Yes we did it. With three kids in tow. “I could never!” Is what one of our friends said to us when we got back. When you think “winter camping” you may think that we pulled out our camper went out for a weekend. NOPE! We decided to tackle this adventure in a homebuilt 8 x 12 ice shack.
Those that know us know we love the outdoors. In the summer you can usually find us camping. When days off come we hit the road with our camper and spend the week hiking, fishing, boating, kneeboarding, kayaking, and just about anything else you can find to do outside.
So when fall rolls around and it’s time to put away the camper for the season, needless to say it is a pretty sad day. I mean yes we have all of our outdoor winter activities that we do, but we still miss the days spent away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
A few years ago Troy built an ice shack. Ever since he’s been talking about camping out in it. This thing is a tiny 8 x 12 structure. Only insulated by some bubble wrap and tarp and heated with a tiny wood stove. After spending a few nights in it on his own without the family, he discovered there were some obvious improvements needed to it if he planned to take his wife (who thoroughly enjoys being warm) and three kids with him to camp out on the ice with it.
Obviously there are some pretty big considerations to take into account when your planning on winter camping. Some of the biggest issues we faced were heat, sleeping arrangements for five, (remember 8×12), food preparations, power supply, and entertainment for the kids, because let’s face it, fishing is just not enough entertainment for the kids!
The first issue we tackled were the sleeping arrangements. Troy built the kids some basic bunk beds (that can be removed easily everyday for more space) and we used the mattresses out of our camper for them. Two of the kids had to sleep in the same bunk, and this plan actually worked out pretty great. They were comfy and warm. (We actually had complaints for being too hot!) For our bed we decided our easiest option was an air mattress on the floor. This turned out to be a not so great idea. What’s one thing we know? Heat rises folks! The floor was cold. Very, very cold. And because it was so cold, our air mattress deflated at a rapid level and left us sleeping on the floor. Lessons learned. We need to build a structure to keep our bed up off the floor. Even a foot up would have made a world of difference in our comfort level. We also need a small fan to circulate air from the roof down. More on this in the next section.
Heat! Absolutely unequivocally a top priority. No one wants cold whiny kids (or a cold whiny wife which undoubtedly would have been me had I gotten too cold). So we knew without a doubt we needed to upgrade the tiny little wood stove that was currently in the ice shack. Troy (being the ultimate handyman he is) fabricated a new wood stove from an upcycled 20lb propane tank. The results are pretty epic. It worked amazingly well. It kept the shack toasty warm, cooked all our food and dried out boots and mitts! We brought along a fan that we used on our wood stove at home, it would help circulate some of the heat. It worked well, however as previously mentioned we need to figure out a quiet fan to hang from the roof to push some of that heat back down. If using a wood stove for your winter camping experience bring ample amounts of wood along. Too much is a million times better than running out. We used a mix of fast burning wood and slow, hot burning birch.
Food was pretty basic really. We made a meal plan, pre prepped a few things and brought some extra snacks. We did bring a camp stove with thoughts that we would use it to cook, however everything we made, we were able to cook on the fireplace. Our cooler sat outside, this is something that may have to change as we did run into some things freezing. So in the future we may need to figure out a space for the cooler in the shack itself.
For power Troy hooked up two batteries to our solar panel. This provided a trickle charge to them, and we were able to power the LED lights in the shack, the fish finder, and charge Ipads and cell phones. This system works extremely well for us. We use it in our camper during the summer as well when we are camping without power.
I feel it’s also important to note that we built in storage. Lots and lots of storage! We added shelving for food and games and whatever else may land there, each of our helmets has a hook to hang on the wall, troy installed a fillet table that folds down (this also doubles as a counter space when needed). We installed a bunch of coat racks on the back wall by the door to hang jackets and ski pants (these also double as some extra insulation at night.) With three kids in tow there is ALWAYS ample amounts of crap laying around, so we absolutely needed to have places to put things!
Entertainment for the kids. For us, we must keep our kids occupied with something, otherwise things can hit the fan pretty quickly. Of course we decided the perfect camp out weekend would be during an extreme cold warning. Overnight temps dipped to -40 with the windchill. For those that don’t know this means that frostbite can occur to exposed skin in as little as 6 minutes. Yes, we brought their Ipads along so they could watch some movies. There is no way we could just kick them out to play outside. This would have of course been the ideal situation. Go outside and play, head out snowmobiling for the day (which was our original plan). That didn’t work out so well. So they watched some movies, and fished a bit. We brought some games along as well (checkers, a deck of cards, and Uno). This kept them entertained and generally well behaved. Very surprising for being in an 8×12 box for two days! They didn’t even fight all that much. To me this is a great success!!
All in all, even with the cold we had a fantastic time. We didn’t have any horrible mishaps, and everything went pretty smoothly. Would I do it again? Yes, I would. I would hope to resolve our sleeping issues if using the ice shack again to camp out in. This experience was one for the books. It has me thinking about maybe not putting the camper away for the winters. Why can’t we use it year round really? If we can figure out a way to keep it warm without power. Which really shouldn’t be too difficult, I would definitely head out winter camping with it, especially on the warmer weekends.
Do you head out winter camping? We would love to hear everyone’s tips and tricks, that you have found to make it successful! Leave a comment or shoot us an email! Got questions for us? Let us know!