Chill Out: A Beginner’s Guide to Ice Camping

Photo by Scott Goodwill on Unsplash

Brief overview of what ice camping is and why it’s a unique and exciting experience

Ice camping, also known as winter camping or camping on the ice, is a thrilling and unique way to experience the wilderness in the colder months. It involves setting up camp on a frozen lake, river, or other body of water, and enduring the elements of winter. While it can be a challenging and physically demanding activity, ice camping also offers the opportunity to witness stunning winter landscapes, engage in activities such as ice fishing, and test your survival skills.

The purpose of this guide is to provide all the necessary information for a beginner to plan and execute a successful and safe ice camping trip. We will cover topics such as choosing the right location, gathering gear, setting up camp, staying warm and comfortable, and ice safety. Whether you are a seasoned camper looking to try something new, or a beginner eager to test your limits in the great outdoors, this guide will give you the tools and knowledge to embark on an exciting and rewarding ice camping adventure.

Preparation:

When selecting a location for your ice camping trip, safety should be your top priority. It is essential to choose a spot on the ice that is thick enough to support your weight and the weight of your gear. A general rule of thumb is that the ice should be at least 4 inches thick for a single person to walk on, and at least 8–12 inches thick for a group of people or vehicles. However, these are just estimates and the actual thickness of the ice can vary based on factors such as the temperature, the type of water (saltwater vs. freshwater), and the presence of currents or springs.

To ensure the safety of your group, it is essential to check the thickness of the ice before setting up camp. You can use an ice auger or an ice chisel to make a test hole and measure the thickness of the ice. It is also a good idea to bring a set of ice picks or a throw rope, in case anyone falls through the ice.

In addition to checking the thickness of the ice, you should also consider the proximity of your camp to help. It is a good idea to choose a location that is within easy reach of shore or a nearby building, in case of emergency. You should also make sure to tell someone not on the trip, such as a family member or friend, the exact location of your camp and your planned itinerary, in case you need to be contacted for any reason.

Warm clothing, a tent designed for cold weather, a sleeping bag rated for low temperatures, a stove for cooking and melting snow, ice fishing equipment (optional)

Bring non-perishable, high-energy foods; consider packing a portable stove or grill for cooking

Here are some more details on the necessary gear and food for your ice camping trip:

Read more: Should You Eat Snow While Camping In The Winter?

Warm clothing is essential for a successful and comfortable ice camping trip. You should dress in layers, with a base layer of moisture-wicking fabric to keep your skin dry, a middle layer of insulation to trap heat, and an outer layer to protect against wind and moisture. Make sure to pack extra layers in case of unexpected cold snaps or accidents. It is also a good idea to bring a hat, gloves, and a scarf to cover your head, hands, and neck, as these areas are prone to losing heat.

A tent designed for cold weather is another essential piece of gear for ice camping. Look for a tent with a sturdy frame and a waterproof rainfly, as well as a low profile to reduce wind exposure. Some tents also have special features such as a built-in vestibule or a stove jack to accommodate a portable stove. Make sure to bring enough stakes and guy lines to secure your tent to the ice.

A sleeping bag rated for low temperatures is crucial for staying warm at night. Look for a sleeping bag with a temperature rating at least 10–20 degrees lower than the expected low temperature of your trip. It is also a good idea to bring a foam pad or an air mattress to insulate your body from the cold ground.

A stove is necessary for cooking and melting snow for drinking water. Look for a stove that is designed for cold weather and can burn a variety of fuels, such as white gas or propane. You can also bring a portable grill or a fire pit for cooking, as long as you follow proper fire safety guidelines and obtain any necessary permits.

Ice fishing equipment is optional, but it can be a fun and rewarding activity during your ice camping trip. Make sure to bring a fishing rod, reel, and tackle, as well as a bucket or a sled to transport your catch. You will also need a fishing license, if required by the state or country where you are camping.

