What to do in Helsinki
January 12, 2021

Winter Camping in Finland

Fire and Wool!

Fire and wool! In cold camping, everything revolves around these two comforts. As I write about your future hardships, it seems that every solution involves fire and wool. Bring thick wool everything. Master the art of fire making. Have a backup firekit and a backup for that backup. That’s a lot of bac-… never mind. There it is folks! The most useful and shortest blog about winter camping. Fire beats ice. The End.

As winter trudges on into spring and the days grow longer. There are more and more reasons to experience winter camping in Finland. The bluebird days and colourful evenings. Skiing under towers of snow. That mesmerizing morning snowfall. Flurries across the frozen lake. The imagery of nature is so much more dramatic in winter.

Entering into the world of winter camping can certainly seem like a daunting task. This article will help you on your way to your first night below zero. Everything I will talk about has come from my own personal experiences with camping in winter. Most of which have taken place here in Finland.

Photo by Taiga Times

There are many factors to take in while winter camping but a few points to make right off the bat.

• Test your gear. Spend your first night in a controlled environment. What worked, what didn’t?

• Know the weather forecast. What will your highs and lows be? Prepare and dress accordingly

• Learn how to make a fire and do it well. Yeah, we get it, channel your inner pyro.

• Keep your camp organized and CLEAN. Food waste, pee-tree, woodpile, gear. All-o-that.

• Don’t play on the ice. If you're not certain about it, you’re gonna have a bad time.

These points may be considered moot depending on where you are camping. For example, in most public forests and national parks you can only light a fire in designated areas. You would not be able to sleep with a fire beside you.

Photo by Chris Mount - Chris Mount Adventures
There would however, be a place to dispose of organic waste (the outhouse) and firewood provided. Checking two important factors off of the list.

You might be close to your car and have all the clothing and blankets you will need for your night below zero. In fact, it would do everyone well to spend their first winter night outdoors in a controlled environment. One in which you are a short walk from your car or home. This way you can test your gear.

Photo by Taiga Times

Test Your Gear

Clothing

A good winter clothing system allows you to adapt to changing weather conditions and temperature drops by having multiple layers. Materials such as wool, polyester, and nylon are all good outdoor materials to use because they allow moisture to be removed from the body. Cotton is no-no! If you are wearing a cotton t-shirt and your back gets sweaty. It is going to stay wet long into the night, leaving you cold, uncomfortable, and in serious situations, lead to hypothermia.

Every complete winter system will have a base layer, mid layer, and outer layer. Along with all the necessary accessories such as hats, gloves, boots etc...

Base Layer
The base layer should consist of a long sleeve shirt and pants made of wool or synthetics. Merino wool is the most prized material for this layer. It is a good idea to have a backup base layer with you. It does not take up much space and can come in handy in many situations.

Mid Layer
Fleeces and wool make great mid-layers that can take the thrashing winter camping delivers. If you get this layer from a second-hand store you can use it freely around camp without having to worry about ruining it. The lower mid-layer is generally only used at night to keep you warm. I highly recommend finding a pair of thick wool pants for this layer.

Outer Layer
The outer layer will be what protects you from the elements when the weather gets bad. I like to have a jacket I can use comfortably while skiing or snowshoeing without the mid-layer on. One with vents to cool you down and inner pockets to keep your electronics warm. I recently bought a jacket which has neither... go figure. I am missing those two features a lot! Your snow pants should be waterproof, insulated, and work with your base layer to keep you warm throughout the day.

Check out your winter jacket and see where it fits in with the rest of your system. Adding an Extra Layer
to your pack such as a down jacket or puffy vest will help keep you warm on breaks and cold evenings.

Photo by Taiga Times
Tight layers and clothing can restrict blood circulation. Less blood circulation means less warmth. This is especially true for those of you with cold hands and feet. Keep your layers loose.

The Accessories

Beanies and neck warmers should be used while sleeping as well as throughout the day. The neck warmer is extremely versatile and should not be left at home. If you ever need to cool down, try temporarily removing one of these layers.

It is worthwhile to have a large pair of mittens which are water proof and a pair of gloves which you can wear inside the mitts. For any tasks which the mittens cannot accomplish, you can use the gloves instead. A backup pair of gloves is always useful in case one pair gets wet.

Double down on socks and stay away from cotton. I cannot stress that one enough. A pair of merino wool socks and thick knitted wool socks is the best combination. Two pairs of socks will also help prevent blisters.

Some people's hands and feet are always cold. It has everything to do with circulation and cannot always be remedied BUT! I will say that the large mitten + glove combination will work wonders. Make sure your winter shoes are not too tight either. The extra space allows for air to circulate and warm up.

Sleeping system

You will be facing new challenges when using a sleeping bag in below freezing temperatures. The condensation from your breathing will start to soak into your sleeping bag. There is not much you can do about this. Dry it in the morning by the fire and be extremely careful with your sleeping bag while doing so. You will also find that you may have some cold spots in your bag during the night. You will have to patch these up temporarily by stuffing extra clothing into that area.

Air mattresses are not the most durable piece of equipment. Combine this with heavy winter gear and fire and the stakes become high. Protect your air mattress with a foam mat below it and a tarp below those which you can double over yourself in the night.

The best mattress for winter use is reindeer hide though. You can absouletly not beat the insulation and durability of these. Okay, where the heck do you get a reindeer hide from though? Yeah... the local camping store definitely doesn't sell them. You would have to make a trip to a reindeer or caribou farm to get one.

Photo by Taiga Times
If you have an air mattress already, try and google the R-value of it. It will give you some idea of how well your mattress insulates you. Anything lower than 5 is considered inadequate for winter camping. If you have a summer mat, you can make up for this by doubling up on foam mattress for better insulation.

