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

Enter The Winter Wilderness

Embark on a transformative winter adventure and learn invaluable wilderness skills with the Northwoods Winter Experience! This one-of-a-kind two-week program, presented by Frontier Bushcraft and Lure of the North, combines the wisdom, experience, and traditions of both North American and Scandinavian winter wilderness living.

Under the expert guidance of Paul Kirtley, Dave Marrone, and Kie Marrone, you’ll acquire a diverse range of techniques tailored to the forests and waterways of the frozen north.

The Northwoods Winter Experience offers a comprehensive and diverse curriculum, incorporating essential knowledge from various subject areas, all tailored for you to thrive in harsh winter landscapes.

The programme is designed for you to apply your newfound skills throughout the entire program, ensuring a deeper understanding and lasting knowledge. This immersive adventure consists of two enriching phases:

  • Training Phase: During this enjoyable week-long session, you’ll receive comprehensive instruction in winter living and traveling techniques, drawing on the combined skills and experience of Paul Kirtley, Kie Marrone, and Dave Marrone.
  • Journey Phase: Put your skills to the test on a thrilling week-long snow-walking expedition! You’ll traverse the pristine winter landscape on snowshoes, hauling gear on toboggans, and relishing the cozy warmth of hot tents. Along the way, you’ll apply a variety of bushcraft skills, making this journey both challenging and rewarding.

Don’t miss this chance to immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring beauty of the northwoods in winter, all the while learning from the unparalleled combined experience of Dave, Kie and Paul. Together, they’ll guide you on an unforgettable journey of discovery through the frozen wilderness, sharing their mastery of winter living and traveling techniques.

Unlock The Secrets Of Winter Wilderness Living

What you’ll be learning on this programme…

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.

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 Trapping Techniques

Trapping has been part of the lifeways 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. During the programme you will have the opportunity to learn about and apply legal trapping techniques.

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, and methods for overnight fishing.

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.

Understanding How Your Body Reacts To The Cold

Cold exposure can be gradual or it can be rapid. As well as hypothermia, cold injuries such as frost-nip and frost-bite are risks in the frozen north. You need to understand how these can occur, the contributing factors, signs and symptoms. You also need learn the best ways of reducing the risk and how to deal with any minor issue before it becomes a major issue. When walking on frozen waterways, falling through the ice is also a risk, although not particularly likely on your trip. But forewarned is forearmed. You’ll have the chance to experience cold water immersion in controlled conditions during the training phase, with the infamous “polar dip”. Understanding your body’s reaction to cold also dovetails with an understanding of how to manage your clothing.

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.

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.

Making Winter Moccasins

During the training phase at LOTN’s camp, you will be guided through the process of making your own winter 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.

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 course, 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.

How To Live In A Heated Tent

During the training phase you will be introduced to hot-tent living, including all the aspects needed to make the most of this wonderful way of winter camping. From laying spruce bough floors, setting up stoves, organising the tent and. your personal gear, running stoves efficiently, keeping stoves running overnight, producing drinking water, cooking in the tent, effective drying of clothing and footwear. This understanding will be built upon during the journey phase, in the second week, where you will be setting up a new camp most evenings and breaking down camp most mornings (we will likely have one camp where we stay two nights so we can undertake other activities in the area). By the end of the fortnight, you will really understand how to organise yourself, the group gear and how to undertake all the tasks necessary for smooth winter hot-tenting.

axes in winter environment
Learn and practice winter axecraft with Paul Kirtley, author of the book Wilderness Axe Skills and Campcraft. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Two logs with fire in between.
Learn a range of techniques for winter firecraft. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
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.
Snowshoe hare foot and part of body
Learn winter trapping techniques for a range of creatures, including the snowshoe hare. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
People walking in heavy snowfall with strong snow flurries
Learn to be comfortable and confident in all conditions. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Paul Kirtley in a hole in the ice
Take the plunge! Under controlled conditions you have the opportunity to experience how your body reacts to cold water immersion.
Winter moccasins made of leather and canvas, with felt liners
Make and use your own winter moccasins like these made by Paul Kirtley.
man talking about winter toboggan packing
Dave Marrone during his lesson on toboggan organisation and packing. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

All of what you learn about the above during the first week, you will put into practice, and learn more about, during your winter journey in the second week….

