Winter backpacking lessons

Discussion in 'Bushcraft' started by sdr, Nov 19, 2018.

  1. sdr

    sdr Monkey++

    November 3rd my 21 year old daughter, her fiance, and I went backpacking. Was the first Saturday she could take off from work in months. She really wanted to try backpacking so I figured why not.

    Decided to go to a place I knew fairly well near Lake George Colorado called Lost Creek Wilderness. Wanted to stay close to home and didn't want to try an unknown area for her first time.

    Weather was nice. Snowing and cold but no blizzard or deep snow.

    I wanted to try out a few ideas I've been thinking about for shelter and heat.


    Found a pretty secluded, level site. Had the materials I needed for the projects. Future son in-law is taking down the widow makers around the site. Large fire came through the area around 15 years back.


    She handled the cold fairly well. 049.JPG

    I had the kids try and start the fire while I worked on the framing. Wouldn't let them use paper or stove fuel. They did pretty good. I had to step in after 60 minutes of them trying. Stuff was pretty damp.



    I brought along 3 foot of 4" aluminum vent pipe. Very light weight and expands to over 6 feet. It's the flu for the fireplace.


    Couldn't find any clay to add to the mud but it seemed to work good anyway. I made the inside back of the fireplace higher than the front to try and get a better draw with less smoke coming out the front.



    We arrived at the site around noon Saturday. Took me about 5 hours to get this far. My plan was to cover the plastic with limbs, branches and piles of leaves and pine needles. Realized the shape wasn't right for that. Seems like I should have made it lower. Was running out of daylight so I stopped there. The plastic is lightweight painters dropcloth. Comes 12 feet wide. All the plastic fit in a ziplok sandwich bag. I quit using tents backpacking years ago. I prefer tarps. Just wanted to try this.


    Found a nice flat rock for a door. Helped to slow down the fire and keep the draw going good. Smoke would come out if the door wasn't on. 064.JPG

    Me taking a selfie. Not very good at it. It was cold enough at night to freeze and burst my favorite canteen. Which was inside about 4 feet from me. The fireplace didn't heat the shelter but was nice about 2 feet around it. Thats the pile of wood I used to keep it going all night.

    Next time I'm going to figure a way to have the entire fireplace inside. Including the flu. The shelter will have to be longer. Or wider. I wanted it large enough for 3 people. More of a semi permanent structure.
    Definitely bringing the roof lower. With less of a pitch.

    Few other random photos...

    044.JPG 036.JPG


    Next day we ate breakfast, packed up and left. I removed the plastic and left the fireplace and flu.

    One thing I didn't figure on was the forest fire removing the thick ground cover I was counting on to cover the branches and plastic. Normally I find it at least 3 or 4 inches thick. There it was maybe one inch.

    A few notes on my tool selection.
    I try to keep my pack as light as possible. This trip I carried more than normal. I chose one of my multitools to bring. Actually a cheaper home depot one. I brought a spool of wire to fasten the framing together and the plyers on the tool worked the best for cutting the wire.
    Never carried an etool backpacking before. It worked very well. It was a must have item.
    Decided to bring a cheap harbor freight machete. Less weight than a hatchet and I wanted to try the saw on it. The saw is very sharp and cut fast for the first inch. The teeth aren't offset so the blade gets stuck quick. Using it to chop was fine. We all abused it pretty good and it held up OK.

    Took me quite a while to decide what tools to bring. I think a hatchet and bowsaw would have been better. Future son in law brought a small Walmart hatchet. It was crap.

    So all in all it was a great success. I learned alot and didn't freeze the kids.

    Might be a while before my girl goes backpacking again though.
    DuxDawg, Bishop, Motomom34 and 15 others like this.
  2. UncleMorgan

    UncleMorgan I like peeling bananas and (occasionally) people.

    You might want to take the machete to a chain-saw shop and have them offset the teeth for you.

    Making the shelter as small as practical makes it easier to heat. Likewise, you can hang a few space blankets under the waterproof painter's tarp for heat reflection.

    A nice gag for hanging space blankets is to use small pieces of refrigerator magnet material, cut to size with scissors, plus small steel flat washers. Just magnet clamp the the tarp and blanket material together wherever needed. Washer on the outside, magnet square in the inside. A dozen or so should be plenty. The clamps keep the blankets from getting torn up.
  3. chelloveck

    chelloveck Diabolus Causidicus

    Nice report sdr, well illustrated with pictures.

