Winter Camping : Navigating the Weekend

The photo shows Ruth smiling in a black jacket, dark grey knit hat, and sunglasses carrying a brown backpack filled with camping gear through a wooded area. The trees are devoid of leaves.

#7 & #8 of my 2022 52 Hike Challenge

Trail/Park: Afton State Park, Hastings, MN

This hike took place on the traditional territory of the Wahpekute and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ. I respect the histories, languages and cultures of these peoples, whose presence continues to enrich our vibrant and changing communities. To learn more about the tribes and these lands, please follow the links provided.

Trash Collected: 1.5 pounds


The foreground of the photo is filled with golden colored, dry grasses. Above a blue sky with wispy clouds fills the top of the photo.

Just when I thought winter might be over, I was falsely lured by Minnesota’s first feeble attempt at first spring. After several spring-like days as I drove to Afton State Park the weather was set to be windy and cold. The possibility of a light snow or at least a bit of rain hung in the air. But more challenging than the precipitation would be the wind. Gusting up to 40 mph it would make the evening chilly for sure. On my way into Afton State Park, I was treated to two deer lingering on the entrance road before bolting into the woods as I approached.

The parking lot was empty save for two cars, one I knew would be a friend joining me for the night. I drew my loaded pack from the backseat of the car. The three-quarter mile hike from the car to the campground would take me quickly down an approximate 280’+ elevation loss across a relatively flat stretch and then back up another 300’+ of elevation gain. With my largest backpack laden with my winter gear, I knew I was carrying about 35 pounds. Thankfully the trail was free of snow and ice though I was reminded how I’m not in the shape I’d like to be.

Getting to the campground my friend was waiting and we got to work setting up camp. We selected where we’d put our tents. I decided I’d go for more wood before setting up my tent so we could have a fire as the sun set. The wind was howling through the trees. The site I’d selected is in a sheltered, wooded area. The wood pile sits in the middle of a wide open area of prairie restoration. I made quick work of cutting a pile of wood, stacking as much as I possibly could across my arms and heading back the 0.2 of a mile to the campsite.

We made a fire and cooked our dinners already shivering as the wind continued to blast around us. It wasn’t long before we’d both had enough and knew it was time to retreat to our sleeping bags. I buried the pile of ashes (known as “banking”), hoping to be able to uncover them for a fire in the morning to make coffee. Settled into my sleeping bag, I listened to the waves of wind come through the trees and eventually fell asleep.

As my alarm told me it was time to get up and get moving I listened again to the wind which seemed to have lost some of it’s intensity. The morning would include my attending a Backcountry Navigation course offered by REI and held at the park. But first there would need to be coffee. Unfortunately the wind had pulled the last heat from the coals I’d tried to save from the night before so I was left to start a fire from scratch. As the wood caught fire, I organized my gear for class. With the fire ready, I heated some water and grabbed a breakfast bar. The wind had picked up again so I was grateful for the heat of the coffee. By the time I was done with class my camping buddy would be packed up and headed home. On my way from the campsite to the visitor center for class I collected trash from the trail, eventually weighing in at a half pound. I emptied the bag in the park dumpster and headed to class.

The class met inside the visitor center where we reviewed the elements of maps, discussed the elements of a compass and more. Our instructor was knowledgeable, engaging and clear in their directions. There were parts of the information presented I was familiar with, but I also learned new things as well. When we’d covered the elements necessary for us to use in the field, we went outside to practice the new skills we’d discussed. The instructor handed out maps as I learned the park is one of two in the area which has an orienteering course with control points throughout the park. I learned more than I had at any other course of this kind and had fun navigating the course.

Leaving class recharged mentally I hiked slowly back to camp, taking in all the details along the trail I’d now covered several times. This pass up to the campground I noticed what would have been an underground bee nest, now exposed where the trail had been widened. Further up the trail I stopped as I noticed various trail signs at the new overlooks along the way. Back at camp, I dropped all the contents of my backpack into my tent. Hiking back up to the woodpile with my empty pack, I cut more wood and carefully loaded it into my pack. With the load easily distributed by my pack, the hike back was so much easier than the night before. I gave my self credit for realizing a solution to a challenge I’d not considered before and would be sure to use again.

The image shows Ruth's bright green tent sitting in the tent pad which is bordered by a wood frame set into the ground. The campfire ring is in the foreground with a wisp of grey smoke rising from inside. The trees surrounding the image are bare of trees. It's early in the day with a blue sky seen between the trees.

I lit a new fire, keeping it small enough to heat water for a meal and relaxed next to the warmth. An hour later I was hungry again so I heated more water and made more to eat. I enjoyed the sun and the fact the wind had lessened intensity. I spent the rest of the late afternoon and evening simply enjoying the waining day. At sunset I boiled water and filled my water bottles, tucking them into my sleeping bag to warm it up before I climbed in for the night. It’s a winter camping trick which can make all the difference in your ability to get warm. Hunkered down into my sleeping bag just after dark, I was again grateful for the day and the chance to learn as well as camp.

The sun rose to a very cold morning with much less wind. I had nowhere to be so I reveled in the quiet and warmth of my sleeping bag listening to the park come to life. Only when I heard voices on the trail nearby did I finally get up. I started a small fire in preparation of my breakfast. I’d brought along fresh ingredients to cook breakfast burritos, though I wasn’t sure if the eggs would be frozen. While I waited for coals to be ready, I started packing up my gear, re-organizing things a bit to better distribute the weight in my pack.

Thankfully the ingredients for my burritos weren’t frozen. Enjoying the morning sun with a warm breakfast and hot cup of coffee is the best. I cleaned up my dishes, packed the last of my trash in with what I’d found at the site (unfortunately there was quite a bit). Taking one last pass around the site making sure the fire was out and I’d not left anything behind, I made my way up the hill toward the main trail wishing I could stay for another day. I took my time on the hike back to my car. The park was starting to bustle with people taking in the beautiful late morning. I dumped the trash and was already considering when I could return to camp and hike in this beautiful park.

Next Post Preview: I’ve been getting back to hiking each weekend and I’m loving it. Check back for highlights of my latest hikes or visit the archives to explore my past adventures.


GEAR: Granite Gear Blaze 60L backpack, Vasque Ultra Dry Waterproof Hiking Boot, Mountain Hardware Stretchdown™ Light Jacket, Mountain Hardware Stretchdown™ Pant, Icebreaker Women’s Merino 200 Oasis Long Sleeve Crewe Thermal Top, Icebreaker Merino 200 Oasis Thermal Leggings, REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Jacket, REI Co-op Magma 850 Down Hoodie, REI Co-op Rainier Full Zip Rain Pant, SPOT GEN3 Satellite GPS Messenger, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, Leki Women’s Micro Vario Cor-Tec TA trekking poles, Nemo Dragonfly Ultralight Backpacking Tent, Nemo Sonic™ 0 Down Sleeping Bag, EXPED Ultra 7R Sleeping Mat, Thermarest Z Lite™ Sleeping Pad, Thermarest Z Seat™, MSR Pocket Rocket Stove, TOAKS LIGHT Titanium 650ml Pot, GSI Pinnacle Dualist Cookset, MSR® IsoPro™ Fuel.

Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets or check out my posts titled “Gear in Review”.

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Photo of a group of hikers on a sunny day in a field heading towards a wooded area. The photographer has taken the photo from behind the group.

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