What is Heavy Camping?

Dan Cavallari

Making the decision between light camping and heavy camping is a no-brainer for most recreational campers: the less your equipment weighs, the less you have to lug around while hiking, skiing, biking, boating, or otherwise traveling. Light campers buy expensive gear to save weight and use high tech fabrics and products to make their trip as convenient as possible while maintaining a light load for travel. But for winter campers going on longer excursions to one spot, heavy camping – toting heavier and greater amounts of gear via a sled or toboggan – can be the preferred camping method for those heading into the woods, even without the high tech materials and lightweight gear.

Heavy campers may carry axes with their gear.
Heavy campers may carry axes with their gear.

Heavy camping is generally reserved for trips on which the camper will be staying in one spot for a longer period of time than they would with light camping. A good choice for hunters wishing to set up a base camp, heavy camping involves using a sled or toboggan to haul all the camping gear necessary for a stay in the woods, such as food, axes and saws, portable wood stoves for warmth in the tent, cooking equipment, and hunting equipment. Those pushing or pulling the toboggan wear snowshoes to keep their weight above the depth of the snow, thereby making travel easier and quicker. Heavy camping typically involves a heavy canvas tent, whereas light campers use lightweight mesh and/or nylon tents that fit easily into a backpack. The canvas tent retains more warmth but adds a significant amount of weight to the camper’s load.

Campers commonly require sleeping bags.
Campers commonly require sleeping bags.

Heavy camping was the method of choice for fur trappers and hunters before options for light camping were readily available. A heavy camper can set up a stove inside the tent and run a stovepipe to the outside to ventilate the tent, thereby creating a convenient living space as well as added warmth. Insulation could be derived from natural materials, such as leaves or branches from trees. Today, most heavy campers will use soft sleeping pads for insulation underneath their sleeping bags, but it is not uncommon to use layers of wool blankets instead.

Heavy duty flashlights are preferred by heavy campers.
Heavy duty flashlights are preferred by heavy campers.

Many modern day heavy campers may use a snowmobile to haul their gear rather than pulling or pushing it by hand, but in either case, heavy camping spots are limited to places that can accommodate a sled, toboggan, or snowmobile. For a longer camping trip in the winter months, heavy camping can provide warmth and convenience in wooded areas conducive with wide trails or areas of travel conducive to sleds.

A toboggan is useful for hunters wishing to set up a base camp.
A toboggan is useful for hunters wishing to set up a base camp.

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Discussion Comments


When I heard about heavy camping my first thought was of the Sherpa that you see carrying gear to the top of Everest of other tall mountains. I cannot believe how much those guys are able to carry on their back at once. And to think that they are carrying that load up the tallest mountain in the world.


I went to Alaska with some buddies a few years ago. We were going to go fishing to this spot that a fiend of ours knew about.

We knew that we were going to establish a camp and stay there for a week, using a canoe to get ourselves to other parts of the water. The hike to the camp spot was only four miles so we elected to camp pretty heavy and carry in a lot of gear.

It was not a carnival or anything but we all wanted to be comfortable. It was a rough hike with all that gear but we made it and we only had to do it twice. It was an amazing week and I ate a ton of great fish.

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