Tuesday, March 02, 2010

get out into the snow

Winter Hiking Tips & Tricks 101

Hiking in the winter? In snow? In cold? Can you even find the trail?

Yes, yes, yes, and (sometimes) yes. Really! And you don't even have to be Davy Crockett. The key, however, is to do it the old-fashioned way: using your two personal sherpas, otherwise known as your legs. Wintertime exploration on foot is a sublime experience. Why?

1) Unlike a ski resort, you won't get plowed down by an out-of-control novice snowboarder or pay an exorbitant amount for lift tickets.

2) Snowmobiling may take you farther into the backcountry, but its noise pollution can ruin the experience not only for you but others, including Bambi and Thumper.

3) Amazing exercise. You thought just hiking was tough? Try hiking through snowdrifts. As someone I knew once put it, that's a major ass-blaster. (Snowshoeing is a fabulous way to go, as I've recently rediscovered.)

4) Best bonus? Seeing the landscape in a way few will.

Safety considerations are paramount, of course. We all like to come back alive and whole from our adventures. Here are a few of my favorite pieces of wintertime hiking advice.

1) Dress warmly, but don't go for overkill. Layering is key. Too many layers, however, and you'll head out feeling like that Stay Puft Marshmallow dude. Which means you'll quickly get too warm, which means sweat, which means ultimately really cold when it dries on your skin! I like to wear a synthetic (remember, “cotton kills”) long john top as my first layer, then a fleece pullover, then a down vest, then a waterproof outer layer. For the lower half, I again go for synthetic long john bottoms, then jeans, usually Carhartts. (Yes, I know I just said cotton kills, and wet jeans will definitely make you an unhappy hiker. I'm used to it and can take care of myself. If you're not an experienced winter hiker, don't do it!) If, however, I'm snowshoeing and likely to fall down in deep drifts (yes, I am that coordinated) or it's actively snowing, I'll wear waterproof outer pants instead. Note: if it's sunny and warmish, those are already too many layers! Layer down just a bit in that circumstance. But keep those layers with you if you suspect the weather may change during your trip.

(Notice my NEOs--New England Overshoes--which keep my tootsies and boots inside dry and warm. Also, my trรจs excellent snowshoes)

2) Water. Yeah, on a cold day you think you won't want water. Sorry, your body needs it no matter what. And when you're hiking through snow, you're working out, which means you'll eventually dehydrate if you don't replenish. Your best bet in chilly outdoor conditions is a hydration system that includes an insulated drinking tube. Camelbak, which makes a lot of stuff I use, has some good cold-weather options. Such a hydration system also often comes pack-style, which means places for you to stash those pesky extra layers when you start to get your heart pumping.

3) Ye olde trail mix. For some, good old gorp is outdated. But you can make your own yummy & instantly fueling mix from just about anything, as long as it gives you a bit of energy just at that moment when you're about to bonk (not that kind of bonking, folks. I mean the kind where your blood sugar is hurtling straight down to your toes). And of course there are dozens of energy bar brands on the market, as well as various energy goos and gels (this concept makes some, such as yours truly, a bit ill). My current energy boost of choice? Shot Bloks by Clifbar. (Beware, however, if they harden a bit from the cold and you have dental work in your mouth! Could be asking for trouble unless you let them warm up in your pocket first.)

4) Map. Compass. GPS. Directions. Companion who knows where the heck s/he is. Frankly, I wouldn't rely solely on any sort of GPS...satellites aren't necessarily receptive right when you need them to be, and batteries can and do die. Having map & compass skills is still a great thing for outdoor messing around, even in our highly technological age.

5) Pace yourself. Slogging through snow can be way tougher than you're used to. Trust me, you'll get wiped out much sooner than you'd expect. Usually can hike four miles no problem? Aim for two in the snow, and don't be surprised if it takes you as long as or even longer than a snowless excursion with more mileage.

6) Um, tell someone where you're going! If nothing else, scribble a note to put on the dash of your car. Last-minute itinerary changes have been the downfall of many, even experienced outdoorsy types. You may feel silly, but better silly than frozen and undiscovered out in the wilderness for months. Seriously. There are also cool little devices on the market that can help searchers find you should you fail to return at a pre-designated time.

7) Favorite tip: take a dog. Your own, or borrow one. They love it so much, they make snow hikes that much more fun. (Just make sure your dog is at least as fit as you are. Hiking in snow is tough on them too.) And who knows, maybe they'll play Lassie for you if you make a mistake and end up wandering in circles.

Have at your snowy adventure, be safe, and enjoy your winter wonderland adventuring. I know I sure do.


Guy Tal said...

Don't forget the sunscreen. Being out in the snow on a sunny day can result in some interesting surprises, like sunburns on your chin or the inside of your nostrils :)

Julie Trevelyan said...

Excellent addition, Guy! Silly that I forgot it, living as we do in one of the sunniest states in the union. Yes, sunscreen even in winter is a must. Reflected sun from the snow can lead to horrendous sunburns.

(Have to say that being burned on the inside of one's nostrils sounds horrible, btw. !!! I'm guessing that one might be from experience. ;) )

Hiking Lady said...

We think alike Julie!! I am really impressed with the NEOS - I checked out their website and the product looks really great. What have you found to be the best shoes/boots to wear underneath? Hiking boots?

Julie Trevelyan said...

Hiking boots definitely offer better foot coverage, of course, and warmth. However, my boots have a tight fit inside my NEOs--I have to get them in just right and then stomp my feet down a couple times. The heel of my boots tends to catch on the back inside of the NEOs, which then makes you walk on those backs, which is not good! So I usually prefer sneakers...but they of course don't provide the best ankle support.

I think folks just have to figure out what works best for them in each case. Of course, you could get the NEOs a size larger, but i think that would defeat the purpose a bit.

Meg said...

hey julie,

thanks for stopping by my blog! It's good to "meet" another person from Planet Eye.

Randomly enough...I'm going to be in Utah in May for two weeks...I'll be volunteering at Best Friends, and hopefully doing lots of hiking. I'll definitely have to read through all your entries on here and on Planet Eye to get some ideas of what to do and where to go!

oh, and thanks for the nomadic matt link...that will be very helpful!!

can't wait to read more! :)

Julie Trevelyan said...

Thanks for dropping here too, Meg. That is funny that you'll be in this area in May!

Confession: I've never been to Best Friends! Ridiculous, I know. An oversight I plan on rectifying myself this spring. But I utterly champion them and their cause. I'll be interested to hear how your volunteering there goes.

And actually, I write for NileGuide.com. A similar site to Planet Eye, it seems. Definitely feel free to check out my info on there as well as here for hiking suggestions. This is an amazing area.