The best way to start loving winter camping is to get out and do it. Photo by mountain-view.
Over the years, I’ve made many New Year’s resolutions. I almost never kept them.
Then I resolved to hike more. It turns out the key to success was choosing something I already loved to do and taking it to the next level.
My hiking resolution started on New Year’s Day in 2016 with a friend, an indulgent dinner and a bottle of wine. As we sipped our wine, we decided we needed to hike more. We were fair-weather hikers, but we wanted to get out all year. So, we pulled out our calendars and picked dates for an entire year.
By the following December, we’d kept to our goal and it had completely transformed how—and how often—we hiked. We’re more confident hikers, and happier people overall, now that we get out all year. And we’re no longer deterred by the rain. In fact, some of our favorite trips have happened during deluges.
That success led to new goals. In 2017, I resolved to camp at least one night every month. My husband and I work full time and we have a 7-year-old daughter, so it took some planning and creativity, but I made it work. This year I’m upping the goal and aiming for at least one backpacking trip per month. I plan to use what I’ve learned from my prior goals to help met this. And I encourage you to set your own goals. How do you want to get outside each month?
The reward for an extremely rainy backpacking trip to Grand Lake in the Olympics was a beautiful and peaceful evening when the clouds began to clear. Photo by Jessi Loerch.
Hike all year
- Pick a goal you’re excited about. When I did this, hiking every month felt like a reward, not a punishment. The goal just helped me stay on track.
- Recruit a friend. Because I made the resolution with a friend, I had a sense of obligation. I was fiercely protective of our hiking dates, and so was my friend. (We did change a couple of dates to fit our schedules, but we always switched to within the same month.)
- Be flexible. While the one-hike-a-month rule was firm, everything else was up for negotiation. My friend and I counted a hike as being on a soft surface, but any soft surface could do. We picked locations based on weather and conditions, and we kept an open mind about where to go.
- Make peace with the weather. Part of the reason I liked this goal was that I wanted to get better at hiking in less-than-ideal weather. There’s really no way to do that other than to just get out there. I learned a lot of lessons on our wet, cold hikes. For instance, my friend brought an avocado on a hike, and we learned that it’s hard (and slightly dangerous) to use a knife when your hands are cold. I learned that I despise eating with wet hands, so now I bring a small towel in a dry bag to dry off my hands before lunch.
- Work out a clothing system. I learned a lot about clothing during our year of hiking. Two tricks I found particularly useful: First, when I stop at the high point of a hike, I often swap out to a dry base layer. Whether it’s a hot or a cold day, it feels great to put on a clean, dry layer. Second, I always have a towel and clean clothes waiting in the car.
- Enjoy the adventure. The nastiest hike of the entire year was a trip to Wallace Lake in a downpour. We may as well have jumped in the lake, we were so wet. Yet of all of the hikes we took that year, it’s my favorite memory. I remember laughing as we tried to cut an avocado. I can still vividly picture the shiny wet ferns and smell the rich, damp soil.
A good book and a warm fire make for a great early-season camping trip with the family.
Camp all year
- Make a clear goal. I made clear rules for what constituted camping. It had to be in a tent or under the stars. It had to be in a campground or backcountry site. Camping on my lawn did not count; neither did cabins nor yurts. (For those who aren’t interested in tent camping all year, I think aiming for a cabin or yurt trip in the wet months would be an excellent goal. You’ll still get outside. And you won’t have to pack up a wet tent.)
- Plan ahead, especially for the busy months. In January, my husband and I booked dates for the busiest months, especially during the summer. We coordinated with friends we wanted to camp with and made reservations for busy weekends.
- Learn to pack. By hiking all year, packing for a hike quickly became second nature. The same thing happened with camping all year. I’ve now gotten really good at pulling together the gear for a quick camping trip. I made a list that I keep in my outdoor closet. I check it before I go to make sure I’ve packed the essentials.
- Pack light. Especially for short or particularly rainy trips, it’s helpful to have less stuff. That’s counterintuitive, but there’s really nothing more miserable than trying to pack up a ton of stuff in the rain. Throughout the year, I learned what we really wanted for a car camping trip and a backpacking trip. For instance, we learned that we really love to have our own big pillows for car camping, but we’re happy with very basic cooking equipment. (Or even no equipment for a quick overnight.) When I backpack, I’ve learned to always bring a good book and my tiny, inflatable pillow.
- Learn to unpack. I despise unpacking. It’s a horrible habit, but I tend to leave my gear stuffed in my pack or in the trunk of my car after a trip. But if I do that, it’s exhausting to track it down later. Unpacking immediately makes the next trip a lot smoother. As a related element, if my gear is wet after a trip, I always hang it to dry, of course. But once it’s dry, I get it back where it belongs, with all its pieces, so I don’t have to hunt everything down later.
- Eat out. For our very first trip, we camped in January in Port Townsend. I had no idea how it would be to camp in the winter, so we kept things extremely simple. We knew it would get dark early, so we planned to arrive midmorning. We explored the trails and beaches and set up our tent. Once it got dark, we headed back to town and enjoyed a leisurely dinner at a restaurant.
Taking the family out to Camano Island State Park for the first camping trip of the new year. Photo by Jessi Loerch.
Backpack all year
- Set aside dates. January through March are surprisingly busy for my family. I’ve reserved dates on the calendar for backpacking through all of those months, as well as place-holder dates for the busy summer months.
- Look for locations. On all of my hikes, especially those at lower elevations, I watch out for potential backpacking sites. I’m saving the ones that look most promising in My Backpack on wta.org. The summer months will be easy, but winter months are more challenging because I don’t want to camp on the snow.
- Try new recipes. Many of these backpacking trips will be quick overnights by myself. I’ve learned that when I’m alone, I really don’t enjoy cooking. I want food that can be prepared extremely quickly with little fuss. And I’m getting tired of always eating commercial backpacking food. So in the dark days of winter, I’m experimenting with dehydrating my own meals, which I’ll try out over the year.
- Embrace the rain. Sometimes I’m just going to have to backpack in the rain, or it won’t happen. Last year, one of my favorite trips was a 4-mile roundtrip backpack in a deluge. Not shockingly, I had the place to myself. I crawled into my tent and spent hours listening to the rain and reading my book. The quiet solitude was precisely what I needed after several busy weeks.
- Invite loved ones. Last year, many of my backpacking trips were solo. And while I loved those trips, this year I’m aiming to take more trips with my family and friends. I’m aiming for at least one short trip with my daughter and a longer trip with my husband, as well as a couple of trips with good friends.
I’m looking forward to another year of outdoor adventures. My day hikes have been even more fun than normal lately, because every trip feels like a chance to scout for an overnight site. That’s party of the beauty of setting such a goal—the planning and anticipation are half of the fun.
For the tools you need to plan your own year of outdoor adventures, check out our resources at wta.org/go-outside.