Winter Camping in Wisconsin
Even the most-seasoned winter campers need reminders sometimes, so we ask that everyone (yes, even you) read through this list of winter camping information. Not only do we want you to be safe, but we’d all prefer everyone be happy and healthy. Winter in Wisconsin is no joke, and in some cases can become life-threatening. We ask that you please be responsible for your own personal health and safety, as well as work with others to assure we all have safe, fun events without incident.
Your Body/Personal Gear
Keep all exposed skin heavily moisturized. Recommendations: shea butter, vaseline, cocoa butter, heavy-duty lip balm. Use sunscreen; reflective sun still has UV rays.
Layering is absolutely key. Layering for Winter is not only scientific, but can be an art form. It is a delicate balance of trying to maintain air pockets, wicking moisture away from the skin, and keeping wind and water from seeping towards the skin. Remember that these rules apply for every part of your body, including your head, feet, hands, trunk, and legs. Here’s the essential breakdown:
Base layers (the layer next to your skin) should be synthetics or merino wool. Microfleece or expedition-weight fleece is ideal. No cotton! Nobody is going to see these at a larp, so keep it fully intact and have extras to swap out often.
Middle layers are for insulation and should include wool, fleece, or down. Folks probably won’t see this layer either, but sweaters & fleeces can easily be genre’d.
Outer layers (shell) should be breathable, wind-proof, and waterproof.
I CANNOT STRESS THOSE THREE POINTS ENOUGH - DO NOT SKIMP ON ANY OF THEM: BREATHABLE, WIND-PROOF, AND WATERPROOF.
Boots should be waterproof & insulated, as well as leave plenty of room for thick socks. Removeable inserts are a bonus, as they can stay inside the bottom of your sleeping bag while you sleep. There are many products for waterproofing your boots; just be sure you follow the instructions. Cold and/or wet feet will wreck you faster than you realize. Crampons are pretty awesome for gaining a grip on the ice and slippery snow; even the cheaper rubber ones work well (around 8-10$).
Socks should also be layered. A thin, snug sock should be worn against the skin (preferably synthetics or merino) and a thicker sock worn over them. Do not wear socks too thick for the insides of your boots, else your feet will get cold (its better to have a thinner pair and that warm-air wiggle room). Have many pairs to swap out 2-3x/day.
Hats, scarves, gloves/mittens: Bring extras because inevitably you will lose one and be screwed. Don’t be afraid to layer any of these items. (Fun Game: Guess how many scarves the rovers have on in the Winter!)
Lighting: Remember there is less daylight in the winter, so preparing for the dark is key. Alkaline batteries drain faster in the cold, so consider switching to lithium or keep extras handy. Try to keep battery-operated items warm and dry and they’ll last longer. (I keep my headlamp in my sleeping bag with my clothes while I sleep)
Sleeping bags should be rated for at least 10 degrees lower than what you plan to encounter. I recommend going the extra mile and using a bag liner as well.
Use a cot and/or at least 2 sleeping pads as the ground will draw body heat quickly. Pads should have a higher R value (at least 5) for you to consider it for winter camping. If you use pads, a combo of closed cell foam against the ground, topped with an inflatable pad will get you the best insulation value.
Tent: Be sure that your tent is graded for at least 3 seasons, preferably four. Make sure it has a footprint and/or a floor liner. Your body heat will melt the snow beneath and will allow moisture to seep up through the bottom of the tent. Be sure to take the time to stomp down the snow in the area where your tent will be located quite well; sinkholes may form as the snow melts and you could rip your tent floor. Stake and weigh the tent well, as Wisconsin winter winds are no joke At the very least, use heavy duty stakes (titanium, steel, or 7075-t6 aluminum) and pound them into whatever you can. In the best case, both stakes and interior weighting will keep it more secure. The best Winter tents have the following:
- Dome shape and an extra-strong pole structure.
- Mostly solid fabric (instead of mesh) for more warmth and strength.
- Dual doors for easy access even in bad weather
- Extra guy lines for more stability in high winds
- A "gear attic" to stow small items and free up floor space
- Large vestibule(s) for wet-gear storage or a sheltered cooking area.
- Not larger than what you need for personal space. A larger tent loses heat faster than one that is smaller.
(Thank you REI for the pointers on Winter tents!)
Hypothermia, frostbite, and dehydration are not laughing matters or badges of honor; they mean that you did not plan and/or do self-care properly. Here is the link to the CDC website on hypothermia.
Learn the warning signs for hypothermia, dehydration, and frostbite and get yourself or anyone suspected of possibly having these conditions to a DR:SHC Medic immediately.
Food is SUPER important in the Winter. Be sure to have plenty of protein, fats, and complex carbohydrates. You will burn more calories at a Winter event than any other time of year (even with you moving less) so be sure to eat plenty and drink far more than you think you should. As much as we all love coffee, know that caffeine does decrease blood flow to extremities, so keep it to a minimum if you can.
Always make sure someone knows where you are OOC. If you go off IC to murder someone in the forest or perhaps to scrounge alone, make the ooc sign and let at least 1 person you trust know you will be going out alone and an approximate time of return.
On the flip-side of the above, if someone has been missing for quite some time and you’re worried they may be injured, sick, or lost, do not hesitate to let a staffer and/or fellow players know. No game is worth risking anyone’s real life safety.
Keep your drinking water in your tent, elevated off the ground, and upside down. Ice forms on the top of things first so you’ll be able to drink even if some ice forms.
Keep your next day’s clothing and your boot liners in the bottom of your sleeping bag while you sleep. Starting the day with cold feet/body is just bad planning.
Consider sleeping with a hat on. Keeping your head warm makes all the difference.
Turn your sleeping bag inside out in the morning so it can dry out during the day. If its sunny outside, use the daylight to dry your sleeping bag and clothes over your tent.
Ok, this may sound totally gross, but know the pee-bottle is a real thing. Getting out of your warm bag/tent when you have to pee 100x in the winter is no joke. Wrap your pee bottle with duct tape so you don’t mistake it in any way. For folks who have innies instead of outies: a Go-Girl is only ten bucks (you can thank me later).
Do not let yourself get overheated and sweaty. If you do, don’t take your layers off outside. Either go inside to switch-out your sweaty layers, or just relax a bit and allow yourself to cool off slowly. If you over-do it and get cold, its much more work to warm back up again and that’s the easiest path to hypothermia.
Become a weather-watcher. Analyze weather reports not only for driving conditions, but to decide how to adjust your personal and camping gear. There is a huge temperature differential between day and night in the winter, and that doesn’t even take into account precipitation. Always be prepared for the worst.
When driving in the Winter, have emergency supplies in the back of your vehicle. Here is an excellent list of what you’ll need from the state of Wisconsin.
If you have any further questions about surviving the winter weather, there are loads of resources online, as well as amongst your fellow larpers. Its better to be over-informed than left out in the cold.