As for food, it is important to bring non-perishable, high-energy items that are easy to prepare and store. Some good options include energy bars, nuts, jerky, dried fruit, and instant soup or oatmeal. You should also bring a sufficient amount of water, either in bottles or in a hydration bladder, to last the duration of your trip. Make sure to pack a portable stove or grill for cooking, or consider bringing a small propane tank or a camping stove if you prefer hot meals. Don’t forget to pack utensils, dishes, and a cooler (if available) to keep your food fresh and organized.

Setting Up Camp:

When selecting a spot to set up your tent on the ice, look for a flat and clear area with minimal obstructions. A flat spot will ensure that your tent is stable and your sleep is comfortable, while a clear area will allow you to set up your gear and move around easily. Avoid setting up your tent on top of cracks, pressure ridges, or slush, as these areas may indicate unstable or unsafe ice.

If you are camping with a group, it is a good idea to space out your tents to give each person some privacy and to reduce the risk of a tent collapse. Make sure to leave enough room between tents to allow for easy access and movement.

Once you have chosen a spot, start setting up your tent according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure to use all necessary stakes and guy lines to secure your tent to the ice, and add additional guy lines if necessary. If the wind is strong, you may need to use extra stakes or weights to hold down your tent. It is also a good idea to set up your tent on a slight incline, with the door facing away from the wind, to reduce wind exposure and promote drainage.

After you have set up your tent, make sure to insulate the ground inside your tent with a foam pad or a blanket to add an extra layer of warmth. This will help to keep your body off the cold ground and to improve your sleep quality. You can also bring a small rug or a mat to place at the entrance of your tent, to help keep the inside clean and dry.

Set up your tent on ice

Start by laying out your tent on the ground and familiarizing yourself with all the parts and features. Make sure you have all the necessary stakes and guy lines, and that they are in good condition.

Assemble the tent frame according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Some tents have a freestanding design, while others require staking to be upright. Make sure to tighten all the connections and ensure that the frame is sturdy and stable.

Attach the rainfly to the frame, again following the manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure to use all the necessary clips and buckles, and that the rainfly is taut and covers the entire tent.

Stake down the corners and guy lines of the tent. Use a hammer or a mallet (if available) to drive the stakes into the ice, making sure they are secure. Adjust the guy lines to create a taut pitch and to reduce wind exposure.

Set up the interior of your tent, including the sleeping pad and the sleeping bag. Make sure to leave enough space for your gear and to allow for easy movement.

Test the stability and waterproofness of your tent by simulating wind and rain. Make any necessary adjustments to the stakes and guy lines, and check for any leaks or drafts.

Remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use common sense when setting up your tent on the ice. If you are unsure about any steps or encounter any problems, don’t hesitate to ask for help or to seek additional resources. Your safety and comfort depend on a well-assembled tent, so take the time to set it up properly.

Insulating the ground inside your tent with a foam pad or a blanket is an important step to stay warm and comfortable during your ice camping trip. The ground can absorb and conduct cold, so sleeping directly on the ice can be a source of heat loss and discomfort. A foam pad or a blanket can provide an extra layer of insulation between your body and the ground, helping to trap heat and to prevent cold spots.

There are a few different types of foam pads and blankets that you can use to insulate the ground inside your tent. Foam pads are lightweight, compact, and easy to cut to size, making them a popular choice for camping. They are made of a closed-cell foam material that is resistant to moisture and compression, and can provide a good level of insulation. You can find foam pads in different thicknesses and densities, depending on your needs and preferences.

Blankets are another option for insulating the ground inside your tent. They are usually larger and more versatile than foam pads, and can be used for multiple purposes such as sitting, kneeling, or sleeping. You can choose from a variety of materials, such as fleece, wool, or synthetic fibers, depending on your budget and desired level of warmth. Some blankets are designed specifically for outdoor use and have features such as water-resistant coatings or compressive packing.

When selecting a foam pad or a blanket for your ice camping trip, make sure to consider the size and shape of your tent, as well as the temperature and humidity of your destination. A pad or a blanket that is too small or thin may not provide enough insulation, while one that is too large or thick may take up too much space or add unnecessary weight. Experiment with different options and find the one that works best for you and your tent.

