Winter Camping

A typical traditional winter camping setup in calm conditions

‘Traditional’ winter camping can mean a variety of different things to different people, but we like to think of it as travel by snowshoe and toboggan, with nights spent in a canvas tent heated by a wood stove. Equipment choices and clothing materials are heavily influenced by the earliest European travellers of this great land, who themselves borrowed heavily from and adapted the practices of indigenous travellers. Just as Europeans developed certain adaptations to indigenous methodologies (eg, steel tools and certain woven fabrics) while maintaining the same basic principles, so too does the modern traveller make material updates while striving to uphold the best time-tested traditions (for example, plastic toboggans have largely replaced wooden ones, but the shape and functionality remains nearly unchanged). Thus, while some (but not all!) materials may have been updated over the ensuing centuries, the form and function of our tools are the same as those developed and perfected over thousands of years spent living on this land.

The decision to adopt traditional travel methods and materials is not simply one of nostalgia, instead being based more in pragmatism. Quite simply, traditional winter camping is the most comfortable, practical and safest way to travel distances, great or small, through Canada’s Boreal Forest for much of the year. Clothing made of natural materials (generally wool insulating layers with an outer cotton, windproof layer), are far superior to modern nylon materials (even the most expensive Gore-Tex fabrics), in the typically cold, dry mid-winter weather of the Boreal Forest. Buckskin and canvas moccasins keep your feet warmer, drier and more comfortable than you ever thought possible in a pair of modern boots, and large wood-framed snowshoes are lighter and provide far better flotation in deep, powdery snow than modern mountaineering snowshoes. There is a graceful synergy between all parts of the system, evidence of many generations of careful thought and refinement. Soft moccasins provide intimate feel and control of the snowshoe, and allow the use of a simple ‘Indian-hitch’ or lamp-wick style binding. The wide, overlapping shape of the snowshoe holds up the traveller through deep snow, but also packs a perfect ‘float’ or trail for the toboggan. The long (3+ metres in length), narrow toboggan glides behind the traveller(s) in the snowshoe float, bending and flexing to adapt to undulating terrain and easily handling a hundred kilograms or more of food and equipment.

A beautiful northern Ontario winter landscape.

While I mentioned earlier the desire to adapt traditional winter camping methods for pragmatic reasons, in practice one cannot help but be emotionally affected by the historical link involved. Whether walking hundreds of metres or hundreds of kilometres, the quiet, unbroken blanket of snow you travel through will be in many ways identical to the conditions First Nations and early explorers would have encountered. After a few days on a river or chain of lakes it becomes easy to feel as if you have stepped back in time, to feel as if you are experiencing, and perhaps even beginning to understand what it must have been like to live in an earlier time, and to appreciate more fully every culture that has come before to shape, and be shaped by our shared natural heritage.

If you are interested in joining us on a winter trip, check out our “Guided Trips” page, or send an email to:

13 thoughts on “Winter Camping

  1. I’m old but eager! I’ll be 69 in May 2015.

    Wish I’d discovered ya’ll before now but look forward to some news in the Fall.

  2. I have winter camped for several years. I have my own snowtrekker tent and sled. I usually go by myself . No friends brave enough! It would be nice to go with the pro’s. I am interested in a future trip

  3. Hi just watched your video on clothing. I would like to know where I could find the Orange pants that you talked about. Your videos kept me up for many hours dreaming.Keep up the great work, enjoy and be careful. Thanks Shawn (Ohio)

  4. Hi Tracey,

    Thanks for the comment – you’re not the first to request this, so by popular demand we will be offering ‘introductory’ traditional winter camping trips of 3 – 5 days in length this year! Now that our fall workshop schedule is complete, we plan to get our winter tripping schedule (or at least trip descriptions) up sometime this month. We’ll keep you posted when that happens.


  5. I would be very interested in a slightly shorter winter camping trip. Its hard to get away from family & work obligations for 8 days…as much I as would love too!

    Please keep me posted on any shorter trips you may have in the works.

  6. Hi David,
    Our winter 2012 trip schedule should be released by the end of September. We’re extremely excited about our trip plans this year!

  7. Good day :)

    – With the winter season approaching us, I am hoping to find a person(s) or group
    interested in winter camping, trekking or Hiking. I am geared up with no fellow
    travelers to accompany me :(
    – Hoping to find friends to explore with. I reside in Sudbury Ont. Canada.
    – If interested Please e-mail
    Very Best Regards

  8. Hey Dave,

    I just realized who you are. I read your 39 day trip report up on the Albany this spring 10′ and thought wow, what a great way to spend 39 days! Through your trial and tribulations, you both were able to pull it off regardless of the the obstacle you both faced. Cheers to you both!

    Shawn aka Pathfinder..

  9. Great work guys! I still laugh about our first adventure winter camping in sudbury with you dave, now I’m just speechless, very impressive you two!

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