The same will go for 3-season sleeping bags. A 4-season winter bag does not come cheap and is not always necessary. I have slept through many cold nights by combining two sleeping bags. My winter bag is rated for -9°C comfort, this bag, in combination with a 0°C bag and a sleeping bag liner have worked fine for me in temperatures as low as -20°C. Sleep with your mid and base layers on and you will wake up feeling like you're in a sauna.

Sleeping bag temperatures ratings should be taken with a giant grain of salt. It is always better to be over prepared for the night.

Mealtime

Eating for Energy. Energy for Heat. Heat for Happiness.

Making a food plan around one pot meals is a great way to reduce cleaning time during a winter camp. You can cook from the pot, eat from the pot, and then clean the pot placing it back in the fire with snow. You will also be able to use the cold temperatures to your advantage as your food will not spoil. It will however, be frozen and harder to cook!

Eating is energy. That energy is going to create body heat for you. It is important to eat before bed to produce body heat throughout the night. I am not saying cram your dinner and call it a night. Just make sure you have a proper dinner and some evening snacks. It will go a long way for keeping you warm.

Photo by Taiga Times
If you are going to be changing camp locations regularly then dehydrating your own meals will save you a lot of weight, cooking time, and stove fuel if you make a pot cozy

Fire or Stove

While at your camp it is usually worthwhile to make a fire for cooking and melting snow. This may not be the case during a day trip lunch. If you are bringing a gas cooker, remember to test it out in winter conditions beforehand. You will need to buy winter gas and even then, it is not the most reliable option. A fuel stove will be superior in every way and a wise investment if you continue to winter camp.

Water

Open water source vs. melting snow

If there is an open source of water nearby, you can take your pots there to fill up. You may have to make a hole in the ice with an axe, if you are taking this route be very careful. Tying a rope to your pot may help you from losing it down a river stream. Yeah... that happened

Melting snow is a safe alternative to taking it from the lakes and rivers. It will require your constant attention as you must continue adding snow to the pot as it melts. Keep a clean area nearby your camp for taking fresh snow.

Regardless of where the water comes from, having a kettle or a pot with a lid and hanger will be invaluable for boiling it.

Make sure you bring an insulated bottle (Thermos) to prevent your water from freezing. If drinking boiling water is not your thing. Add a pinch of snow to your cup to cool the water down.

Photo by Taiga Times
In cold temperatures you won’t feel the need to drink so much but your body requires it all the same. Drink lot’s while in camp, so that during your day trips, you can conserve your thermos.

Keep it clean

Without rules, there is chaos!

It’s your first night of three in camp. The snow around your shelter is undisturbed. Not a spot in sight. Beautiful, serene, temporary...

Day two. The fire pit has been established, it is also the kitchen and perhaps a drying rack plus the pantry. Your bedding laid less than a metre away. Packing for a winter trips means bags inside of bags inside of bags. Lots of stuff sacks. Without a little management it becomes a jumbled mess and by night you can’t find your evening clothes or your head lamp.

Day three. It looks like a pack of wild dogs ran through camp and marked every tree along the way. You’ve been cleaning your pot and dumping the water behind your shelter. It looks hellish and it’s starting to attract the little thieves of the forest. It’s a proper logger camp now.

Photo by Taiga Times
This is sometimes the reality of winter camping. It can get messy. A little bit of camp love from the start and you can minimize the damage. For your own sake of mind and for those who may come after you.

After setting up camp, designate areas for:

• Cleaning dishes

• Washroom

• Clean snow area for water

• Wood processing/storage

• Skis and Sleds

Photo by Taiga Times

Day trips and Excursions from Camp

Hello, World. You’ve made it through your first night below zero. Wake up and get the fire going. Have breakfast and enjoy the morning. You’ve made a loose plan for the day to check out the surrounding area and a lake nearby. Great!

Everything will take longer in the cold. Snowshoeing and skiing in the wilderness rarely exceeds 2 kilometres per hour. The area you can cover in a few hours is much less than during the summer. Your lunch breaks take longer and you may be returning after dark. Keep all these things in mind when planning and packing for a day trip from camp.

Photo by Taiga Times
When packing for a winter day trip, it is better to be over-prepared than underprepared. Leaving a note in your camp with your name and day trip details can be helpful to anyone who may come across your camp. In the event of an emergency, they will know approximately when you left, where you were heading, and when you planned on returning.

After you have left camp you may be wondering if your fire was still burning, or if your sleeping bag was sticking out. Perhaps your food bag was left open and easily accessible for the wildlings. Remember to cover up your belongings and protect them from the elements before heading off.

Photo by Taiga Times
Our belongings have been packed and covered but the fire is still going and there is wood about. By murphy's law that wood will catch and set all of our prized belongs on fire! We will not be happy campers when we return.

Double check your pack and think about what you need to bring for your specific trip. On most wilderness day trips I will always have the following with me:
• Headlamp
• Food & Water
• Stove
• First-aid
• Extra clothes
• Fire kit
• Knife + Axe
• Map + Compass
• Phone + battery pack
Photo by Taiga Times
Yikes! That was cold. Keep belongings such as your extra clothes, first-aid, and fire kit in a waterproof stuff sack. If you ever go through the ice these items will be your lifeline. They are going to be no good to you wet!

Thanks for reading!

Hopefully this article was of some value to you. Your new venture into winter camping will undoubtedly be a rewarding experience and most importantly, open up the rest of the year to camping. If I have left you here with more questions than answers, please feel free to email me at jeff@taigatimes.com with any questions or concern you may have about your upcoming winter trips.
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