Staying Warm and Comfortable:

Here are some more tips for staying warm and comfortable inside your tent during your ice camping trip:

A sleeping bag is the most important piece of gear for staying warm at night. Look for a sleeping bag with a temperature rating at least 10–20 degrees lower than the expected low temperature of your trip. Down or synthetic fill materials are usually the most efficient at trapping heat, but they can also be more expensive and less durable. Consider your budget, comfort, and durability needs when selecting a sleeping bag.

In addition to your sleeping bag, you should wear warm layers to bed to trap heat and prevent drafts. Choose moisture-wicking base layers to keep your skin dry, and insulating middle layers to trap heat. Avoid cotton, as it absorbs moisture and can cause your body to lose heat.

A hot water bottle or a heating pad can provide extra warmth and comfort during the night. Fill a bottle with hot water from your stove and place it at the foot of your sleeping bag, or use a battery-powered or plug-in heating pad to warm your body or your feet. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use caution when handling hot objects.

A sleeping bag liner is a lightweight, breathable fabric that fits inside your sleeping bag and adds an extra layer of insulation and comfort. You can choose from a variety of materials, such as silk, fleece, or synthetic fibers, depending on your needs and preferences. A liner can also protect your sleeping bag from sweat and dirt, and extend its lifespan.

Tips for staying warm outside of your tent:

Dress in layers, wear a hat and gloves, and take frequent breaks inside your tent to warm up

Here are some more tips for staying warm and comfortable outside of your tent during your ice camping trip:

Layering your clothing is the most effective way to regulate your body temperature and to stay warm in cold weather. Start with a moisture-wicking base layer to keep your skin dry, add an insulating middle layer to trap heat, and finish with a wind- and moisture-resistant outer layer to protect against the elements. Make sure to cover your head, hands, and neck, as these areas are prone to losing heat.

A hat and gloves are essential pieces of winter gear that can make a big difference in your comfort and warmth. A hat helps to keep your head warm and to reduce heat loss through your scalp, while gloves protect your hands from the cold and allow you to use your fingers freely. Choose a hat and gloves that are made of moisture-wicking and insulating materials, and that fit well without restricting movement.

If you are participating in activities outside of your tent, such as ice fishing or snowshoeing, it is a good idea to take frequent breaks inside your tent to warm up and rest. Use your stove or a portable heater to heat up your tent, and drink hot beverages or snacks to replenish your energy and hydration. Taking breaks will help you to avoid over-exertion and hypothermia, and to enjoy your trip to the fullest.

Melting snow for drinking water: use a stove or portable grill

Here is some more information on melting snow for drinking water during your ice camping trip:

Melting snow for drinking water is a common practice in ice camping, as it is the most readily available source of water in a frozen environment. However, melting snow can be a time-consuming and fuel-intensive process, and it is important to do it safely and efficiently.

To melt snow for drinking water, you will need a stove or a portable grill, a pot or a kettle, and a fuel source such as white gas or propane. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your stove or grill, and make sure to use it in a well-ventilated area to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

Start by filling your pot or kettle with clean, fresh snow. Avoid using dirty, yellow, or smelly snow, as it may contain contaminants or pollutants. Place your pot or kettle on the stove or grill, and heat it over a low to medium flame. As the snow melts, it will release steam and turn into water.

Be patient and watch your pot or kettle carefully, as boiling water can cause burns or accidents. Stir the snow occasionally to speed up the melting process, and add small amounts of cold water to lower the boiling point and prevent boiling over. When the snow is fully melted, turn off the stove or grill and let the water cool down before drinking or using it.

Melted snow can contain impurities and minerals from the ice, so it is a good idea to filter or purify it before drinking. You can use a water filter, a water purification tablet, or a UV light to remove any

Ice Safety:

Checking the thickness of the ice before setting up camp is an essential safety precaution in ice camping. The thickness of the ice can vary significantly depending on the type of water (saltwater vs. freshwater), the temperature, the presence of currents or springs, and other factors. Even if the ice looks solid and clear, it may not be thick enough to support your weight and the weight of your gear.

