Winter in Alaska is spectacular! Everything is covering in a layer of pristine white snow and glittering ice crystals. There is a quiet hush over the land unique to winter that calls many the adventurer to snowshoe, backcountry ski, cross-country ski, or even ice climb. A winter excursion does require some special planning and equipment, however. Here are some things to consider.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!
The more you plan, the more potential there is for a successful and enjoyable trip. Here are some items to consider while you are planning:
- Plan out your route, know if you are going to be on a trail, breaking your own trail or a mix of both.
- Know what kind of vehicle you will need. Some rental companies will not rent you a vehicle if you’re going to take it off paved roads to get to your trailhead. Make sure you have a 4wheel drive vehicle from a company that understands adventure travel.
- Snow level and quality. Are you traveling through shallow or deep snow? Will it be powder or packed down? Will there be a breakable crust? Is there the possibility it will be all of the above?
- How are you going to be traveling? Hiking? Snowshoeing? Skiing?
- Plan for extra time. Everything takes twice as long in the winter so make sure you plan accordingly.
Winter camping does of course have it’s own special gear requirements. Here are a few to consider:
- Clothing: Make sure you dress in layers! One of the most important factors to remember is that you want some space between your body and your clothes. This dead air is heated up by your body, and this is what ultimately keeps you warm. Each layer of clothing provides another layer of dead air to keep you warm. The key is to find the balance of layers, so you don’t overheat and start to sweat. Layers allow you to consistently adjust as you move between activities like hiking into camp, setting up camp, resting around camp, sleeping, etc.
- Tent: If you are not planning on camping in a high wind or heavy snow area, a three-season tent will usually be enough.
- Heating: White gas stoves are optimal for winter camping, though you can use canister stoves as well. If you use canisters, stick with isobutane and avoid the 80/20 butane/propane mix. It’s ideal to stick the cartridges in your coat or sleeping bag to warm them up before you use them. Remember that you will probably need to melt snow for water, and that will take more energy than you will normally consume during summer camping.
- Sleeping Bag: If you don’t have a 4 season bag, you can use lighter bags (3 seasons) and double up with one sleeping bag inside another. Test this out before you leave for your trip. You don’t want to get there and discover the bags don’t fit well.
Camping in the winter in Alaska is one of those adventures you’ll never forget. The environment will throw some extra challenges at you, but with the right planning and gear, it could be the experience of a lifetime!