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Experience Camping During Winter

a tent campsite at Camp Sullivan
A tent campsite at Camp Sullivan.

With the opening of several campgrounds throughout the Forest Preserves of Cook County this summer, many visitors and residents have been able to enjoy the great outdoors in a new way. Although fall will slowly fade into winter, residents and visitors can still enjoy camping at Camp Reinberg, Camp Sullivan and Camp Bullfrog Lake. Camp Dan Beard is open to large groups only.

This presents a unique opportunity for campers to enjoy the Forest Preserves under a soft blanket of snow, sparkling in the sunlight and providing serene silence at night.

And while camping during winter may seem intimidating, Forest Preserves Camping Program Coordinator Brian Arnoldt assures us that winter camping can be just as enjoyable as the other three seasons, especially if campers follow a couple tips to ensure comfort.

Tip #1: Wear a moisture-wicking base layer.

“The main thing for winter camping, and it doesn’t matter if you’re spending the day outside or a month outside, is layering. You need to layer your clothes,” explained Arnoldt. Arnoldt suggests the first layer, known as the base layer, be a moisture-wicking material.

“People think they’re going to be cold while they’re outdoors snowshoeing, running around and doing things in the winter, but they’re going to sweat a lot faster than they would in the fall or early spring with all these layers on,” said Arnoldt. “The layers aren’t to keep the cold out, they’re to keep the warmth in.”

Tip #2: Stay hydrated.

“Dehydration is actually a big factor in the winter. Because you’re cold, because you’re sweating, you don’t think about dehydration,” stated Arnoldt. “A lot of times the air is dryer in the winter, and it sucks the moisture right out of your body.”

Also, with the addition of those layers mentioned in Tip #1, winter campers may have to work a little harder to move around, causing them to sweat more. Be sure to bring plenty of fluids on your winter camping trip.

Tip #3: Bring proper gear.

According to Arnoldt, winter campers will definitely need a ground pad, maybe even multiple pads, to help prevent the ground from sapping body heat. Also, winter campers should make sure they have an appropriately rated sleeping bag.  Additionally, investing in a sleeping bag liner will help add 5 to 15 degrees of warmth while wicking away nighttime sweat.

Additional tips:

Before entering your tent, Arnoldt suggest knocking as much snow off your boots as possible. As the snow melts inside the tent, it can create moisture causing things to get wet. Also, consider bringing multiple changes of clothes and boots.

“Do you want to go sledding for three hours and then have nothing to change into? Probably not,” said Arnoldt. “Think about when you’re going to sled, how you’re going to sled, and make sure you bring lots of extra clothes, boots, hats and gloves.”

Finally, a tip that Arnoldt says changed the cold weather camping game for him at a young age was learning to put base layer garments in the sleeping bag at night. When you wake up, you’ll have toasty warm clothes to wear.

“Treat [winter camping] like every other camping trip, but be a little smarter about it,” said Arnoldt.

And remember, if the thought of tent camping in the winter still gives you the chills, several Forest Preserves campgrounds offer heated cabins available throughout the season!