Lessons Learned from This Year’s Cold-Weather Camping Trip

For the third year in a row now, my husband and our older son went to Winter Rendezvous, a cold-weather camping event at Maumee Scout Reservation.  The event targets Boy Scouts, but they do allow Cub Scouts to attend.  They don’t generally expect them to stay and camp for the weekend, however.  My guys (and some other odd eggs from our Pack) look forward to this particular campout though, and as always, they had a great time!

We’ve been camping with the Cub Scouts since 2011, but with every new campout, we always learn at least one new lesson.  This particular campout was no different.  And even though I didn’t join my guys, I learned some things too as I helped them prepare.

Here at the Wittekind homestead, preparations for any campout start almost a week ahead of the departure date.  This trip was no different.  We had a few food items that we needed to purchase, we had a planning meeting with the other family that was going, and we wanted to experiment with some new gear that needed to be purchased.

New Gear

At some point in the near future, I’ll do some product reviews on all the new gear that was purchased before this camping trip.  For now though, I’ll just say that everything met (and in most cases far exceeded) our expectations.

For months now, we’d been meaning to try some rechargeable Li-ion batteries in our flashlights.  These batteries perform better in cold-weather conditions, so we thought they’d be perfect for cold-weather camping.

I’d done some research that seemed to indicate that some flashlights that took 3 AAA batteries (in a cartridge) MIGHT accept an 18650 Li-ion battery, so we bought 2 Refun 3.7v 18650 4000mah Protected Li-ion Rechargeable Batteries with Quick Smart Charger to experiment.  The batteries didn’t fit any of our myriad of flashlights, but that was OK.  See, Fred also wanted another toy — an UltraFire® Outdoor Waterproof 1600lm Cree Xm-l T6 LED Headlamp + 2 X Ultrafire 18650 Rechargeable Batteries + Direct Charger + Car Charger — and we knew our batteries would work with that.

We were so impressed by the headlamp that we ended up getting a second one. We also snagged a flashlight that took the 18650s — an Ultrafire 1000 Lumens Zoomable Cree Xm-l T6 LED 26650 18650 3x AAA Zoom Flashlight Torch Lamp — and now I’m wishing we had a lot more of these in our preps and camping gear.

Lastly, in the way of new gear anyway, Fred wanted to try these foam tiles that snap together like puzzle pieces. They’re meant for use on hard floors in garages or basements. You can put the eight tiles together in multiple configurations to cover over 33 square feet of floor space, and they’re supposed to help make it more comfortable when you have to stand for long periods. Fred wanted to use them on the tent floor, and he said that they worked the way he envisioned, although not having seen it myself, I can’t say whether I’d view them as being worth the cargo room. I’ll have to see for myself on our next camping trip.


Packing for any camping trip always seems to be an ordeal.  It’s a constant balancing act where needs, wants, and cargo room have to line up perfectly.  We always share resources with another family that loves camping as much as we do, and since there were only five folks camping instead of the usual eight, there was plenty of room for gear and firewood.

camping gear in the back of an SUVLast year, we had to fit two families and associated gear in our SUV.  This year though, it was MUCH different.  I packed well, our son is now big enough to sit in the front seat, and the majority of the kitchen items went in our friends’ truck.  I felt like we could almost waste space, but I wanted to try something new with the packing this year, so not only did the guys have plenty of room in our vehicle, my husband could actually use the rearview mirror.

close-up of plastic storage boxLast summer, through kindness and absolute luck, I was able to obtain a decent supply of sturdy containers.  When I got them, I was initially thinking that they’d help with organization in my home, but I also saw their utility in packing for camping trips.  It turned out that my idea of using them while camping worked out pretty well.  By using these stackable, regularly shaped boxes, we were able to make much better use of the space in our car, and the guys also found utility in their use inside the tent.  I’ve now dedicated at least three of these boxes to the storage and transport of camping items, and when we take our next family camping trip, I’m certain that I’ll “borrow” a few more from around the house.

We also made another awesome discovery, particularly during cold-weather camping trips.  In the past, I’ve packed all their clothing in one large duffel bag.  It barely fit their clothes, and last year, Fred couldn’t find one of the pairs of wool socks that I’d packed for our son because it was shoved in a pocket so it’d actually fit.  As a result, our son wore a pair of Fred’s socks which definitely made things interesting.

This year though, since the guys’ mess kit stuff was going in the neighbors’ kitchen box, I repurposed ours.  I snagged the plastic bottom from a reusable shopping bag to use as a divider, and put all of Fred’s clothes on one side and all of our son’s clothes on the other.  Then, I gave them a large trash bag to use for their dirty items, and that seemed to work out SO well.  They came home with clean clothes, they were able to find what they needed, and I was able to get laundry done in two loads because it was easy to tell what was clean and what was dirty.

This idea was a slight modification of last year’s summer camping strategy.  Then, everyone had their own backpack, and as we came up with dirty laundry, it all ended up in a Space Bag.  Then, when we got home, I didn’t have any trouble figuring out what clothes were clean and what clothes were dirty.  Since camping in winter requires so much more clothing though, I thought the box would work pretty well for the guys, and it seemed to be quite useful.

At the Camp Site

This year was the first time that I had wool blankets to send with the guys.  I managed to get one at Goodwill last summer for all of $2 or $3, and I thought it’d be very useful as an underlayment in the tent.  We have cots to keep folks from sleeping on the cold ground, but there’s always so much moisture in the tent when you’re camping in the winter.  Between the wool blankets and the foam tiles that Fred got from Sam’s Club, moisture was much less of an issue this year.  In fact, the tent took very little time to dry compared to other years, and I think a big part of that had to do with the wool blankets and the foam tiles.

My husband and son also valued the utility of the boxes I’d used to pack while they were at the camp site.  They helped keep things organized and dry in the tent, they served as “tables”, and they even served as benches when my guys were getting dressed.  (If you’ve done much tent camping, you can appreciate the utility of not having to plop on the tent floor to change socks, shoes, and the like.)

On this particular trip, they also learned that my son was really good at playing dominoes — unintentionally.  As a result, several items ended up getting bathed in hot cocoa, and I’m guessing they would have benefitted from a simple basic to wash a dish or two.  Ironically enough, they would have had another use for said dish basin too.  The neighbors’ kitchen box fell onto the ground and came open, and a lot of dishes ended up getting covered in mud.  I intend to get a dish “sink” for our next family camping outing, and it’s stuff like this that shows how useful something like that can be.

Bringing it Home

By the time you get your camp site broken down and packed up, you don’t usually have a lot of energy to put things away once you’re home.  Because we put some thought into packing though, things were about as stress-free as they could be when it came to dealing with the aftermath of a winter camping trip.  In fact, almost everything was in its original place last night.  I’m just waiting to get stuff for my kitchen box back from the neighbors so I can put it where it belongs.

The winter trips are harder on Fred because even though there are fewer people, I’m not there to help with the “domestic” duties of camping.  Boxes, Space Bags, and thoughtful planning really helped everything go smoothly though, and rest assured we’ll be using (and improving) these strategies on our next campout.  I’m ALMOST optimistic about our ability to fit gear for five folks in our vehicle without feeling like we were being stuffed in like sardines.  And when that trip happens, there’ll be a blog post for that trip too!

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