Essentials for Cold Weather River Camping

Far too many campers are fair weather campers, especially river campers. Our Ozark streams are a national treasure and attract thousands of floaters and campers during the three summer months. Numbers drop dramatically by September. October brings out the fall color enthusiasts. However, during the winter months Ozark streams are almost void of floaters and campers.

What a shame. The winter months provide the avid outdoorsman with a much sought after ingredient for floating and camping trips – solitude.

After the leaves fall, whole new vistas appear that warm weather float campers miss. Bluffs, caves, springs, rock shelters and outcroppings, and other interesting geologic features become more visible allowing for extra exploratory adventure.

Too, after the human traffic slows, nature seems to come out of hiding. Bald Eagles hunt for prey along river corridors. Mink, otters, muskrats, and raccoons are seen more often and the Great Blue Herons seem easier to approach.

Those are a few of the benefits of floating and camping during cold weather, now let’s take a look at some of the essentials for a safe and comfortable cold weather float and camp trip.

The first and most essential element of such an adventure is the desire to go. Make a trip with an experienced person first, if you can. They can save you light years of experimenting with equipment and food and certainly help you to begin to enjoy the excursions quicker.

Preparations and planning are half the fun. Make lists of what you intend to take along and check it twice. Leaving an essential item at home in the summer may not be devastating, but in cold weather months, that could be a serious mistake.

Research is an important part of the planning process. Find out which river you want to float, where access and take-out points are. Collect maps that point out areas of interest and aide in planning side trips and routes of escape in emergencies.

Planning a cold weather trip takes extra care. Hypothermia is a real threat on such trips. Proper clothing, food and shelter will minimize the threat, however.

Sporting catalogs are full of excellent cold weather clothing choices. Polypropylene underwear is still hard to beat. The lightweight material adds warmth while whisking moisture away from the skin. Light weight wool pants and shirts are superb insulators. Top those with GoreTex or some comparable wind and waterproof garment and you can remain comfortable in very cold temperatures. Warm gloves and hats are necessary as well.

Always dress in layers during cold weather so that layers can be taken off or added as needed. A quality set of rainwear as a top layer is the best way to go. Getting caught in a cold rain or snow without protection is very hazardous.

Tents and sleeping bags are a matter of choice, but good gear will be much appreciated on cold nights. Coleman makes some high quality tents at an affordable price. Sleeping bags should be rated near zero. Packing a sheet or fleece liner is added insurance.

Most women are rather cold natured. Dian has a trick that works wonders on cold nights. She packs a few of the HotHands packs for cold nights. She drops one to the bottom of her sleeping bag. Her toes stay toasty all night.

Foods that provide quick energy keep cold weather campers warm and energized. Hot meals warm not only the tummy, but the spirit as well. Giving attention to details and keeping morale and physical strength at peak levels aids endurance.

Choice of cooking gear is a highly personal matter. However, cooking meals in a Dutch oven over an open fire turns meal times into highlights of any trip.

Camps can be as elaborate as imagination and finances allow. Camp cots, chairs, tables, grill grates, lanterns, coolers, and heaters all add comfort to a cold weather camp.

Canoeing is a fun way to go for a cold weather float and camp trip. I have enjoyed paddling a canoe on such trips for over four decades.

As I pen this article, the stars of the cold November sky shine overhead. The campfire warms my body and soul. The howls of coyotes echo through the hills. Barred Owls sound off down the river. The smells of a peach gobbler cooking in the Dutch oven over a bed of coals teases my olfactory lobes. The peacefulness of this cold weather river camp I enjoy alone, while most people people are sitting at home watching TV.

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