Falling through the ice can be a life-threatening situation, as the cold water can cause hypothermia and shock. It is essential to check the thickness of the ice before setting up camp, and to avoid areas with thin or unstable ice. A general rule of thumb is that the ice should be at least 4 inches thick for a single person to walk on, and at least 8–12 inches thick for a group of people or vehicles. However, these are just estimates and the actual thickness of the ice can vary.

To check the thickness of the ice, you can use an ice auger or an ice chisel to make a test hole. You can also look for signs of ice thickness, such as the color of the ice (clear ice is usually stronger than white ice), the presence of cracks or pressure ridges, or the sound of the ice when you walk on it. If the ice is too thin or unstable, choose a different location for your camp.

In addition to checking the thickness of the ice, you should also be aware of other ice safety considerations

Signs of unsafe ice: cracks, pressure ridges, slush

Here are some other signs of unsafe ice that you should be aware of during your ice camping trip:

Cracks in the ice are a sign of stress and instability. They can be caused by temperature changes, currents, or the weight of objects on the ice. If you see cracks in the ice, avoid setting up camp near them, as they may indicate thin or weak ice.

Pressure ridges are raised or bumpy areas on the ice that are formed when the ice expands or contracts due to temperature changes or the weight of objects. They can be a hazard to walk on, as they can be slippery or unstable. Avoid setting up camp on or near pressure ridges, and use caution when walking around them.

Slush is a mixture of ice and water that forms on the surface of the ice when the temperature is above freezing. It can be a sign of thin or melting ice, and it can be slippery and dangerous to walk on. Avoid setting up camp on slush, and avoid walking or driving through it if possible.

If you encounter any of these signs of unsafe ice, choose a different location for your camp, and take extra precautions to stay safe and warm. Remember to listen to your instincts and to seek additional advice or resources if you are unsure about the safety of the ice.

Try to remain calm and think clearly, kick your legs to help push yourself up, use ice picks (if available) to pull yourself out

If you fall through the ice, it is important to try to remain calm and to think clearly in order to increase your chances of survival. Falling through the ice can be a traumatic and disorienting experience, but it is important to stay focused and to take the right actions to get out of the water as quickly as possible.

Here are some steps you can follow in case of falling through the ice:

Try to remain calm and take deep breaths. Do not panic or thrash around, as this can increase your heart rate and cause you to lose energy and warmth faster.

Use your hands to push down on the ice and to help lift yourself out of the water. If you can reach the edge of the hole, try to pull yourself up and out with your arms.

Kick your legs to help push yourself up and to create a wider base of support. Do not try to stand up, as the ice may not be strong enough to support your weight.

If you have ice picks or other sharp objects, use them to help pull yourself out of the water. Hold the picks in your hands with the points facing down, and use them to dig into the ice and to create a foothold.

If you cannot get out of the water, try to roll away from the hole and onto the ice. This will distribute your weight more evenly and increase the chances of the ice supporting you.

If you are unable to get out of the water or roll onto the ice, try to stay as still as possible and to conserve your energy. Cover your face and ears with your hands to help retain heat and to protect your body from the cold. Wait for help to arrive, and keep shouting for attention.

Remember that falling through the ice is a serious and potentially life-threatening situation. If you fall through the ice, your priority should be to get out of the water as quickly as possible, and to seek medical attention if necessary. Do not hesitate to ask for help or to call for emergency services if you are in danger.

Conclusion:

Ice camping can be a unique and exciting outdoor activity, but it requires careful planning and preparation to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. In this beginner’s guide to ice camping, we have covered the following key points:

Preparation:

Choosing the right location, gathering necessary gear, and planning your meals are important steps to ensure a successful ice camping trip.

Setting up camp:

Assembling your tent and insulating the ground inside your tent are essential to stay warm and comfortable on the ice.

Staying warm and comfortable:

Using a sleeping bag rated for cold temperatures, wearing warm layers to bed, and using a hot water bottle or a heating pad are effective ways to stay warm inside your tent. Dressing in layers, wearing a hat and gloves, and taking frequent breaks inside your tent can help you stay warm and comfortable outside of your tent.

