Most of you already know all of this, but I thought I would mention a few things for those who are new to winter camping, and also share some pictures with you from this past weekend. After all, don't forget to actually enjoy nature while practicing your skills.
1. Not all winter camping conditions are the same. Just because there is snow on the ground, does not mean that you have the same type of winter camping conditions. Temperatures that are much below freezing, will create different challenges from temperatures that are just below freezing.
2. The colder it gets, the more brittle metal becomes. Knives, saws and axes loose a lot of flexibility, making the braking and chipping of blades much more likely. Warm the blade in your hand before use. Avoid using the fire to warm the blade because if your hands are also cold, it would be hard to judge the amount of heat and you may damage the blade by overheating it. I also got a tip from a friend who camps at much lower temperatures than I do (-20F), and he suggests that you warm your tools by putting them inside your jacket. That way your hands don't freeze along with the tool. It sounds like a very good idea.
3. When you have temperatures that are much below freezing (in the teens, single digits, or below) water freezes immediately. Remove any moisture from your tools. If you leave it there for a few seconds, it will turn into ice and will be hard to take off.
4. Protect your water bottle. If exposed to the elements, it will freeze. Make sure it is not full all the way to the top. That way if ice forms (and expands), it will not crack the bottle. Keep it in your sleeping bag at night.
5. If the temperature is just below freezing, you will have to deal with a lot more moisture. Try to avoid the slush and snow. Treat is as you would a very wet, rainy day. If the temperature is much below zero, the environment will be surprisingly dry. Since water will immediately freeze, you will be rather dry, even if waist deep in snow. In such conditions however, be careful when transitioning between temperatures, such as getting close to your fire. Make sure you remove all snow from you before warming up.
6. In very low temperatures, even if you are warm, you can still loose sensitivity in your hands, if the skin is exposed. Keep that in mind when handling tools and objects. You may be causing damage that you cant feel at the moments.
7. As I’ve mentioned before, when melting snow in a pot over a fire, place some water on the bottom of the pot before putting in the snow. When using thin backpacking pots, the heat from the fire may be enough to sublimate the ice instead of melting it, causing you to scorch your pot.
8. When the sun sets, temperatures drop much faster in the woods than they do in the city. That is because there are no supplemental sources of heat (cars, lights, etc), and cities are paved in one form or another of stone, which absorbs a lot of heat during the day, making the nights warmer.
Clearly none of this is brain surgery. I was just reminded of some of these things this past weekend, because the temperatures dropped to the single digits, and created conditions that were a bit of a contrast to the last few weekends.