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Tent Camping in Winter

Travelling to and visiting Yosemite National Park in Winter and most of Spring, when snow is on the ground. Includes visiting in winter, snow play, downhill and nordic skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing, and snow camping.

Moderators: Wickett, dan

Tent Camping in Winter

Postby tessadanielle » Sun Jan 22, 2012 12:05 am

Hey all! I am planning a trip to Yosemite this March (10-15ish) and I was hoping someone may be able to give me some tips about camping when there is snow.

First off, I am a very seasoned summer backpacker. I live in the coast of CA and frankly don't even see snow that often. I definitely haven't tried to camp in it before. I have a lot of gear, most of which is "3-season" gear, and I'm not too sure whether or not my tent will be suitable for camping over night. (I have an REI half-dome). Which campgrounds are open? And since I imagine there will be snow covering the grounds, are there platforms for camping or other designated tent camping spots? Or do we pitch on the snow? (I also have hammocks, if that might work better). Our sleeping bags should be fine, they are both below zero celcius, and we have insulated air sleeping pads.

I would love any tips others have for winter camping! Do people usually pack in tent heaters? (I've heard these exist?)

Thanks in advance :)
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Re: Tent Camping in Winter

Postby AlmostThere » Sun Jan 22, 2012 8:07 am

I dont' think you will have a problem with the tent. The issue with winter camping is not camping on snow, but having snow fall on you and wind hitting the tent - as long as you are careful to mind the weather forecast and have a car nearby to escape to should things turn stormy and the tent becomes too... whatever, you likely won't have any issues. It's when you are backpacking long distances in winter in deep snow in the depths of winter that a true four season tent built to withstand winter storms becomes necessary. Most 4 season tents are going to be overkill for a couple of nights of car camping.

Zero degrees celsius is not a very warm bag, however. I would take a 0F bag instead, or extra blankets and clothes to use with the bag you have. And an insulated air pad is likely going to be a three season rated if you've been using it in the conditions you describe, but adding a cheap blue CCF pad from Target or Walmart underneath it will ensure you are insulated against the cold ground.

There are no platforms in most of the campsites in the valley. I seem to recall a couple but they are no doubt as snow covered or frozen as any of the regular sites.

Tent heaters - no. Unless it's battery operated... most I've seen are propane, and it is not safe to operate such devices in a tent due to fumes. And with any heat source you must be aware that it will melt the nylon in a heartbeat if it comes in contact with the floor, walls, etc. of the tent, or with the shell of a sleeping bag, a jacket... You're better off eating and drinking well, walking around some before turning in for the night, and having enough insulation for the night.
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Re: Tent Camping in Winter

Postby QITNL » Tue Jan 24, 2012 10:10 pm

I'd concur with what AlmostThere said. Your tent should be fine but a little more insulation might be nice.

In the rare case there is snow on the Valley floor, I'd:
- look for a spot someone else cleared out
- bring a snow shovel to clear a spot
- put an extra tarp under your tent

The Valley is fairly sheltered so wind isn't usually a problem. If there is snow, don't let it stop you, it will be gorgeous.

The two campgrounds open at the time will be Upper Pines (drive-in) and Camp 4 (walk-in, about 100 yards from the parking lot). There should be no shortage of available sites. Take a look at each and make your choice. I usually lean towards Camp 4 in the winter since it gets a little more sun. In the summer, it's a zoo, but in the off-season I've had it all to myself.

If you need to warm up, you can avail yourself of the amenities nearby at Curry Village and the Lodge. Another option is the handwarmer variety: hot water bottles, chemical packs, or the Zippo Hand Warmer, my personal favorite. Coleman makes a propane heater called the SportCat which I have used in tents. It's fairly safe in the CO department, but burns quite hot - it will melt nylon upon touch, so use at your own risk.

Have a great trip!
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