    Bad luck about the canteen. Perhaps place in bottom of sleeping bag or heat up some rocks and wrap them and the canteen in some insulation.
    Seepalaces, Sapper John and GrayGhost like this.
  4. duane

    duane Monkey+++

    Good piece. Looks like the fire effects linger on. Not a dense forest with lots of cover and building material. Instead almost open woodlands like a pasture. Not much cover from the wind. Don't think you could survive there for a very long period of time without a lot of things from outside. Looks like another example of the danger of the SHTF concept of bugging out to the wilderness and surviving like a mountain man. Open enough to be difficult to hunt large game, limited firewood even with bow saw and axe, limited vegetation to help with food supply. Don't know full winter snow at that location, is it in the feet range? Excellent look at minimalist winter camping and survival and even better example of the difficulties of long term survival. Native Americans went to lower elevations with a lot more wood and such and a higher concentration of game to survive the winter and stored as much food as they could. Old maps show the center part of North America as the Great American Desert.
  5. Bandit99

    Bandit99 Monkey+++ Site Supporter+

    @sdr You has been a loooong time since I did something like this. I would especially be interested in trying to improve on your stove idea so need to do some reading... BTW I like the idea of the collapsible stove pipe you brought. Usually, (in the past) I would just use rocks to warm and reflect some of the heat... Really interesting!
  6. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey

    Lean to just high enough to keep from touching the body and a front flap to lower for sleep.
    Less is more.
    Less material to cut and assemble.
    Less area to heat.
    Less area to cover with vegetation.
    Less surface area for wind to take away the shelter.
    DuxDawg and chelloveck like this.
  7. Motomom34

    Motomom34 Monkey+++

    Awesome report on your camping trip @sdr. Your daughter looks cold.
  8. sdr

    sdr Monkey++

    Thanks for all the feedback

    Uncle... The machete costs around $6. Figured I would give it a try just to see. I was surprised by it. I'm thinking about trying to set the teeth myself. No idea how but I'll figure it out or not.
    Great idea on the space blankets.

    Thanks chell... It was a blast to do. Canteen wasn't worth much. Just has been traveling with me often. Honestly didn't think it would get that cold. Plus it was only about 1/3rd full. Oh well. Another lesson.

    Duane... Not sure how deep the snow can get there. I'm guessing around 2 feet max. It's not like the higher country that can receive 10 feet plus. My cabin is a bit south of there and I've seen 2 feet before. Mainly in the drifts though.
    We did go through denser areas on the way to the site. Just nothing level enough or secluded enough.
    One big mistake I made was not remembering bright orange clothing. Must have seen 30 vehicles with hunters on the road. I've never seen big game up there. Lots of trout in a stream about 20 minutes from the camp. I always catch fish for dinner when I try. Can't imagine trying to find enough food to survive there. Was a ton of dead wood close by. Most of it was old. Burned very fast.

    Bandit... It's been 15 years since I've been backpacking. Forgot how much fun it is. Wasn't even sure how my body would handle it. Did fine though. That vent pipe is incredibly light. I'm still trying to process the results on the fireplace. It wasn't nearly as warm as I thought it would get. Not sure why. BTU,S verses mass? The firebox wasn't that large. The thermal mass was. I'm guessing more heat. Would be nice to be able to fit larger logs also. Next time I'll make it bigger. Or reduce the amount of rocks and mud. Maybe it takes longer than I realize to heat it up.

    HK... Understand. Normally I do that. This time I wanted to make the shelter big. Big enough for multiple people. Small cabin. Fireplace, low table, enough to comfortably sit in. Not sure of the design. I'll try again. Definitely lower and wider.

    Thanks motomom. It was a blast. Thought it would be nice to share my lessons with others. Hoping my girl will go again. My 11 year old girl has been camping with me 4 years in a row. She loves it. In the summer though. Annual fishing trip.

    Tried inserting quotes on the different posts but couldn't figure it out. So just figured I'd reply to all in one post. If anybody has any suggestions on how to do that please let me know.
    DuxDawg, HK_User, chelloveck and 2 others like this.
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