As a homesteader who came from the city with zero skills, I fail at homesteading every day. But I’m always trying to learn more and advance. With the craziness of 2020 (plus five females under my roof) and a yearning for adventure, I decided it was time to get out of the house to see if I could survive a cold winter night in January sleeping on the snowy floor of our pine forest — without a tent. I also created a video documenting this adventure below.
I purchased a zero-degree sleeping bag and started my planning and preparing. Most normal people camp in the summertime, but we just have too many homestead chores and animals to care for that we don’t have enough time in summer for much.
Winter is usually fairly busy on our homestead keeping our outdoor wood burner stoked, but for the first time in five years, we decided to skip a year and use only our indoor woodstove with the goal of finally getting caught up on our firewood stockpiles while also allowing enough time for it to all dry out properly. In short, I have more time for an adventure like this in winter.
Planning a Mid-Winter Solo Camping Trip
After some planning, I picked a day and gathered my gear into a sled, which included a tarp, rope, cold-weather sleeping bag, sleeping bag mat, some food, water and a cookstove. I headed deep into our snowy pine forest and found the perfect spot featuring a bit of a clearing in the pines so that I could see and photograph the stars above.
I set up a rope across two trees and made a lean-to style covering with my tarp to protect my back from the wind. I made a fire and cooked some chili. It was so quiet and peaceful. I set up my sleeping area and went to sleep. A few hours later, I woke up to the sound of a pack of coyotes yelping (and I caught it all on video!). I fell back asleep and made it all night comfortably and fairly warm. In short, I survived the entire night easily and I really enjoyed myself.
Homestead Lessons from Winter Survival Camping
Here is what winter camping taught me about homesteading.
Winter camping is very much a microcosm of homesteading. On a much smaller scale, camping is about being self-sufficient. I had to cook my own food, collect firewood and heat myself and without the modern conveniences of everyday life I was 100% responsible for myself, my well-being, shelter and my safety. In a similar way, this is why I wanted to be a homesteader — to be self-sufficient and in control.
Like homesteading, winter camping is all about preparation. You have to plan and prepare your gear and consider food, fire, sleeping, weather and water. It’s a game of planning, much like homesteading. If you forget something or fail to prepare when winter camping, you could be in a lot of trouble. In many ways, it's a great small-scale exercise in prepping for a homestead and realizing the importance of being organized and prepared.
Both require skill for heating with firewood. Camping is similar but much harder, because I was outdoors, and collecting firewood and kindling is harder outside in the wet snow and elements. In my house if my fire fails I am still fairly warm and I have backup options. In my winter camp if my fire fails I am going to get dangerously cold, fast. Camping helps hone fire-making skills which I use often on my homestead.
Camping highlights the importance of making do. Using the resources at hand is a big part of camping and homesteading. I consider myself the MacGyver of homestead hacking, gathering materials on-hand to get the job done. In many ways, camping is like this, too. You make do with what you have and are forced to be resourceful and creative to make it all work.
Camping forced me to disconnect. Disconnecting is great and one of the reasons we worked our entire lives to purchase our homestead. Five years ago when we moved to our homestead, we loved the quiet and peacefulness of our 20 acres. We still do love it, but we take it for granted and slowly technology creeped back in. We have smartphones buzzing and appliances kicking on and off and all sorts of noise. My favorite part of winter camping was being able to disconnect 100 percent. No buzzing or clicking, no screens and just quiet solitude while staring at a crackling fire. The quiet was amazing, and I felt a real connection with nature while camping. I plan to make a purposeful activity of disconnecting on our homestead more often.
Video: No-Tent Solo Winter Camping in Wisconsin
In short, winter camping holds many lessons for homesteading and being self-sufficient. I loved it and plan to do it much more. One big takeaway I want to share with people is this: just do the opposite of what you think every now and then. This practice has always been a worthwhile activity for me.
Most people would think, “why would I want to sleep on the ground in a forest in winter time when I could sleep in my warm bed watching Netflix?” But I have found in life that sometimes doing the opposite of what you think you want is rewarding and revealing and worthwhile. Years from now, I will remember my winter camping adventures while at the same time, I am certain that years from now, I won’t remember what I watched on Netflix one winter night.
Kerry W. Mann, Jr. moved to a 20-acre homestead in 2015, where he and his family use modern technology, including YouTube and Instructables.com, to learn new skills and teach homestead projects. Connect with Kerry on his Homestead How YouTube page, Instructables, Pinterest, Facebook, and at My Evergreen Homestead. Read all of Kerry’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here
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