British Columbia

Tips and tricks for winter camping from the Happy Camper

Kevin Callan says winter camping allows people to explore the great outdoors while no one else is out there.

Dress for the cold, choose the right gear, keep safe and experience winter like never before

Hiking and all the physical activity that come with winter camping helps keep you warmer than you'd think, says Kevin Callan. He has written more than a dozen books about outdoor adventures and shares advice on his Happy Camper website. (The Happy Camper/Facebook)

Colder weather is an easy excuse to cancel plans, curl up with a blanket and stay indoors.

For Kevin Callan, it's the season for winter camping and exploring the great outdoors while no one else is out there.

He has some tips for camping in the cold and has just written a new book called Complete Guide to Winter Camping.

"You're going to experience wilderness like you never have before and it's a really good time to be out there," he told CBC host of North By Northwest Sheryl MacKay.

Callan, former host of The Happy Camper on CBC Radio, now runs a website under the same name.

He says there are many reasons to fall in love with snowy nights in a tent: the silence, the solitude, the lack of black flies and bears, and a pure outdoor experience.

Callan admits though that dressing for the occasion is important.

Cold weather clothes

"Layering for sure, just like your mother always told you, and wear a hat too," he advised. "Layer with merino wool."

Frostbite and snow blindness are often overlooked, Callan said, but it's important to cover up all areas of the body.

"I've had [snow blindness] before and it's terrible, it feels like sandpaper going across your eyeballs," he said. "You should wear goggles or sunglasses going across the ice or the snow."

Tenting — hot or cold?

Cold camping in a four-season tent, hammock or a snow cave is one option, Callan said. Hot tenting, with a canvas prospector-style tent and wood stove inside, is more pleasant but means heavier gear to lug around.

For either option, Callan said, it's best to go with more experienced campers who already own winter camping gear and who would be willing to share.   

"Go with people that actually have gone before, mainly to borrow their gear because it's going to be expensive," he said. "So beg, steal and borrow before you actually go and jump right in there."


Besides borrowing gear, it's a good idea to explore with people who have experience camping for safety reasons. 

"I would say that you need at least a couple of summer camps behind your belt before you give it a try," he said.

Although it might be tempting to head out while the weather is warmer, Callan said it's actually safer once the temperatures reach minus -10 C to -20 C.

"You want a dry cold and good snow conditions and really good ice conditions because it could be dangerous going across ice," he said.

Although many provincial campsites around British Columbia close during the winter, there are a few that remain open year-round such as Porteau Cove, Golden Ears, Cowichan River and Liard River Hot Springs.

To hear more, click on the audio link below:

With files from North by Northwest.