Hello, Adventurers! Welcome to the Coastal Expeditions blog! If you love outdoor activities such as hiking, paddling, exploring nature, and learning about wildlife, you’ve come to the right place! Here on the Coastal Expeditions blog, we dive deep into different habitats, excursions, conservation efforts and nature programs. To our return readers, thank you for your support! We commend you for being committed to learning. Our site is filled with interactive maps, destination guides, and educational resources. Speaking of educational resources, The Outdoor School consists of afterschool programs, weekly camps, school field trips, and more! We offer hands-on workshops taught by highly-trained guides on wilderness skills, birding, identifying native plants, sustainability, kayaking, and camping. Basically anything you want to learn about, we teach! If you haven’t already, we encourage you to take a look around our site to learn more about our offerings. If you are an educator interested in planning a fun trip for the students at your school, do not hesitate to reach out to us!
The Francis Marion National Forest is a sprawling treasure, home to several hundreds of species and a host of South Carolina history. In our last article, we scratched the surface of this forest’s hidden depths by taking you along for a brief journey into the role Francis Marion played in the Revolutionary War. We also delved into the hallmarks of a subtropical coniferous forest, detailing the cypress-tupelo swamps, carnivorous plants, and wild orchids liable to be found within. The Francis Marion National Forest is also home to several endangered bird species and we would be remiss if we failed to mention them, including swallow-tailed kites and red-cockaded woodpeckers. Finally, we explained what you can expect when you join Coastal Expeditions for our Francis Marion National Forest Paddle! Led by our expert guides, the paddle takes you across the tannic waters of the creek to three select locations. Our tour was even recently featured in the National Forests Foundation’s blog, along with a recap of Darley Newman’s kayaking adventure. If you want to learn more about the Francis Marion National Forest or our tour, be sure to check out our latest article (after you’re done reading this one)!
Last fall, we took the time to detail the difference between beach and forest camping. Even avid forest campers aren’t necessarily equipped to deal with the unique challenges a beach presents. That’s why we made our Beach & Forest Camping resource guide. Camping is a wonderful way to decompress, reconnect with nature, and have fun! That said, it’s important to be prepared and prioritize safety when camping. As temperatures fall and the Lowcountry settles into winter, we thought we’d create another camping resource guide specifically for this time of year. In this article, we’ll give you an overview of how winter camping differs from camping at other times of the year, then delve into what you should pack. By the end of this article, you’ll be ready to plan your next camping adventure! What are you waiting for? Let’s dive in!
“Why would anyone camp during the winter?” It’s a valid question. Most of us have an aversion to feeling cold. We think of wintertime as the season for hot soups, warm blankets, and lots of time spent indoors. But, what most people don’t know is: we need to spend time outdoors especially during winter. According to a study performed by the University of Boulder in Colorado, spending a weekend camping during winter was enough to reset the circadian rhythm of participants. When they returned home, they produced melatonin 2.6 hours earlier than before their trip. This meant participants were able to enjoy a circadian rhythm much more in-line with nature (i.e. sunrise, sunset). Further, exercise and exposure to natural light (both of which occur when camping) are known to combat the effects of seasonal depressive disorder (SAD). Finally, there aren’t as many bugs during the wintertime, and that’s more than enough for most people to consider giving winter camping a try.
That said, during winter, temperatures can drop below freezing each night. When temperatures are this low, they present a real risk for human beings. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), most of us aren’t born with a thick coat of fur. We keep warm by donning multiple layers and using heat sources. What we choose to wear and heat ourselves with can make a huge difference when we’re out in the wilderness. For example, when choosing a sleeping bag, an ordinary synthetic bag stuffed with hollow fiber (which is made of polyester) won’t suffice. These sleeping bags are fine for summer nights, when the temperature doesn’t drop below fifty degrees, but for winter they’re a no-go. Instead, you’ll probably want a sleeping bag with substantial fill power. These sleeping bags are stuffed with down, The higher the fill power, the greeting the insulating efficiency. These sleeping bags will run you one or two hundred dollars more than your average synthetic one, but when you’re exposed to freezing temperatures, you’ll no doubt find the expense was worth it.
You’ll also want to invest in a sleeping pad filled with closed-cell foam. Closed-cell foam, unlike open cell foam, is dense. Given its cells are pressed tightly together, this type of foam offers insulation against both cold air and liquids. This means, even if your tent is stationed on snow, you’ll stay dry and warm all night long. This is essential, as conduction (the transfer of heat from your body into the cold ground) is one of the means by which hypothermia can occur. Another way to judge sleeping pads is by their R-value rating. The r-value rating is how good (or bad) a sleeping pad is at preventing the conductive flow of heat. These ratings range from 2 to 5.5 or above, with the higher numbers representing more heavily insulated sleeping pads.
