Snow Camping in the White Mountains

I am terrified of the cold. In fact I’m pretty sure I was meant to be some kind of tropical lizard since we seem to have the same amount of cold tolerance. I am so intolerant of low temperatures that I bring a down jacket and thermals to the Caribbean, and I actually use them because anything below 75°F is too chilly for me. So, with this in mind, you might be able to appreciate how big it was that I went snow camping.

Even though I am terrified of the cold, I have wanted to go snow camping for a long time. When I was little it was because it was something my brothers got to do in the boy scouts, and being the little sister I was left behind. Then as I got older it was because I thought snowy mountains were majestic and romantic. Now it’s because I live in New England and winter is just too damn long to survive without some quality outdoors time.

In previous years I have handled the New England winter by leaving. It’s a good strategy, even if it is a bit expensive. But this winter I wanted to give winter camping a whirl.

I was smart enough to know I really needed to prepare myself before I even tried hiking in the snow, let alone sleeping in it. We started watching gear sales and buying all-season and winter specific gear in the spring of 2017. It took me all year to research gear and collect everything, including the courage, I needed to go. It might have taken less time if I wasn’t so cheap though.

I was also smart enough to know that even with all my new winter gear there was still a high likelihood I would freeze and die, or at least panic believing I would freeze and die. I decided car camping was the best option for my sanity. That way I had a bail out plan: when I inevitably got too cold I could hop in the car and blast the heater until I calmed my inner tropical lizard.

So we drive up, set up camp, it starts getting dark, and I immediately feel myself getting cold. I did what I normally do when I go backpacking and crawled into my sleeping bag, forgoing any evening socialization that might have been planned. This sleeping bag was the single most expensive backpacking/camping item I have ever purchased. Zero degree bags can range in price with the high end being around $700-$1000, I bought the Marmot Lithium for about $500. That’s relatively cheap in comparison to other winter sleeping bags, but massively expensive according to my usual budget. It was money well spent because as soon as I crawled into that sleeping bag I felt the warmth creep back into my body, and within a few minutes I was so cozy I fell asleep.

We woke up early, several inches of fresh powder had fallen over night turning our campsite into a winter wonderland. Since I’d survived sleeping in the snow, the next step was hiking in the snow. Hiking through mountains covered in a fresh snow is simply joyful. Everything is beautiful and fresh feeling. I got over my fear of being cold after only 20 minutes on the trail when I started shedding layers. I had overdressed, something I had thought was impossible for me.

We hiked North and South Hancock peaks. The views were spectacular, and as always we met some friendly like-minded outdoors people along the trail. But the best part was coming down the mountain. It’s too steep to hike down without slipping, so the best way is to sit down and slide. There isn’t anything more fun than a continuous half-mile of what is basically sled-less-sledding through pristine woodland covered in 6 inches of fresh powder.


What We Learned

  • We forgot some key items. One of the most glaringly obvious things was a snow shovel. Luckily because we had gone car camping we were able to find a campsite that someone else had recently dug out. Had we gone backpacking, we might have been SOL.
  • Investing in good gear is key. Buying good layers to keep you warm when you’re not moving, and to prevent sweat when you are will keep you cozy and happy.
  • Because it wasn’t windy or snowing at the time we set up out tent, we didn’t fully steak it out. Turns out staking your tent also helps with snow loading… So we woke up kind of buried under a partially collapsed tent. It might have also helped if we used a sturdier tent meant for all-season camping, maybe one with poles. Lesson learned.
  • We used our brand new ultralight tent, because it was new and we wanted to test it out. It worked fine enough for one night of car camping, but there was a LOT of condensation. It was enough that it would have been a serious problem had we been backpacking. Lesson? Use a tent with better ventilation, and has a two-layer construction or vapor guard to prevent condensation problems.
  • I need better gloves. For some reason I always forget about my hands, which is stupid because they are the body part I use the most. Before I go again I will definitely be buying better hand protection.

Gear List

What I Wish I Had

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