Winter in the Outdoors
What should you pack for a winter trip?
Staying warm is the most important thing in the winter. A good starting point is to dress in layers with loose clothing. Your fingers, toes and head are most susceptible to the cold, so remember to protect them well with warm clothing. Good footwear helps you stay comfortable on your winter adventures regardless of whether you’re walking, skiing or snowshoeing. An overnight stay outdoors in winter is pleasant and safe when your sleeping bag, sleeping pad and shelter - such as a tent or hammock – are designed for winter use. The packing list on the nationalparks.fi website is helpful when preparing for your camping trip.
If you’re planning to go outdoors in the winter, take these safety concerns into consideration.
- It’s important to pack a paper map and compass and know how to use them. Smart phone batteries don’t last long in the cold and phone reception is not guaranteed in all areas.
- You should also check the ice situation, especially when your route crosses sea or lake ice. Even on small lakes, the ice can be treacherous – especially early in the winter.
- The winter sun provides a lot less light than in the summer. During December, the sun sets in the early afternoon in southern Finland, while in Lapland the polar night keeps the days dusky for weeks. However, a lack of light is no reason to stay home. You can do your trip during the hours that get the most sunlight, and a good headlamp helps you to see the terrain and map.
- Finding your way is more difficult in winter since the terrain may be harder to see under the snow. For example, you might think that a lake is a field and vice versa.
- Please note that some sections of the road leading to our destinations are not accessible in the winter or do not have winter maintenance. It is a good idea to pack a shovel and a small bag of gravel in the car in case you encounter heavy snow cover and icy hills, as the snow ploughs do not always manage to plough snow in schedule.
What are the best destinations for a winter trip?
Finland’s national parks, hiking areas and other protected areas managed by Metsähallitus are great winter destinations. You can find them easily using the destination search on the Nationalparks.fi website. Some of the national parks provide unique winter sights, such as ice falls, crown snow and untouched snow. It’s also worth a visit just to see the nature and landscape during the winter. For example, the labyrinth of islands in Saimaa looks very different from a tour skating trail than it does in the summer.
Many summer trails are also suitable for winter use with snowshoes or even good winter footwear if there’s not too much snow cover. When there’s a lot of snow, you can put on a pair of sliding snowshoes equipped with climbing skins. Sliding across the snow is easy with snowshoes or sliding snowshoes, and they allow you to go places that are impassable in the summer due to the terrain or wet ground. You can ask about renting snowshoes, sliding snowshoes and other equipment from the national park’s partner entrepreneurs. Their contact information is listed on the website of each national park.
Some national parks have separately marked winter trails. They are perfect for hiking or snowshoeing – or even riding a fatbike. You can also take your dog as long as you keep it on a leash. Skiing tracks, on the other hand, are only meant for skiers. When planning a winter trip, familiarise yourself with the destination using the map and trail descriptions that are available on each national park’s website.
The maps also show the lean-to shelters, huts and other campfire sites where you can enjoy the highlight of any winter trip: snacks in front of a warm fire. Metsähallitus’ maintained campsites usually have a campfire site with firewood, a picnic table and a dry toilet. They are open for everyone all year round. Please note that you have to bring your own toilet paper and necessities for making a fire, and you should also be prepared to chop the firewood.
Camping outdoors in the winter requires good planning and equipment. Think about your packing list carefully and consider how many warm spare and changes of clothes you need.
Pack your equipment either in a backpack or a sledge.
- A backpack is usually only a good idea if you want to stay in wilderness huts.
- If you are staying overnight in a tent, the amount of gear you need is more than you can fit in a backpack, and in either case, carrying it would be extremely heavy. It is best to use a sledge and maybe a small daypack.
On a winter trip, you usually stay in a hut or tent.
- When planning overnight stays at huts, find out if the huts can be heated in any way. It is also worth packing a portable fire alarm to stay safe. You should check if there will be firewood available so that you can be sure to have access to enough dry wood.
- Double-layer dome or tunnel tents are suitable for winter camping. If you stay overnight in a tent like this, make sure your sleeping bag is warm enough.
- Make sure that your sleeping mat has sufficient insulation as the snow-covered terrain radiates cold. Usually you need to place two closed-cell sleeping mats on top of each other. You can also take an air or down-filled sleeping pad that is designed for winter hiking.
- Your sleeping bag doesn’t necessarily need to be that thick even in the winter if you have a tent with a wood stove. This type of tent is a good option for a larger group. If you’re staying in a tent with a stove, make sure you have access to firewood, otherwise you will have a cold night. Setting up a tent with a stove takes some skill. Make sure to also set up watches to keep an eye on the fire throughout the night.
- Sufficient thermal insulation is necessary if you camp in a hammock. A sleeping pad with good insulation and a warm winter sleeping bag protect against freezing temperatures and cold winds. You can also use winter lean-to canopies to protect yourself from snowstorms and wind.
How to enjoy the outdoors in the winter
- Skiing is a good choice for people who like speed and enjoy seeing the landscape change quickly.
- Snowshoeing is suitable for people who want to move at a slower pace.
- Stargazing is fun and easy on Finland’s dark winter nights. You might even see the northern lights at the same time!