Speaking of tents, how do you know if your tent is equipped to deal with winter weather? Well, most tents come labeled as “three season” or “four season.” Four season tents are equipped to deal with whatever winter throws at them, but you’ll still want to take a few precautions, nevertheless. These precautions include: using grooved, wind-resistant stakes, packing a tent brush for errant snow, and packing down any existing snow before setting up your tent. You should definitely set up your tent at home, just to practice, as cold weather can make an initial tent set-up seem more challenging than it truly is. Try not to use flat-topped tents if it’ll be snowing, as the snow can collect during the night and apply pressure on the poles.
It’s important to always check the weather conditions before camping, no matter the season. Even if you feel adequately prepared to camp in below-freezing conditions and snow, you should still have a plan should conditions become untenable. For example, contact the closest ranger station before your trip to let them know where you’ll be making camp. Make a point to say when you plan to return, as well. In addition to weather, you should check for any wildlife advisories in the area you plan to camp. Bears, bobcats, wildcats, and coyotes are still active during the wintertime. (Yes, even bears. In fact, bears do not undergo hibernation. Instead, they undergo torpor, a shallow sort of hibernation, from which the bear can awake quite suddenly in the presence of danger.) To ensure your campsite is safe from hungry wildlife, keep food and drinks stowed away in scent-safe containers. Most campsites located near bears will have bear-proof dumpsters where you can dispose of food waste. If you use a stove to cook, burn off any food residue. Wash your dishes immediately after use. Further, stay alert when hiking. You might want to bring bear spray or a weapon, as well.
To stay warm, it’s important to keep dry. Evaporation of sweat is the number one cause of lost body heat. Therefore, if you’ve hiked all day and return to your campsite with sweat-soaked socks, it’s important to change these immediately. Tight-fitting clothes are actually not preferable in colder temperatures, as they can restrict blood flow to extremities. Synthetic fabrics and wool are the best for clothing, as they dry quickly and do not hold water (unlike cotton). Keep your extremities warm by wearing knit caps, thick socks, gloves, or mittens. While it is important to keep warm, try not to overheat, as you’ll sweat. Then, as your sweat evaporates, you’ll cool. (This can also occur when there’s too much condensation in your tent, in which case you should ventilate your tent with a small opening.)
If you do not prevent your body from losing heat, however, you may leave yourself vulnerable to winter injuries such as frostbite or hypothermia. If you follow the tips outlined above, you should be safe from frostbite. However, the signs of frostbite ate cold skin, prickling sensation, numbness, the skin changing color (going white, red, blue, gray, purple, or another unusual color), waxy-looking skin, muscle stiffness, and blistering (after the extremity has been warmed again). If you believe you’ve experienced mild frostbite, you should remove the affected area from cold exposure immediately. If your skin starts to feel warm before removing the affected area from cold exposure, this is superficial frostbite. A day or two after rewarming, you might find the skin has blistered. Deep, severe frostbite affects the underlying tissue of the area and is characterized by a loss of all sensation. Large blisters may form in the days afterward. If the tissue loses blood flow for too long, it’ll harden and turn black. This means the tissue has died. You’ll need to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Hypothermia occurs when the body’s temperature falls below ninety-five degrees. It is characterized by uncontrollable shivering, shallow breathing, drowsiness, a weak pulse, confusion, and clumsiness. It can be hard for individuals to realize they are experiencing hypothermia, as the effects usually happen slowly, over time. The best course of action is to avoid circumstances which might lead to hypothermia and practice the winter safety tips we’ve mentioned above.
There are few things more satisfying than a night spent beneath the stars, surrounded by the quietude of a winter forest. Every camping trip is a new adventure and every adventurer ought to be prepared! We hope you’ll take advantage of this camping resource and start planning your next camping trip! If a guided winter tour sounds more your speed, check out our offerings on our website to find the adventure which suits your spirit best! Our tours are led by knowledgeable, approachable naturalists and sea captains who are eager to answer your questions! Until next time, readers. Get out there and explore! Adventure awaits!
Offering Kayaks and Paddleboards
Take in the stunning beauty of local creeks and waters from one of our kayaks or SUPs. Walk-ups are welcome or call / text to book and we’ll be ready when you are. All gear and instruction provided.
Call or text 843.884.7684 to book.
If you really want to get a feel for the local history, identify the native wildlife, and get to special places, you'll need someone experienced to show you the way. We'll get you there.
Check out our Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant tours.
Offering Kayaks and Paddleboards
Call or text 843.884.7684 to book.
Check out our Isle of Palms tours.