewood, to ensure your snow or ice can be melted and brought to a boil. If you’re camping at 6,600 feet or lower, you’ll have to boil your melted snow or ice for at least 1 minute. If you’re camping above 6,600 feet, your melted snow or ice will need to boil for at least 3 minutes.
However, to be abundantly safe, you should plan to boil melted snow and ice for 10 minutes.
2. Boil only small amounts of snow or ice at any one time
Also if you’re melting snow or ice for water, place only small amounts in your pot at any one time. Don’t fill the pot with snow or ice and then try to bring it to a boil.
3. Other water purification options
If you don’t trust that you’ll be able to keep water boiling for the time needed to make it safe to drink, your bushcraft winter camping gear should include some sort of filtration device. There are a number of options available, from personal use filters to gravity filters.
Finally, water purification tablets are yet another option for making water from streams and other natural sources safe to drink.
Before you purchase or use any filters or tablets for water purification, make sure you understand exactly what each is capable of removing from your water supply.
How to Stay Dry While Winter Camping
Because of the extreme cold temperatures you may face, it’s important to know how to stay dry on your bushcraft winter camping trip. Because even sweat can lower your body temperature — moisture wicks heat away from the body even more quickly than air — it’s important to dress properly.
Layering Your Clothing
To keep sweat from accumulating under your clothing and moving heat away from your body, you should be dressed in layers. A pair of synthetic long underwear is a good base layer. Lightweight fleece is an effective second layer. Finally, use a shell with a waterproof and windproof lining as a top layer.
Choosing the Right Footwear
On the average winter bushcraft camping trip, you’ll certainly want to keep your feet warm, so a lined hiking boot is a good choice. Beyond that, you should choose a boot with a thick and rugged sole pattern, for extra grip on wet or frozen ground.
As a basic choice for both men and women, the Mishansha winter hiking boot is excellent cold-weather footwear.
What First Aid and Emergency Gear Are Needed for Winter Camping?
As part of preparing for a bushcraft winter camping adventure, you need to consider how you plan to handle injuries and other emergencies.
First and foremost, have adequate first-aid supplies on hand. In addition, be sure you can find your way to safety if you become lost. There satellite messaging devices and emergency locator beacons available for this, but using a map and compass should be among your bushcraft skills.
1. A recommended first-aid kit
The nature of bushcraft winter camping is to head out with minimal gear, choosing to rely on the natural world for basic needs. But that may not be possible when it comes to dealing with a medical emergency. And that’s why responsible bushcrafting includes carrying at least a minimal first aid kit.
A good way to meet that responsibility is with the small version of the Surviveware group of first aid kits. Containing dozens of bandages, along with an emergency blanket, splinter probes and a first aid manual, the Surviveware kit is excellent for bushcraft camping.
2. Learning to use a map and compass
As already noted, emergency locators and satellite messaging devices can augment cellphones to alert authorities to your position in the event of an emergency.
But with the possibility of battery discharge among those devices looming, carrying — and knowing how to use — a map and compass are important bushcraft skills.
A first step is to obtain a topographic map of the area in which you plan to camp. Printed topographic maps can be ordered online from the U.S. Geological Survey.
In terms of learning how to use a compass, there are plenty of online resources available, including this one from Survival World.
Wrapping up Bushcraft Skills for Safe and Exciting Winter Camping
Now that you’ve learned about bushcraft winter camping skills, you’re ready to try out those lessons. You should recognize, however, that there are circumstances in which you shouldn’t venture into winter wilderness.
Before you head out, have a clear picture of the weather you’re likely to face. If it’s going to be colder or wetter than your gear can handle, just stay home. Similarly, if you’re not certain of your own stamina in adverse temperatures and precipitation, don’t venture out.
- About the Author
- Latest Posts
Jim Thompson grew up tent camping with his family, and was introduced to backpacking with the Boy Scouts. He attended a military college, where he was introduced to rappelling, an outdoor activity which he has not pursued.
Jim holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Georgia, and spent 35 years as a newspaper writer and editor before become a writer for Apple Pie Media.
Jim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org