I have a confession to make. Until now, I’ve only been a three-season hiker. I’ve never hiked in winter; I’ve never set out to backpack snow-covered trails. That’s about to change.
This past weekend, I attended a winter hiking workshop hosted by my local Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) chapter. I learned a lot and invite you to learn more with me. If I’m going to blog about hiking, I need to fix this knowledge gap, so I’ll be posting about winter hiking off and on these next few months.
You may ask, as I did, why hike in winter? It’s cold, raw, and icy; it can be dangerous; it seems like a big hassle. All true, but I’m told the rewards are great. The pristine beauty of nature, fewer people, peace and quiet, a superb way to lose weight and toughen up. Proper clothing and equipment will keep one warm and safe.
To start off, here are just a few of the things I learned at the winter workshop:
1) Don’t dress too warmly while you are moving; save your warmest clothing for whenever you stop moving. Your sweat needs to be wicked away. If you are covered in a puffy down jacket while moving, you trap all that moisture. That explains what I saw once when a cross-country skier unbuttoned his thick puffy jacket—the inside was all frozen. Not good.
2) Keep food handy, bite sized, and ready to eat. You will burn an enormous amount of energy, as you can imagine. You need to snack often, and conditions aren’t good for sit-down cooked meals. If you are wearing gloves, and are bundled up, you need food accessible in handy pockets. Pre-open the snacks and put them in baggies or containers that you can open or unscrew with gloves. Cut the food up ahead of time into mouth-sized portions.
3) Store your water bottle upside-down. Water freezes at the top; when you turn the bottle right-side up, you won’t have ice.
4) Fasten pull-ties on those little zipper handles. When you have to void, you can keep your gloves on if you have ties on those tiny zipper handles. Use shoe lace, trash bag ties, anything. When you snack, you can keep your gloves on as you unzip pockets.
There is so much more. We’ll take it a little at a time. Happy trails.
I’ve been hoping to get into winter hiking as well. Great tip about the water bottle!
Thanks, Paul. I’ll have more stuff coming as I learn.
Welcome to the world of winter hiking. I started snow shoeing about 5 years ago and absolutely love it. Not technically difficult just a great way of getting out into the wilderness in winter. Very peaceful and beautiful.
You’re right about things needing to be opened with gloves on. On cold days I find two pairs of gloves good – a thin inner pair and then a thick warm outer pair. Then when inevitably you find you can’t re-tie your shoelace, open a muesli bar, etc with your thick pair of gloves on you don’t totally freeze your hands when you take them off.
Oh and invest in a thermos flask too….
Happy winter hiking,
Great tip about the liner gloves, Phil. That sure is better than exposing bare skin to the elements when you take big, heavy gloves off.
Ray, I’m really looking forward to your posts about winter hiking. I’ve always been put off by the reasons you mentioned, so I hope to learn from your beginner’s perspective. Have a wonderful time!
Thanks, Ann. I’m planning my next winter hiking post for Tuesday 11/15. Happy trails!