This post follows two earlier posts on winter hiking. Northern New England has snow, and some of southern New England got several inches of the white stuff already this month. There are places out west, in the Sierras for example, where the snow and ice never melt completely before seasonal snows arrive again. Prepare now to enjoy cold-weather hikes. If you live in the North and are training for a thru-hike, these winter posts have extra meaning for you.
The key word you hear for winter hiking is layers. And two thin layers are better than one thick one. Even for gloves. Rather than wear one big and bulky glove, wear a liner glove underneath a bigger glove. Same for socks. Don’t wear one extra-heavy thick sock; wear a liner sock beneath a heavier one. Most of all, clothe your body in layers so you can remove and add as conditions change. I get cold easily; I want to keep warm but when I sweat, I need to wick that moisture away. Layers enable me to do that.
For my upper body, I start with a polypropylene short-sleeve undershirt. I top this with a polypro long sleeve garment that has a neck riser. I put a long-sleeve fleece over this. This may be enough if I’m moving, but if I stop for any length of time, or if the weather worsens, I’ll add my Marmot shell, complete with hood to cover everything. Layers! And in an emergency, I’ve packed a puffy down jacket, to keep warm in–if I had to seek shelter and overnight. (On any extended hike, of course, I’d pack a sleeping bag and tent.)
For my lower body, I have polypropylene underpants, polypro leggings, and ski-pants. I don’t plan to hike in extreme weather, so this should be okay. Just be able to remove or add a layer.
Other points for winter hiking:
1) Gaiters. They will keep snow from getting into your boots. Your socks stay dry.
2) Bring a spare hat; pack extra gloves and socks. The wind can sail your hat; you may not be able to retrieve it. You could drop your glove in a stream.
3) Pack a body size piece of Tyvek—the insulation used by contractors. You can fold it up to sit on, and also lay it under your sleeping pad.
Just remember, winter hiking means staying warm and keeping dry. Bring lots to drink and plenty to eat and you’ll be fine.
Sound and layered advice!
Here’s something I observed on a winter hike in the white mountains. A friend and I made reservations to overnight at the one winter AMC hut that caters to hikers. The hike to it was not a difficult hike, but it was, as expected, very cold. We enjoyed a hot meal thanks to those AMC volunteers!
In the morning, down we went. The snow was as frozen hard as it had been on the hike up. We walked on the snow’s surface the prior afteroon, as now, without breaking it’s frozen crust. It was really solid, and supported our weights. I don’t think there was a ‘crust.’. The snow was frozen top to bottom. Soon I observed the downward tracks of someone who had descended a few days earlier, probably after spending a night in that Hut. It wasn’t pretty.
Every step revealed an imprint that had sunken three feet into the snow. The snow had not been frozen solid for that poor trekker. S/he had sunk to the crotch on each and every step. My friend and I learned why Eskimos have such a vibrant vocabulary describe snow. We didn’t have a name for the snow that that hiker experienced. I suspect that by the end of that hike, there was a new name for this White Mountain “snowthathadbeenfrozenonthewayupbutwasnotonthewaydown.”
So, on that easy winter hike, perhaps my friend and I learned something: that winter snow undergoes Kafka-like metamorphosis; that temperture and time are the operating variables. And that snowshoes might be our close friends on our next winter hike.
Very interesting, Dave/Axel. I’ve never seen anything like that. Planning to get my first pair of snowshoes this week, but I don’t plan on doing a lot of climbing in them–at least for a while.
My 2 cents, newbies often don’t realize the danger of cotton particularly for winter hiking. Once it’s wet (which it will be) it will hold cold next to your body. An obvious thing for those of us who hike a lot but for someone just starting out this little bit of information can be a lifesaver.
You are absolutely right, Joe. You’ve probably heard the epression, “cotton kills.”