The Happy Camper: Winter Camping Etiquette


The popularity in winter camping, especially hot tenting, has skyrocketed this season. So much so that Ontario Provincial Parks have opened up more front country campsites. They’re excited that so many new campers are wanting to experience the joy of winter. But they’re also a little concerned over the lack of proper camp etiquette happening throughout the parks. So, they asked me to help them educate others on how to do things proper at your front country site. I jumped at the chance to give them a hand spreading the word.

Here are the best practices for proper winter camping etiquette.

The first bit of etiquette has to do with what you use for the floor of your hot tent. Hot tents don’t come with a floor, so you have to create one. The traditional style is to line the tent floor with conifer boughs, usually balsam. That process is illegal in provincial parks, both in the front country and backcountry. In that case, you’ll have to pack a tarp. Try to find a non-slip type. The regular poly tarps you get at the hardware store are the worst choice. They’re slippery and you’ll be head-over-heels in no time. Painters’ cloth also works floor. I’ve also used those two-feet by two-feet rubber mat puzzle pieces from the hardware store, the kind you can put down in a kids’ playroom. They are very light and inexpensive.

Don’t cut green trees, or even dead ones, to use as tent stakes or to make a stove pipe tripod. Metal stakes will do fine and metal poles or even a couple of hockey sticks makes a good homemade tripod to hold your stove pipe up.

Forget the idea of bringing your own firewood from home. You must purchase it from the park itself or buy it locally. Moving firewood around the province is a common way to introduce invasive species to the forest—including the emerald ash borer. The species has no natural controls in Ontario—that means there’s very little that can be done to stop them once they get into a park.

Dish water/grey water should be dumped down the outhouse hole. Don’t toss it into the snow at your site. It messes up the site for the next user. And while you’re at it, make good use of a pee bottle in the tent at night and toss the contents down the outhouse hole as well. There’s nothing worse than seeing a bunch of pee spots in the snow circling your site.

When you’re packing up, dump the stoves ashes in the fire pit. You’d think this is common sense, but you’d be surprised how many hot tent campers toss their left-over burning ashes directly on their abandoned tent spot. Imagine what that would look like come springtime.

The last piece of winter camping etiquette in the front country is a simple one, but the biggest pet peeve many hardened campers have with uneducated first timers: leave no trace. That means take out your garbage and food scraps with you. Leave nothing behind. And yes, you’d be surprised how many campers now just think that the park staff will clean up after them, just as a cleaner would at a motel room.

Make sure to check out the KC Happy Camper Winter Camping Etiquette video I put together while I was winter hot tenting at Killarney Provincial Park a couple of weeks ago.


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