An Intro to Winter Camping

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Your standard neighborhood lean-to (Photo: Ericshawwhite)

Everybody was gathered there for me, in suits and dresses, bearing gifts and hugs of congratulation. Dozens, maybe close to a hundred. It turned out to be a beautiful day in June. Typically, I would feel humbled by such an occasion, embarrassed that I wasn’t worth all of the trouble. But this was something I had worked years for, and I knew I had earned it.

I’m not talking about a birthday party, or even a graduation. I earned my Eagle Scout award in 2011, after more than ten years of scouting. Culminating in the wonderful ceremony my parents planned (“You earn the award, we’ll throw the party”), it was an extremely emotional and reflective day for me. I thought about the multitude of values, friendships, and hardships that my scouting career had brought to me, and realized that one of the greatest and most fulfilling take-aways of my teenage scout years was a profound and exhilarating love of the outdoors.

I’ve taken all kinds of trips: canoeing, backpacking, climbing, and camping in tents, cabins, and lean-tos. I’ve braved sunshine, blizzards, rainstorms, mud, knee-deep snow, below-freezing sleepless nights under the stars, poison ivy, you name it. Two things that I haven’t experienced are frostbite and winter canoeing, both thanks to my better judgement.

Why am I telling you all of this? The answer is simple: I want you to know that you can winter camp. Surviving (and thriving under) this unthinkable weather is, believe it or not, one of the most empowering things you will ever do.

In this day and age, the extent of the average North easterner’s exposure to the elements during the winter months is making the commute to work. A lot of people enjoy camping and hiking in the summer, but most Americans see the arrival of winter as the temporary death of the outdoor life, and our mental health suffers.

This three-part series on winter camping will equip you with the knowledge you need to enjoy nature and the world in which you live year-round! It takes a lot of courage and preparation, but I know that you can do it.

How do I know that you can do it? Because every winter month I spend a weekend braving the elements with a group of 11-15 year-olds. In fact, I’ve been winter camping myself since before puberty. Since receiving my Eagle award I’ve operated as an adult leader in Troop 7. While some of the boys are unprepared on campouts, it’s inspiring to see most of them preoccupied by dodging snowballs, making sled ramps, and creating friendships. None of them have been hit with the “adulthood” dread of the winter months, and some of them never will.

If you enjoy nature and want to make better use of your winter weekends, look for my second post on preparation, and remember — it’s never too late to grow as a person.

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