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joy 10-13-2002 11:41 PM

Winter Hiking for the First Time
Hi all, I'm new to the forum and newish to hiking. I've just been bit by the hiking bug for the first time in a while, and want to get out once every couple of weeks. My question: does anyone have any tips for winter hiking, anything I need to know other than the basics? Actually scratch that, tell me the basics too in case there's something I don't know! Anywhere that's a must-go-to? I'm not going to be doing anything overnight right now, just some daytrips or half-day trips. Thanks in advance!

Matt 10-14-2002 09:10 AM

"Expect the best but prepare for the worst" is one of my favourite sayings.

Bring extra clothing obviously. Synthetics and wool are ideal because they retain their insulating ability when they are wet. Cotton absorbs a lot of water, and looses most of its already poor insulating ability once it's wet. Some cotton is okay, but make sure you have wool and synthetics like polyester, polypropylene, acrylic, and fleece. Keep your clothing in a glad garbage bag because most backpacks are not waterproof.

I wouldn't go alone. I do quite a bit of hiking on my own in the summer time, but because of the extra risks of winter hiking I always go with somebody.

Any hike you enjoyed doing in the summer is generally good in the winter as well. It's still fall now, so you have about two months before a you'll need snowshoes or anything like that. Just remember that mountain conditions change quickly, and it can go from somewhat cloudy to 50 foot or less visibility in less than an hour, and dropping a few degress too. It's not that dangerous, but just make sure you're aware that it happens.

So yeah feel free too ask any questions.

clorlc 10-17-2002 04:35 PM

I'm with Joy. I haven't put on a pair of snowshoes since suet was in style so I can use all the advice you can give.<img src=icon_smile_big.gif border=0 align=middle>
I am being challenged by a friend take up this winter sport. I would like to know what to pack differently in terms of food and supplies. Additions to my first aid pack. Clothing I've got - Gortex vs. down filled coat? Should I trade my down sleeping bag for a synthetic one? What rating should I go for. How about addressing the different energy level required for winter hiking vs regular hiking. Should I be concerned with building muscle in a different area? I am full of questions and would appreciate any wisdom that you might want to part with. Thanks


Matt 10-17-2002 06:32 PM

In terms of food and supplies... bring more food. This ties into your question about energy level. Everything you do will require more energy. Your pack will be heavier, walking on snow requires more energy. Setting up your tent, going to the bathroom, going between tent and cook area, finding a place to sit down.


quote:Gortex vs. down filled coat?
Goretex is great as long as you have something under it to insulate. I've never used down but from what I know, it's fine unless it gets wet. I don't know how well it would work with a backpack on.


quote:Should I trade my down sleeping bag for a synthetic one?
I know people who use a down sleeping bag and they are fine. The biggest mistake I've seen people make on a winter camp is leaving the windows closed. Picture frost everywhere. Just leave the windows open 4-6 inches or so and you should be okay.

quote:What rating should I go for?
That's a difficult question. I would go with a bag that is rated for the temperature I am camping in. You're body size in relation to the sleeping back will have a big affect on warmth. Having more people in your tent will make things cozier. Wearing a layer of clothing will help out. Also the ratio of surface area to body mass is greater for a woman than it is for a man, so women will general feel cold sooner than men will.


quote:Should I be concerned with building muscle in a different area?
After you try it you'll know where you need to build more muscle.<img src=icon_smile_approve.gif border=0 align=middle>Most ski hills rent snowshoes so you can always rent some to get a feel for the stride.


quote:I am full of questions and would appreciate any wisdom that you might want to part with.
Don't underestimate the cold, you'll be spending a lot of time in it. It's only dangerous if you're not prepared. I went for a late night walks on a cold winter night to get a feel for how prepared I would be. It takes a surprising amount of snow to make water. The more people in your group, the more fun you will have. You can bring more gear like tarps, shovel, etc. It also means more extra gear if something goes wrong. I've never had any incedents happen but it's better safe than sorry.

Ranger 10-22-2002 04:20 PM

I wanted to throw my two cents in aswell. The biggest problem I find with winter hiking/camping is dressing properly. The tendency is to wear too many clothes which makes you sweat during activity and makes you colder. Sweat and moisture are your worst enemy in the winter so Matt's clothing advice is probably the most important. You should always be trying to stay as dry as you can.
Also if you are camping eat something before going to bed this will get the furnace roaring and keep you warmer. Also wear a hat to bed cause you lose most of your heat through your head. Stick a water bottle of hot water in your sleeping bag with you, it will keep you warm and your drinking water won't be frozen in the morning.
Store waterbottles top down in your pack and ice will form at the bottom instead of the mouth of the bottle.
Take your dog with you if they are an outdoor breed and let him sleep next to you in the tent. There body temp is higher than ours. Voila instant heater, and they appreciate it too.
And my must have for winter is a thermos of hot drink, it does wonders when you are chilled.<img src=icon_smile_big.gif border=0 align=middle>

LongShadow 10-22-2002 07:04 PM

That's a great tip about the waterbottles top down! <img src=icon_smile_cool.gif border=0 align=middle>

Matt 10-22-2002 08:16 PM

Good tip about the water bottles... I've never heard of/thought of that one. <img src=icon_smile_approve.gif border=0 align=middle> Humans are a great source of body heat too.

darrenbell 10-22-2002 08:35 PM

HI folks, I'm planning on doing some winter camping myself and I intend to combine ice fishing with the camping thing. What I'm not sure about is the technique or requirements for building a "quinsy"?? {snow cave}. I'd like to make it large enough for 2-3 people and just wondered if anyone could tell me what size of snow pile I'd need to build-up before hollowing it out? I already know the access should be below the sleeping area, and I'll be using a 2ft. piece of 3-4 inch abs pipe for fresh air. If anyone has done this I'd appriciate any suggestions, thanks.