Out On The Land – Your Winter Journey

During the week-long 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…

Snow walkers on snowshoes with toboggans head into the wilds
Heading into the wilds on showshoes and toboggans… Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Sunny, snowy environment with people sitting on toboggans and standing having lunch
A lunch break on the trail. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Men cutting wood in front of canvas winter tent with stove
Processing firewood in front of the hot-tent. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
view from inside a hot tent
Learn all about how to live in a hot-tent. Photo Andrew Fletcher.
Canvas tents illuminated from inside, under starry sky
One of the overnight camps during the 2023 Northwoods Winter Experience. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Sun rising over horizon of winter landscape
Dawn viewed from an island camp on a frozen lake during the 2023 Northwoods Winter Experience. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
View of the northwoods of Ontario
Enter the vast wilderness of the northwoods!

For a greater 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…


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 as leaders 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 a love of the northern forests. Since then, he has undertaken many more winter trips, both in Scandinavia as well as North America. 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 sometimes be assisting on the Northwoods Winter Experiences) 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 anyone who want to further their winter wilderness skills, be they winter bushcraft skills or winter journeying skills. We welcome novice and experienced winter campers and snow-walkers alike. It is also suitable for those who have some winter experience, on skis for example, but who have not operated on snowshoes and hauled toboggans before. It’s also a great opportunity for those who have been out in the boreal but 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, most days you will be packing your gear, and helping pack down camp, before moving on to set up camp at a new location. 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, cabin accommodation at the end 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, saws, mugs, plats, cutlery, toboggans, toboggan tank bags, and snowshoes will be provided for your use.

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, possibly, a suitably-rated sleeping bag.

You will be making your own footwear (winter moccasins) but until they are ready, there is suitable winter footwear (Tingley rubber boots with felt liners) available from LOTN, unless you wish to bring your own winter boots with you. Down sleeping bags can also be rented from LOTN, which can reduce the cost of the trip by avoiding the need to buy an expensive but seldom used winter bag. Plus specialist clothing items you may not want to purchase such as the excellent LOTN Anoraks can be hired to use during the experience.

It’s likely you will already own most other essential outdoor and camping items such as sunglasses, head-torch, ferro rod, belt knife and folding saw, for example. Either way, everything you should bring will be detailed in a check-list, which will be sent to you once you have booked. And, of course, if you need any advice on clothing or gear for the trip, we’re always happy to help with answers to your questions.

Nearer to the trip, LOTN will send you a link through which you can specify additional kit you would like to hire from them, rather than you bring it yourself.

Below is a screenshot of the form, showing 2023 rental prices in Canadian dollars.

The Northwoods Winter Experience – Itinerary Overview:

During the first week, you will be living in a static base camp, learning a multitude of winter skills and gaining experience operating in the environment.

During the second week, we will be journeying through the landscape by snowshoe and toboggan, applying the skills you have already learned, and learning new skills at appropriate places along the way.

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

Day 1. After breakfast, we will be picked up from our hotel then driven to the LOTN trailhead, which takes about 90 minutes. From here we will walk into the LOTN property, approximately 8km on hard-packed trails. This hike is through beautiful woodland and you begin to get a sense of the amazing environment in which you will be immersed for the next fortnight. A snow machine shuttle will be provided for your luggage.

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

Days 2-7. Full days of training in and around the area of the base camp. This is the “training phase” and there are many details of the activities and learning points in the page above. In the evenings, after dinner, we will be making winter moccasins.

Days 8-14 A week-long winter camping trip where you will put your new skills to the test, layering experience and additional techniques on top of what you have already learned in the training phase.

Day 15. Breakfast then depart for Sudbury (town and airport).