Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go winter camping? Do you think you could sleep comfortably in single digit temperatures? Well, a friend of ours was wondering about these very things. Our friend, Ian, had recently purchased a hammock sleeping bag and wanted to try it before using it on future winter camping trips. He wanted to try his sleeping bag out in a controlled environment first and we offered him the option of doing so at our place. We have plenty of wooded property behind our house that’s perfect for camping. If anything went awry, he could come back up to the house and sleep on our couch.
Ian arrived around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, so he had to make haste in finding a place to set up camp and gather firewood for the night. Although it was in the high twenties at this time in the afternoon, it was expected to go down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit overnight. He had a couple of hours of sunlight left to get himself situated and there was no time to waste.
Upon Ian’s arrival, he wanted to make sure he had everything he needed. We ended up lending him a shovel, hand saw and, of course, being the nice friends we are, a helping hand. He wanted to do most of the work himself, but we couldn’t resist living vicariously through him. We respected his wishes and he did most of the work himself. This was the whole point, after all, to see if he could make it and survive out in the elements with his camping equipment. It doesn’t get more real or exciting than that. Can you imagine battling the elements and feeding the need to do so in yourself? Exciting stuff!
All packed and ready to go!
Walking through the snow-covered woods.
Setting Up Camp
Once we got back into the woods, we had found the perfect spot and it was time to get going. Ian found two trees he could hang his hammock sleeping bag from and a place for a fire pit. We helped him find kindling and wood for the fire.
Finding a campsite.
Getting things organized.
Digging out the snow for a fire pit.
Gathering kindling for the campfire.
Cutting branches for the fire.
Kindling for the future campfire.
Hanging the tarp that hangs over the sleeping bag.
Ian’s sleeping arrangements for the night.
Making the finishing touches.
Now to get the fire started…
After a few attempts, Ian achieved the spark he needed to get the fire started. This fire would hopefully keep him warm throughout the night.
After a few minutes, the fire was really going. We stayed for a little while longer to make sure Ian had enough wood and then we went back into the house. At this point, it was getting dark. We said our goodbyes and we left Ian to do his thing. I will have to admit, it was a little unnerving knowing our friend was out there in the freezing cold and dark as we went about our usual business inside a toasty warm house. Before we went to bed, we hoped Ian was doing well and our thoughts were with him. He knew where our spare house key was and his back-up plan was to come back inside the house.
The Morning After
The next day, Ian was all smiles. He had made it through the night and we treated him to a nice hot cup of coffee as a reward. He told us all about his overnight camping experience. Despite the single-digit temperatures, the vulnerability of sleeping in a hammock sleeping bag and the threat of a nearby pack of howling and hunting coyotes, he survived. He was quite proud of himself. We were very proud of him as well and it is safe to say that Ian went home a “happy camper.”
Mission accomplished! I believe Ian will indeed become an avid winter camper in the future.
A Week Later
A week later, we decided to go back into the woods to revisit the campsite. While we were back there, we also had new camping locations in mind. We’re interested in expanding to possibly accommodate more of our friends who are interested in camping in our woods. The perfect set up would be a central fire pit with separate tent areas for privacy.
Revisiting the camp in the woods.
While we were walking around the camp, we discovered that a couple of creatures had been visiting the campsite as well. I found the tracks of a ruffed grouse, snowshoe hare and fox. A few weeks before, I had identified what I thought were fox tracks in the back and now I have proof we indeed have a fox. Now if I could only get a photograph of this beautiful animal.
Fresh ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) tracks in the snow.
Winter snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) tracks.
Fox (Canidae) tracks in the snow.
As we continued on, I looked up and spotted a ruffed grouse perching in a birch tree (Betula). I believe the tracks we had found at the campsite were from this bird and indeed quite fresh. I’m sure the grouse had just been walking around and had flown up into the canopy. This served as a reminder to not only look for animals on the ground but also to remember to look up. You never know what you will find out there. I really enjoy seeing these birds. A couple of days before this sighting, I had seen four ruffed grouse perching in a few maple trees (Acer) in the backyard. We also see these birds quite a bit during our walks and we will usually hear them before we see them. After startling these birds, they fly away and seem to explode in flight as they beat their wings very loudly. I believe this is how the bird got their brilliant nickname of thunder chicken. It always seems to end up being a mutual startling, for both the birds and us.
A ruffed grouse perching in a birch tree in the woods.
We then made our way down to the brook and we think we may have found another suitable place to camp nearby. This was a short walk from the original campsite. The area is nice and level and it has plenty of room for a nice campfire and room for tents. Upon a closer look, I found a good amount of coyote tracks. I believe the coyotes that Ian had heard during his night out in the woods may have been closer than we all thought. I’m not sure if this is going to be a frequently visited area for these animals. For months now, I haven’t seen any evidence of coyotes on the property. Perhaps we will have to rethink how close to this area we will want to camp in the future. I feel awful now because we reassured Ian that there weren’t any coyotes around, but I suppose we humans can’t control everything. We still have yet to disclose this information to Ian.
A mixture of coyote (Canis latrans) and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) tracks.
I also found moose tracks by the brook. We have had moose tracks in the same area before. I have seen one moose since moving here. I was at the table eating breakfast on a late June morning and saw a bull run down our road and up into the neighbors’ driveway. It was very fast and about the size of a horse with huge antlers. I would have to say, that is something you don’t see every day.
Moose tracks in the snow.
Coyote paw print in the snow.
Coyote tracks in the snow.
Recently, Ian let us know that he had purchased a two-person tent and would like to give it a try this coming weekend. I think he may have given up on the idea of using the hammock sleeping bag in such cold. I believe the weather is supposed to be in the twenties this weekend. Although it will be a little warmer this time, getting through the snow to the back will be a whole other feat. As of today, we now have around three and a half feet of snow on the ground and I don’t think it will be going anywhere anytime soon!