12/18/09 — Take precautions for winter camping

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Take precautions for winter camping

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on December 18, 2009 1:46 PM

The thought of sleeping on the hard ground does not sound particularly inviting.

If the night-time temperatures are too hot to be comfortable, the situation can be down right unbearable.

With that in mind, a new trend is gaining ground in the world of outdoor recreation and it's pretty cool -- literally. The activity is cold-weather camping and people across the state are starting to take notice.

However, deciding when and where to go can be challenging.

The campgrounds that are operated through the state parks system close for the winter months (typically Nov. 30-March 15), but many privately-owned campgrounds such as Maxwell Mill (in Duplin County) stay open year round. These privately-owned sites typically offer less solitude than a hike-in camp site but more safety due to their easy access.

Because winter camping is often associated with hiking or snowshoeing, it is necessary to assess the risk before heading out to a trail or camping area.

"During the winter, storms can be unpredictable," said state parks representative Charlie Peek. "Fog and high winds do not make things any easier, so it is important to know that there may be a situation where you are (hiking or camping) at your own risk."

The average nature lover does not have to be as adept as world famous survivalist Bear Grylls to enjoy the winter camping experience, but there are several things to keep in mind when frolicking in frigid temperatures.

Knowing what to bring and how to use it are the two most important things to think about.

First and foremost is the tent, and it is crucial to choose the right one because all tents are not manufactured to hold up under harsh conditions such as snow or strong wind. Using a certified four-season tent is the only way to ensure both safety and comfort.

The second-most important piece of gear to get accustomed to is the sleeping bag.

All bags have temperature ratings posted on them from the factory and using a bag that is more than capable of handling the forecasted temperatures is extremely important. For the North Carolina climate, a bag with a zero-degree rating is usually enough to handle the elements.

Also, the use of a camping mat is critical for comfort because it keeps the camper off the frozen ground and provides a layer of insulation.

Other things that have to go on any winter checklist include a lantern, plenty of dry tinder, layered clothing, extra socks and all necessary tools need to prepare the site. Avoiding cotton materials that can lock in moisture is also critical. The fastest route to hypothermia is through wet clothes.

For outdoorsmen who prefer to wait for warmer days to head to their local camp ground, the state of North Carolina has recently launched its revamped reservation system online. Facilities can be booked up to 11 months in advance by logging on to www.ncparks.gov.