Why would you camp in the winter?

Crooked Lake
Sunset camp on Crooked Lake in the BWCA.
Chris Gibbs/For MPR News

Chris Gibbs' first attempt at traditional winter camping in the Boundary Waters didn't end well.

"We had a 20 below night and our Stove Top stuffing froze to the bottom of the bowl," Gibbs said. "We kind of decided to pull the plug on that one very quick -- we weren't very well prepared"

He's quickly learned what's necessary to adequately prepare for a camping trip in the Minnesota winter. Gibbs, like traditional winter campers across the state, now relishes breaking out the snowshoes and heading into the wilderness when it gets cold.

Photo gallery: See the allure of winter camping

Jon Farchmin
Jon Farchmin, of Duluth, takes time on a layover day to fix his snowshoe by the heat of the stove.
Chris Gibbs/For MPR News

Traditional winter campers carry canvas tents, wood-burning stoves and other gear through the woods and over lakes in long, narrow toboggans that can weigh as much as 130 pounds.

"'Traditional' comes from the aspect of using a canvas product and traditional methods of travel like they used way back," Gibbs said.

Campers set up wood-burning stoves in their canvas tents for both cooking and heat. Trips can last anywhere from a few days to longer than a week.

"After a day of traveling you're going to be able to get into a heat source, a warm area where you can dry out and get ready for the next day," Gibbs said. "The canvas is a good barrier between the stove and the outside."

Nipigon Bay
Starting off on a three week journey on Nipigon Bay Ontario.
Chris Gibbs/For MPR News

Gibbs, who runs an outdoor photography company from his home in Cambridge called C5 Adventure Photography, said traditional winter camping has other advantages over using more modern materials.

"A nylon tent and sleeping cold sometimes wasn't as appealing as using a wood stove and a canvas tent," he said. "You can look forward to some of the luxuries you normally wouldn't get if you're just carrying lightweight nylon equipment in a backpack and traveling light and fast."

The extended winter camping trips he's taken have allowed him to get to areas that campers with less equipment might not have time to find.

"It sustains you to travel longer and get out and see places," Gibbs said. "I use that method to get to places that people normally wouldn't go to in the wintertime."

The experience of camping out in the middle of the frozen wilderness has helped Gibbs convert friends who didn't understand why someone would subject themselves to winter camping.

"You can see who has been there before you as far as tracks of animals or people -- the world kind of stands still in the winter," Gibbs said. "Everything is frozen in time, frozen in place."

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