Cody and Ellis’ Winter Camping at Backbone

The Opinion Editors decided to give winter camping a try. Here's their incredible story and advice for anyone interested in doing the same

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Cody and Ellis’ Winter Camping at Backbone

Photos by Cody Owen and Ellis Fontana

Photos by Cody Owen and Ellis Fontana

Photos by Cody Owen and Ellis Fontana

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I hate the winter. I hate the cold, I hate being confined, I hate not being able to make s’mores outside as (deity of your choice) intended. So I decided to drag my co-editor out to the wilderness (Backbone State Park) anyway in spite of it being freezing and most outdoor places being closed and vacant of people. This is what we did and what we learned.

The drive to Backbone took about an hour and a half, driving mainly through a bunch of various, identical small Iowa farm towns. We got to the campsite around four and set up the tent. If you plan on full-on camping out, make sure you have time to set up your tent before it gets dark out. Setting up a tent in the dark is already a challenge, adding frigid air to the equation makes it a Herculean task.

After the tent was set up, we went to the stream they have at the park to fish for some trout. We didn’t fish for long, so we didn’t manage to catch anything. If you catch trout, though, they make for great camp food. Once they’ve been cleaned, you can fill them with butter and garlic, wrap them in tinfoil, and cook them over the fire without having to scrape off the scales.

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You don’t really appreciate fire until you light one in winter weather. Summer campers get the luxury of taking their time, getting some light kindling going, sitting and enjoying the air. The whole experience really gets a new dimension when, instead of it being pleasantly cool out, you build the fire while the air is sucking all the warmth out of you like a damn vampire. Main thing here is that you want the fire to get going hot as quick as possible so you can put on bigger logs to generate actual heat and help you keep all your digits. Make sure you bring an axe with you to cut kindling to start the fire, and a bottle of lighter fluid is a necessity in the winter. We used the axe we brought to cut two small pine boards into kindling (pine is a soft wood that’s easy to cut and burns very hot, so it’s ideal for kindling), poured some lighter fluid on it, and we were burning the bigger logs we brought within minutes.

After the fire is lit, you’re golden. After the first of the bigger logs in the fire was going, we started roasting marshmallows and preparing meat to cook over the fire (what you bring to cook on the fire is up to you, but we decided to go all-out on this one. We brought a package of bacon two sirloin steaks, two ribeye steaks, a stuffed beef/feta cheese/spinach pinwheel, and a bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin). I would advise bringing paper towels, food made over or on the fire tends to be pretty messy. Most fire pits at campsites have a grate that you can put over them. We brought a pan to put on the grate to cook the meat in, cooking food directly on the grate can lead to having who-knows-what kind of gunk that was already on the grate getting into the food, and cooking anything directly in the fire is a risky proposition.

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After our carnivorous feast, we made a few more s’mores and called it a night. When camping in the winter, make sure to bring a ton of blankets, or you’ll spend the whole night awake, huddled in a ball in a vain attempt to keep your feet warm. Also, air mattresses are a good idea, as the ground is frozen and hard in the winter.

We woke up the next morning around 8 and started to make breakfast. If you plan to only bring one pan, make sure you wash it between uses, unless you want to cook your pancakes in gross old meat grease. Most campsites have water spigots, but it’s a good idea to bring your own just in case. Likewise, the water you bring will probably taste a lot less metallic.

After breakfast, we packed everything back into the car, cleaned up the site (don’t be a dink, clean up your trash. Dropping a wrapper in the hall is one thing, but littering out in nature really isn’t cool), and went on our way. Hopefully you’ve gleaned some useful information should you decide to follow in our footsteps and discover the joys of winter camping.