Most people would never give up the opportunity to sleep in a warm, comfy bed — especially in the winter months. Carmen Braun, on the other hand, loves nothing more than spending her nights cuddled inside a sleeping bag, braving freezing temperatures.
“Being in urban areas, I’m always slightly on edge. It’s not something that’s noticeable until I go to the woods,” says the Dalhousie University student.
‘100 nights of camping’ project
Braun is no stranger to time in the woods: her first camping trip was at six months old. Now 23, she’s in the middle of a plan to camp 100 nights over the course of a year.
Braun came up with the project with a friend over the summer. They were inspired after seeing a post on Semi-Rad.com of another camper doing 30 nights between May and June.
“Just through the series of bigger and bigger and crazy ideas, we thought, ‘How about 100 nights over the year?’ Why not?” Two days later, on June 19, night one of 100 was in the books. Both are now pursuing the project separately.
Halfway through the project — Braun hiked out to Susies Lake last Friday for night 53 — the cold has done nothing to slow her down.
“I do prefer winter camping overall,” says Braun. When asked why: “There’s no bugs!” she laughs. “I just love winter in general. There’s a different peace in the woods in the winter than in the summer.”
Over the holidays, she pushed the limits of sleeping outdoors a little further.
Back home in Alberta, one of her Christmas presents was a Gore Windstopper sleeping bag, which she says can keep her warm in temperatures as low as -23 C. She decided to test it out — tentless — in a snow-covered field.
“I was toasty all night long,” she says. “I cinched my sleeping bag to about that,” making a ring with her hands around her nose and mouth. “You always want to keep your nose and mouth free because otherwise you just breathe moisture into your sleeping bag,” she says.
Mixing work and play
Surprisingly, weather is the least of Braun’s problems. Working on a combined honours in Earth Sciences and Oceanography keeps her on her toes.
“There have been times where I’m more stressed about schoolwork than I think I would be without this challenge, or I’m stressed while I’m doing schoolwork because I haven’t been camping in like a week or something,” she says.
Most of her nights involve her arriving at a campsite late. She doesn’t have a car, so a friend may drive, but she takes the bus most of the time. Once she arrives, it’s a quick night hike followed by setup and bedtime. The next morning, she’ll wake up early to head home before class.
But that doesn’t always work.
“I have shown up to school with my pack still full. I’d throw my notes folder in my backpack with my sleeping bag and stuff. In the geology department, that’s not as abnormal as you might expect,” she laughs.
A camper for life
With the cold temperatures and time constraints, why keep doing this?
“There are some people who train for hockey or figure skating or rowing absolutely every day and so this is my thing,” she says.
She admits she struggles with keeping motivated internally. “It’s easy to say, ‘I’m too busy, I’ll go next weekend’.” She adds: “Having this challenge has been great because I told people about it and so I have some sort of accountability” to see it through.
Braun hopes her project will help people realize that doing something they love doesn’t have to take a lot of time. “It doesn’t have to be a huge endeavour. It’s surprisingly easy to make time for something you love doing,” she says.
Does the novelty of strolling in the woods ever wear off? For Braun, not a chance. “There’s always something different. I love being out in the woods. It always kind of feels like going home.”
About the author
Honours Journalism/French major, Film Studies minor.