Monday, October 31, 2011

Helpful Hints For Winter Hiking

Helpful Hints
        If this section is here for one reason it's to prove that much of what's required to be safe and have fun when out in the woods in winter is nothing more then common sense and more importantly, experience! When are you so cold that you should put on more clothes and when are you just a bit chilly and more clothes would only lead to sweating? No one, not even you can answer that until you have hiked up a trail in winter and stopped to put on more clothes only to have to stop again in 30 minutes because you were sweating profusely! So, all I'm saying is, take each of these "hints" as just that, a hint, a pointer to get you going in the right direction. Hopefully they'll help you become a learned, experienced winter hiker just a tad faster than you would without them.

Start Cold: Ok, I know this sounds foolish and it even sounds like it contradicts advice I've give elsewhere on this page but it's another lesson that took me a while to get down! I get to the trailhead, get out of the car, put on my boots, adjust my poles, grab my pack etc. etc. etc. By then I'm thinking its freezing cold out so I put on my jacket, or shell, or whatever and head up the trail. Almost without exception within 15 minutes I'm too warm and have to stop to take something off. Trouble is, if I stop that soon by the time I get the jacket off, put it in the pack and start out again, I'm chilly! And on it goes. So I've just learned that when I leave the car I put on what I think I'll need a good half hour down the trail. For me, if it's in the 10 - 20 degree range that's my zip turtle neck and maybe the vest. If it's near zero, the turtle neck and undoubtedly the vest. I will not put on more to start the hike unless the temp is zero or below as I've learned what's coming!

Stay Warm: No, this does not contradict the first "hint." Staying warm may sound obvious but I know how many times I was thinking, "Boy I'm getting cold," but kept going either hoping to warm up or just plain being lazy and not wanting to stop to put on more clothes. Trust me, it's much, much easier to stay warm than it is to get warm once you're cold. IF you're a bit too chilly either stop and take care of it or at the very least pick up the pace for a few minutes to see if that warms you up. If not, stop! As for the balance between this "hint" and the previous one, there's only one way for you to find the balance and that's for you to get out there and see how your body responds. I'm simply hoping to share a bit of personal experience to hopefully speed up your learning process a bit. It wont take long for you to realize that regulating your temperture is one of the biggest challenges and yet another of those things that can only be learned by doing.

Stay Dry: Another point that seems pretty obvious but I'm going to mention it anyway. That little bit of snow that falls on your shoulders as you duck under the tree, the dusting of snow on your mittens from grabbing that branch, all of it quickly melts and makes you very wet! It's very beneficial to make an effort to brush it off a.s.a.p before it melts. Simple? Yup! Worth it? Yup!
        Another area that the "stay dry" rule applies to is perspiration. It's common to hear or read how important it is for you to adjust your clothing to make sure that you never, never allow yourself to become damp or yikes, worse yet, wet from sweating! All I can say is that many years of winter hiking has taught me that the concept is sound, the application impossible for many of us! If I put 15 or 20 pounds on my back, snowshoes on my feet and then climb a moderately steep trail I am going to sweat big time! It can be 10 degrees and I'm wearing only a T Shirt and I WILL be dripping sweat! Many other's are the same way. So, be as careful as you can and certainly don't have on that huge down parka as you plod up the hill but you may just have to be realistic about it. Some people are going to sweat, that's all there is to it! Strip down as far as you can and make sure that you do have a dry layer to put on incase of emergency but there's not too much else you can do. That's why it's not uncommon in the dead of winter to see people hiking in shorts! I've seen it more than a few times!
        A pointer...I DID say to have something dry with you but don't make the mistake of being an hour into an 8 hour hike and being all sweaty and putting on your dry clothes. If you do that you no longer have the dry clothes! You just come to accept that when you stop for a break you're going to get cold faster than the person that is bone dry. What I do is to have a down jacket in my pack to pull out during breaks if needed but I try to not put on so much that I prevent my wet clothes from breathing and drying out. One thing that is very helpful is to anticipate the break coming and slow waaayyyy down for the last 10 or 15 minutes so that you stop perspiring and your clothes get a chance to dry a bit. Here's the big reason I love the newer synthetic fabrics. I can have a base layer that's more than damp and within 20 minutes of not sweating and the breeze blowing it's totally dry. I've tried many but so far the best that I've used is "Micronamics" by The North Face. Expensive? Yep, but it dries so much faster that I'll never use anything else. If you come across some other amazing secrets that help to keep you dry, please let me know!!

Gear Access: This may sound obvious or perhaps not necessary but the first time that your fingers are so cold that they won't seem to do what you're telling them to do and you're elbow deep in your pack searching for your dry mittens, you'll feel very differently about it! I make certain that things like extra mittens, a hat and the like are always in an outside pocket and ready to grab quickly. If the temps are very cold I'll take a pair of my heaviest, warmest mittens and stuff them, wrist end down, into the mesh side pockets of my pack. That way IF my hands get so cold that I can't seem to undo a zipper I can grab those mittens and stuff my hands into them until they warm up. When I use a pack that doesn't have lots of pockets I take things like mittens and put them all in a colored mesh stuff sack. Maybe something like mittens in yellow, hats in red, etc. That way when I have to get into the pack I can just search for "red" and not have to spend so long trying to find a couple of simple pieces of gear.
Dry Bag: This is something that most hikers do year round but in winter you'll really want to have some nice comfy, warm, dry clothes awaiting you back in your car! That way if you get wet from the elements or simply from perspiration you at least know that all you have to do is to make it back to the car and you'll be comfortable again. Even if your car has great heat, when it's 5 degrees out you will not want to be trying to dry out your wet clothes on the way home as you may be able to when the temperature is much higher!

Zipper Pulls: You'll find it extremely beneficial to attach some type of "zipper pull" to all zippers on your pack, clothing etc. You can purchase commercially made pulls or you can simply take a short (2 or 3 inches) piece of old boot lace, run it through the zipper and knot it. This makes it possible to find, grasp and pull the zippers without having to remove your mittens! A very handy thing when the temp is 10 below!

Warm Power: Warm Power? Ok, what I mean is if you're using batteries to power your camera, head lamp or anything else you'll find that keeping the batteries warm makes a huge difference in their performance. When using my digital camera I keep one set of batteries in the camera and another set in a pocket as close to my body as possible. That way they are warm and ready to use if needed. Another pointer...lithium batteries function in much lower temperatures than other common battery types.

Practice: Trust me it's much better to find out in the warmth of your home that your shell doesn't fit over your insulating layer and many similiar lessons. Things like putting on your snowshoes with mittens on can be quite tricky until you've done it a few times. Sooo, practice at home!

No comments:

Post a Comment