Northwoods Winter Experience header image
The Northwoods Winter Experience develops skills and confidence for travel and self-reliance. Image courtesy of LOTN.

Enter The Winter Wilderness

The Northwoods Winter Experience is a joint venture between Frontier Bushcraft and Lure Of The North. It combines expertise in a variety of subject areas, and experience in a range of winter environments, to provide you with a unique and highly valuable experience, packed with winter wilderness living skills.

Drawing on wisdom, experience and tradition from both North America and Scandinavia, the aim is for you to be equipped with a range of techniques relevant to the forests and waterways of the frozen north in winter. To further your understanding and experience, you will be applying what you learn throughout this two-week programme.

The Northwoods Winter Experience is comprised of two phases; first a comprehensive and enjoyable 6-day training phase; second is a journey phase, which is a 5-day snow-walking trip on snowshoes, hauling our gear on toboggans, living out of hot-tents and applying a variety of bushcraft skills along the way.

What You’ll Be Doing and Learning About…

Operating On Snowshoes From understanding different shapes of traditional snowshoes, through fastening traditional bindings, to walking efficiently in the deep snow, you’ll be provided with a thorough grounding in getting the most out of this essential piece of winter travel equipment.

Travelling With A Toboggan From how to pack a toboggan to hauling it uphill, downhill, across slopes and, of coursse, on the flat, you’ll receive a proper introduction to this simple yet enabling load-carrier of the north. What you learn in snowshoeing and toboggan work in the training phase will be put to full use in the journey phase of the programme.

Clothing Essentials Your clothing is your first line of protection from a cold environment. You will learn how to make the most of your clothing and to look after it so it serves you well. You can also become too warm if you overdress, though, with a resultant problematic build up of sweat. Your experienced guides will share with you a wealth of knowledge on how to dress correctly and manage your clothing in the northwoods.

Understanding Cold Injuries Frost-nip and frost-bite are risks in the north. You need to understand how this can occur, the contributing factors and early signs and symptoms. You also need learn the best ways of reducing the risk and how to deal with a minor issue before it becomes a major issue. This will all be covered in our syllabus.

Winter Axecraft From felling dead, standing trees to splitting firewood down into various sizes, including kindling, the axe is a critical piece of winter equipment in the northern forests. Using an axe on snow brings with it some extra considerations over using an axe in the woods in summer. We also need to be mindful of the differences wearing snowshoes and gloves or mittens might have. A thorough grounding in winter axe safety will be provided as well as a range of relevant axe techniques introduced.

Winter Sheltercraft You’ll become familiar with a range of methods for sleeping out in the forest in winter. From basic snow bivvies (a.k.a snow graves) through covered bivvies to the classic snow lodge, or quinzee, you will construct and sleep out using these methods. Bough beds feature in some of these shelters and we’ll look at how to select boughs and prepare a comfortable, insulating sleeping platform. You will also be introduced to hot-tent living, before setting off on our journey, putting up a SnowTrekker tent and stove each night in the wilds.

snow lodge illustrating what a quinzee is
A traditional snow-lodge or quinzee on the edge of the spruce and pine forest of northern Ontario. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Winter Firecraft Along with our clothing and shelter, fire forms a third pillar to our protection from the cold environment. Fire also allows us to access water in a frozen land as well as dry out clothing and footwear. Whether we are sleeping out in the woods or in a hot-tent, we need reliable and efficient methods for igniting and establishing a sustained fire. Throughout this programme we will look at and apply various methodologies.

Winter Fishing Techniques Even though the water is frozen over, we can still fish. You’ll be introduced to a range of techniques, some of which you will be able to employ directly. Other techniques are no longer legal to apply in some places but we will show you a variety, including active lines, static lines, methods for overnight fishing and a traditional technique for spanning a net under the ice.

Winter Trapping Techniques Trapping has been part of the northwoods since time immemorial. Of particular interest in the winter setting is the ability to obtain small game mammals and birds for food, as well as traditional fur-bearers.

Reading The Ice The frozen waterways of the north are the winter highways. We need to learn how to read the ice, though, as in some places it will be thick and safe, while in other areas it will be unsafe to cross. We also need to know how to react if we do end up in the water, as well as how to re-warm afterwards. You will learn this first-hand with a “polar plunge”.

Understanding The Winter Environment From identifying key species of tree in the winter to interpreting animal trails to suitable places to fish through to the best places to gather firewood, details for better understanding the winter environment will be woven through the programme.

Moccasin Making During the training phase at LOTN’s camp, you will be guided through the process of making your own moccasins. This will be conducted in the evenings, with the aim of you having completed a pair of moccasins for you to use for snow-walking during the journey phase.

Out On The Land – The Journey

For a sense of what it is like to be out in the winter environment by snowshoe and toboggan, sleeping in a hot-tent, please watch the following short film made by Goh Iromoto featuring Dave and Kielyn of Lure Of The North…

 

During the five-day journey phase of the Northwoods Winter Experience, you will be travelling by snowshoe and toboggan, setting up a canvas tent and stove each evening. This is, of course, a wonderful way to spend time in and of itself.

As well as learning all the details of setting up and making the most of this type of tent living, the focus during the journey will be the practical application of relevant skills. Every day we will need firewood and other materials from the forest and to obtain water from under the ice. As we travel, we will need to navigate through a land smoothed over by a covering of snow. On clear nights we can look up and marvel at the stars but also use them for orientation.

