by SCOTT OETH
Almost overnight, it seems the seasons are quickly changing in the northwoods, which means we’re rolling into our favorite camping seasons–Fall and Winter! I am an avid Winter camper and while my wife Linda loves sleeping out on the crisp Autumn nights, she’s still…um…warming up to the idea of sub-zero bivouacs!
So why does Winter camping rule? No bugs, no bears, the extra challenge, the beauty, the solitude, and the adventure–there’s so much to love! (Besides, if you live in a northern state, or any Canadian province for that matter, you should find what’s great about Winter and embrace it rather than staying inside all Winter griping about the cold. When it’s -10F in Minneapolis and people hear that I’m heading up to Ely where it’s -30F for a few days of camping, I regularly get gasps of bewilderment followed by, “Why would you do that?!?” and unabashed comments of doom like, “You’re going to die!” or “You’ve lost your mind!” I know these people are picturing extreme cold and suffering but that’s not it at all. In fact, while there may be moments when I feel an icy bite from the cold, generally I’m toasty warm and more concerned about venting off excess heat. Having received great training and mentorship in Winter skills has opened up a northern playground for me!
WINTER CAMPING SYMPOSIUM
One of the best events to learn to love camping in the cold is the Winter Camping Symposium (WCS) (held at Camp Miller in Sturgeon Lake, MN on October 23 – 26–check the WCS site for additional details). Designed for Winter camping greenhorns and crusty sourdoughs alike, the WCS is a fantastic event to learn new camping and bushcraft techniques, improve your current Winter outdoor skills, share trip ideas, check out new gear, and hang out with some true northwoods Winter fanatics! Plus, there’s always a great party! This year, Four Mile Portage is playing. Also, Bent Paddle Brewing will be hosting a beer tasting–what more could you ask for?
WCS is unique because it’s open to and interested in all types of Winter camping, although there is a strong bent toward traditional (“hot tent”) Winter camping. Hot tenting refers to the use of a tent, often canvas, that is heated with a wood burning stove. This type of Winter camping can be wonderfully comfortable–even in the deep cold–and is well suited for anyone interested in experiencing the northern wilds in Winter but not thrilled about sleeping in a snow cave. Really, you should try both techniques. Building and staying in a quinzhee (a form of snow cave) is a great experience and a Winter skill worth bragging about to your friends.
With classes on everything from proper cold weather dress and wood stove techniques, to camp cooking tips and dog sledding, WCS offers something for everyone interested in venturing out into the wilderness this Winter. Last year, Michiganders newcomers Ben Piersma and Jeffrey Geer impressed the crowd with their bushcraft skills, and veteran Glen Hooper of WinterTrekking.com shared loads of Winter wisdom.
This year, I will be giving a presentation that revisits the classic “10 Essential” list often recommended to anyone traveling outdoors. This standard gear list is a starting point but can be greatly enhanced by elaborating on the essential skills. I’ll also provide more detailed gear recommendations.
KEYNOTE SPEAKER: MORS KOCHANSKI
WCS always brings in an engaging keynote speaker on Saturday night (in years past, they’ve had the likes of Tyler Fish, an arctic/pole explorer, Dave and Amy Freeman from Wilderness Classroom, David and Kielyn Marrone from Lure of the North, Kevin Slater, and Rob Kesselring).
We are excited that Mors Kochanski is the 2014 keynote speaker at WCS! Mors is regarded as one of the preeminent survival instructors in the world! He is based out of Alberta, Canada and specializes in bushcraft and survival skills for the northern forest. I’ve poured over his works and taken a Winter survival and bushcraft course with Mors a few years ago. I knew from his writing that Mors would be a wealth of knowledge, but I was awed at the skills he displayed in the field. A year after that event, I worked to develop and coordinate a Wilderness Survival School for the Boy Scouts of America’s Northern Star Council. Mors was the instructor, and his bushcraft knowledge is seemingly unending. I’m really looking forward to meeting up with Mr. Kochanksi again!
At WCS, there is a very close connection between the gear and the camper. This is why a lot of campers make their own gear. Some of the best local makers of specialist Winter gear will be on hand, including Duane Lottig of Snowtrekker Tents, Don Kevlius of Four Dog Stoves, Kevin Kinney of Empire Wool & Canvas Company, Dan Cooke of Cooke Custom Sewing, and many others. Come out and kick the tires on different tents and gear items!
You quickly become a part of the community with talk of trips and techniques as attendees literally invite everyone into their tents with a tent tour. You don’t have to enter your tent in this Parade of Tents, but everyone is welcome to see what other people are proud to show off as their Winter wilderness home (check out the tent tour photos below from years past).
JOIN US AT WCS!
Bull Moose Patrol has attended WCS for many years, and we love it! Join us for a weekend of camping in the Fall temperatures, being a part of such a fun community, and informative and engaging presentations. It’s a great event at a great price.
Scott Oeth, a native Cheesehead, grew up spending countless hours exploring the forest out his backdoor and enjoying the outdoors with his family. Scott is an Eagle Scout and a Registered Maine Guide. He has a passion for the beauty, history, and lore of the north woods; but, Scott isn’t picky, and he’ll hunt for outdoor experiences wherever he can find them. You can learn more about Scott by visiting BullMoosePatrol.com