Cold Play

Winter Camping

Jason Domogalla—photographer and cofounder of the travel Tumblr Field Guide to Birds—schools us on ways to be a happy camper even when it's well below freezing.

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1 Meteorologists Are Your Friends

"The weather can turn in an instant in the mountains, and no one wants to be sitting inside their tent waiting for the snow to pile up—or worse, be unable to make their way out to safety in the event of a whiteout. Check the weather before leaving and make sure you won't get caught in a storm. Nature at this time of year is much less forgiving and much harsher."

2 Go Back to a Time Before Google Maps

"During the warm summer months you're able to follow a trail in and out of the backcountry. Snow covers most of this up during the winter, and unless someone has been trekking in the same area and to the same destinations, the trails will mostly disappear. Make sure you bring (and, just as importantly, know how to read) a map and compass, to get from point to point until you reach your destination. As a backup, I often use an app called Offline Topo Maps that overlays your GPS on topographic maps."

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3 Take a Layered Approach

"One of the most important things is keeping yourself dry. Cold temperatures aren't good at drying things out, and wet items aren't good at keeping you warm. On strenuous hikes you need to keep your clothes free of sweat. You can do this by lowering your amount of exertion or by removing layers of clothes. I normally hike with a light wool sweater over a wool shirt, adding or removing a hard-shell jacket when I stop if I get chilly. When I arrive at camp, I usually throw on every layer I have before my body stops generating heat."

4 Be Prepared for the Long Haul

"Winter backpacking means hauling a lot of extra gear. Most of the added weight is there to keep you warm and dry after you stop moving. If you don't feel like carrying it on your back, pulling a sled or pulk is a good alternative."

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5 Cameras Get Cold, Too

"Make sure you keep your camera acclimated to the temperature where you'll be using it. Moving it from a closed case to the cold outside will make your lens instantly fog up. For night photography, bringing a few hand warmers and strapping them to your lens will prevent ice from forming on the front element. If you end up with an icy or foggy lens, wiping either off doesn't do much good, so just wait until it goes away. The cold temperatures will also lower the performance of your batteries, so bring a few extra."

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