Melting snow for drinking water:

Using a stove or a portable grill, and a pot or a kettle are the best ways to melt snow for drinking water. Be patient, watch your pot or kettle carefully, and filter or purify the melted snow before drinking.

Ice safety:

Checking the thickness of the ice and looking for signs of unsafe ice are important precautions to take to avoid falling through the ice. If you fall through the ice, try to remain calm, think clearly, and use your hands, legs, and any available tools to help pull yourself out of the water.

By following these tips and using common sense, you can have a safe and enjoyable ice camping trip. Remember to respect the environment, follow local regulations and guidelines, and seek additional resources or advice if you are unsure about any aspect of your trip.

If you’re looking for a new and exciting outdoor adventure, we encourage you to try ice camping for yourself! Ice camping is a unique way to experience the beauty and solitude of the winter wilderness, and it can be a rewarding and enriching activity for people of all ages and skill levels.

However, it is important to remember that ice camping also comes with some inherent risks and challenges, and that safety should always be your top priority. Make sure to follow the guidelines and tips provided in this beginner’s guide to ice camping, and to seek additional resources or advice if you are unsure about any aspect of your trip.

Some additional things to consider when planning your ice camping trip include:

Choosing the right location:

Look for a location that is safe, accessible, and suitable for your needs and skills. Check the thickness of the ice, the proximity to help, and the availability of resources such as shelter, water, and food.

Gathering necessary gear:

Make sure to bring all the equipment and supplies that you will need for your trip, including warm clothing, a tent, a sleeping bag, a stove, and ice fishing equipment (if desired).

Planning your meals:

Bring non-perishable, high-energy foods that are easy to prepare and store, and consider packing a portable stove or grill for cooking.

Respecting the environment:

Follow Leave No Trace principles and local regulations, and be mindful of your impact on the ice and the surrounding ecosystem.

Seeking additional resources:

If you are new to ice camping, consider joining a guided trip or a group of experienced ice campers to learn from their knowledge and skills. You can also seek advice from local experts or resources, such as park rangers, outdoor retailers, or online forums.

We hope that this beginner’s guide to ice camping has inspired you to try this exciting activity for yourself, and that you will have a safe and enjoyable trip on the ice!

Suggestions for further resources on ice camping

If you are looking for additional resources on ice camping, there are several guidebooks and local outdoor organizations that can provide you with valuable information and support for your trip. Here are a few suggestions:

Guidebooks:

There are many guidebooks available that provide detailed information on ice camping, including how to choose the right location, what gear to bring, how to set up camp, and how to stay warm and safe on the ice. Some popular guidebooks on ice camping include “The Complete Guide to Winter Camping” by Christopher Van Tilburg and “Winter Camping” by William K. Wood.

Local outdoor organizations:

Joining a local outdoor organization or club can be a great way to learn about ice camping and to connect with other outdoor enthusiasts in your area. Many local organizations offer guided trips, classes, workshops, and other resources on ice camping and other winter activities. You can find a local outdoor organization by doing an online search or by asking at your local outdoor retail store or park ranger station.

Online forums:

Online forums and discussion groups can be a good source of information and advice on ice camping. You can find forums on specific topics, such as ice fishing, winter camping, or survival skills, or you can join general outdoor forums where you can ask questions and share experiences with other members. Make sure to use caution when using online forums, as not all information may be accurate or reliable.

Local park ranger stations:

Local park ranger stations are a great resource for information on ice camping and other outdoor activities in your area. Park rangers can provide you with up-to-date information on ice conditions, safety tips, and local regulations, and they can also point you to other resources and services that may be helpful for your trip. You can find a local park ranger station by doing an online search or by visiting a nearby park or recreation area.

Remember to always prioritize safety when planning your ice camping trip, and to seek additional resources or advice if you are unsure about any aspect of your trip.

Happy ice camping!

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Abbot Ace

Editor & Owner at Ice Camping Pro Abbot loves all things travel and outdoors and is a nature-loving, comfy-camping kinda guy. He loves winter camping.