Your training from the first phase will be consolidated but also extended by experience. And there is no finer way to camp in the northwoods than in a hot-tent…

Showing a SnowTrekker canvas tent under a starry sky
Hot-tenting under the northern sky. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Northwoods Winter Experience – Your Guides

Frontier Bushcraft has teamed up with Lure Of The North (LOTN), who specialise in traditional winter travel, hand crafts and wilderness living.

David and Kielyn Marrone are the owners and operators of LOTN and they will be jointly running the Northwoods Winter Experience with Paul Kirtley of Frontier Bushcraft. Both Dave and Kie are graduates of Laurentian University’s Outdoor Adventure Leadership course. Following their graduation both stayed in Northern Ontario, where they are now based . They are passionate about all aspects of traditional winter camping, wilderness travel and northern culture. LOTN has an excellent reputation in the world of winter travel. Their focus is making winter a safe, enjoyable experience to as many people as possible.

Paul Kirtley is the owner and operator of Frontier Bushcraft. Like Dave and Kie, he likes any activity that gets him outside, whatever time of year. But ever since his first winter trip to the Arctic north of Sweden in 2003, he has had the desire to return to the frozen forests of the north many times. For a number of winters in the late 2000s Paul worked alongside the legendary Swedish survival instructor Lars Fält, delivering winter courses in Sweden.

From 2011 onwards Paul and his colleague Iain Gair (who will be assisting on the Northwoods Winter Experience) undertook a series of snowshoe, toboggan and hot-tent trips in the boreal forest, both in Sweden and in Canada, building up valuable experience in this style of travel. Paul presented on this process at the 2019 Global Bushcraft Symposium. You can watch the presentation here.

Everyone involved in the Northwoods Winter Experience is excited to be working together and to be able to share their combined knowledge and experience in a single programme.

The Northwoods Winter Experience – Pre-requisites and Considerations

Suitability and Previous Experience

This trip is suitable for novice winter campers and snow-walkers. It is also suitable for those who have some winter experience but who have not operated on snowshoes and hauled toboggans before or who have not made multi-day trips in hot-tents. Whatever your starting point, the Northwoods Winter Experience is designed to move you up the curve with your ability to operate in the winter environment. You should, however, have a reasonable level of outdoor fitness suited to the activities on this trip. Specifically you should be happy walking steadily for multiple hours per day.

In terms of camping, you should be comfortable with the concept of sleeping in a heated tent or a shelter for the best part of a fortnight. In the second phase of the trip, you will be packing your gear each day and moving on to a new location for each night’s camp. In camp you will be expected to help with firewood collection, stove management, food prep, cooking, water collection and other daily campcraft. Our wilderness trips are a group effort, which involve everyone, guides and participants alike, immersing you in living and traveling in the environment.

To show a heated tent camp set up in the boreal forest
Overnight camp in boreal forest, northern Ontario. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Travel, Food And Accommodation

All food, ground transfers and accommodation during the trip is included in the trip price. This includes hotel accommodation in Sudbury at the beginning of the trip, as well as transfers from and back to Sudbury.

Dave and Kielyn operate from an off-grid, wilderness property, west of Sudbury, Ontario and this is the base from where the training phase of the Northwoods Winter Experience will take place. Some sessions will take place inside the LOTN base (such as moccasin making), while many activities will take place outdoors. In terms of sleeping, you will be based in one of a number of permanently set-up canvas wall-tents. The distinct advantage of being based around the LOTN property during the training phase is there is always somewhere to come back to in order to warm up, dry out clothing and have a meal. The aim of the programme is to build your abilities progressively with a safe backstop.

In terms of meeting up at the beginning of the trip, we will convene in Sudbury, Ontario in the evening of the first day of the advertised trip schedule (dates stated here). Sudbury is a short internal flight from Toronto. International and internal flights are not included in the trip price but flights can be obtained at a reasonable price.

Personal Kit And Equipment

The trip price includes the supply of group camp equipment and specialist equipment for use during the Northwoods Winter Experience. Specifically, canvas tents, stoves, cooking gear, ice chisels, axes, toboggans and snowshoes will be provided for your use.

You will also be supplied with one of the excellent LOTN Anoraks to use during the experience. Materials for making your moccasins are included in the programme price too and this footwear will be yours to take away with you.

A full kit list of what you should bring with you will, of course, be provided but the essentials you may need to purchase boil down to warm layers, trousers, hats, gloves and a suitably-rated sleeping bag. We’d expect most people will already own other items such as a head-torch, belt knife and folding saw, for example. Either way, everything you should bring will be detailed in the trip kit-list.

The Northwoods Winter Experience – Itinerary Overview:

Day 0. We will convene in Sudbury, Ontario, where we will stay overnight.

Day 1. In the morning we will be picked up from our hotel and driven (60-90 minutes) to the LOTN trailhead. From here we will walk into the LOTN property, approximately 8km on hard-packed trails. A snow machine shuttle will be provided for your luggage.

After lunch at LOTN’s base, you will have a tour of the property and there will be initial lessons on staying warm at night, wood stove safety and other details you need to know to settle in and be safe.

Days 2-7. Full days of training in and around the area. This is the “training phase” and there are many details of the activities and learning points in the page above.

Days 8-12 Five day winter camping trip where you will put your new skills to the test, layering experience on top.

Day 13. Breakfast then depart for Sudbury airport.

Click here for Northwoods Winter Experience dates and pricing…