Warm winter nights
Out in the bush, in style

Karen McOuat
Northern News Services

NNSL (Nov 02/98) - When it's cold, die-hard campers don't let a little snow get in their way.

News/North asked some camping nuts to explain quality sleeping bags, one of the most important items for a night under the stars -- and under the snow and the northern lights.

Not all sleeping bags are created equal. Warmth depends not on the thickness of the bag, but on the fill material. Some kinds are specific, like cold weather, wind or water resistant. Gary Tait, manager of Overlander Sports in Yellowknife, says the most popular one now is the "mummy" bag. It includes a hood and is tapered at the bottom.

There is a women's style of sleeping bag, designed for the difference in female proportions. It is shorter, narrower at the shoulders, but contains more filling than the old-style sleeping bag. Overlander Sports carries women's bags, though not the cold weather variety.

Size does matter in this case. Tait, who is five feet eight inches, says he uses a men's large sleeping bag, which fits a person up to six feet five inches. "Then I can keep more stuff inside the bag with me."

Not more bodies, though, recommends David Mitchell. He owns the Inuvik Sports & Leisure centre, selling athletic and army surplus clothing, boots, camping equipment, and "outdoor wintery stuff."

"Some sleeping bags are pretty big, but not really for two people," says the six-foot six-inch Mitchell. "I wouldn't put anyone else in there with me, but maybe two short people could."

Tait says that the more room there is inside the bag, the worse it is, heat-wise.

"It's a fine line," explains Tait. "You don't want a bag that's too small, because then you're crushing the insulation. But if there's too much room, that's more space to be heated up."

Tait has been tenting at -45 C, proving it can be done.

"It was -10 degrees inside the tent," he recalls. "There was no heater. Just three of us in there, breathing."

More commonly, he says, people use canvas-walled tents for winter camping, complete with a wood-burning stove. Transporting this style of tent is no problem on a snowmobile -- but it makes life difficult for a hiker or skier.

If space is tight on the expedition, a B.C. company may have the answer. They advertise a parka that can double as a sleeping bag. An innocent-looking coat, but with a sleeping-bag extension, fixed with an adhesive mount and zipper.

Mitchell says that in the Delta, people just don't do the tent thing. He grants that tents are handy in that they are used for supply storage. Most people have cabins, or at least know someone who does.

"Everyone pretty much knows everyone here. They'll let you use their cabin; you just have to be respectful. You get on your Ski-Doo, and away you go."