Breadman 10-22-2002 08:51 PM

Some other considerations: take trail mix and nibble frequently as this stokes the internal fire. Always wear a hat. Cold tends to dehydrate you more so be aware of your water or other liquid intake. Change clothes completely from the skin out before getting into you sleeping bag as they will be somewhat damp from perspiration and the new dry ones will warm up faster and keep you warmer. Make sure you have a good closed cell, self inflating matress to sleep on since the coldest part of your body will be any area contacting the ground. Even the best high tech sleeping bag will compress to almost zero insulating factor when you lie on it. I like to wear a jogging suit top with a hood for pj's, although its cotton it does not get damp if used only for pj's and the hood helps a great deal to keep you warm. Bag your boots in a plastic bag and put them inside your sleeping bag at the bottom or they may freeze in a weird position and are damn hard to put on the next day.

Scrambler 10-23-2002 05:39 PM

Guess I'll throw in a couple of pennies worth here. I took the snowshoe course at Cypress last year with Mark and it was well worth the $$. If they offer it again this year, give it a look see. We learned how to walk, how to spot danger areas (tree holes, hidden creek beds, etc.), a bit of navigation and how to build a snow cave. Also a little bit on how to analyze a snow profile for safety. It was on 4 separate Sundays for ~4 hours each session. Since they provided the snowshoes and Cypress only rents Tubbs, I rented Atlas from 3 VETS to compare. I liked the Atlas better but I also wanted to rent the MSR Denalis from MEC to try them out also. Never got the chance. There is also a small snowshoe trail book available at 3 VETS with about 12 snowshoe hikes. These were dayhikes and if I'd a had a bit more change I would've picked it up.

Some things about snow for hikers that skiers know but we may not. Fresh snow is great stuff for skiing, so they tell me (I don't ski yet) but until it "consolidates", its a real pain in the quads to hike in. Once the pack consolidates, you don't sink in a couple of feet with each step like you can on fresh snow. Even with snowshoes, if its not consolidated, you sink in. And "digging out" with snowshoes is not much fun after the first hour.

More about clothing. It was alluded to above and I'll reenforce it. Stay warm and dry!! Hypothermia can kill you and if you get it and you're alone, not a pretty picture. The key is layering. As soon as you start to warm up, take off or change layers. As soon as you think you're going to cool down (lunch breaks etc.), put on more clothing. It's better to endure a quick momentary chill for a change than a bout of hypthermia.

Now about walking/snowshoeing. Snowhiking/shoeing is not the same as summer hiking. Snow is tricky. Get some lessons in how to read it and avoid any possible danger like the plague. It's not worth it. If you're going to do serious back country snow travel, make sure you have a good self-arrest ice axe and get some training on how to use it. I just reread the account of the scout hikers that had the terrible misfortune to have one of their hhiking group die on Mt. Harvey last year. They were improperly equipped and didn't know how to use the equipment they had. Don't do that to yourself. Canada West Mtn school has an excellent basic avalanche and how to use ice-axes course that is not too expensive. I haven't taken it but heard good things about it from good people who know about these things. Ray Jardine's book Beyond Backpacking has an excellent section about what you need to know to travel on snow safely. I recommend it highly.

I guess I've ranted and raved enough for one reply. Sorry. I just don't want to see anyone repeat what happened on Harvey last year because noone warned them. Snow travel is some of the most beautiful travel you'll ever get to do. Just get a few basics under your belt and you'll enjoy it *safely* for many years to come :).



carmen 10-24-2002 10:46 AM

This is great info for my other question in the snowshoe forum. Thanks for the valuable advice and suggestions.

Ranger 10-24-2002 03:41 PM

For the quinsy question. Use small sticks and poke them through the snow pile in different spots about 8-10 inches deep that way when you are digging out the inside of the snowpile you will know to stop when you hit the stick ends. As for the snow you will need to make a fairly big pile but remember the smaller it is the warmer it will be. Oh and make sure you watch the wall thickness, if too thin it could cave in on you. This happened to my fiancee and luckily her friends were there to dig cause she couldn't move. There's was big enough for three and it was about 5 feet tall and 10X10. Have fun.

darrenbell 10-28-2002 03:59 AM

hey Ranger, thanks for the tips on building a quinsy. There are plenty of lakes up here to try this type of camping at, so I'll let you know how it all turns out. We just got fresh snow that I think is with us for the next 5 months, so things should be cooling off soon. Thanks, again.

Towerguy 11-26-2002 10:27 PM

Hi All
I found an execellent winter camping web site that I used in preparing my scouts for winter camping. If you are new winter camping is a must read.

Be Prepared

Uncle Buck 11-27-2002 07:22 AM

Thanks for the read.
It covers a lot and is one of the better ones.

Curious to as to the very very last item at the bottom.

Disconnect the battery

Any Ideas on why?


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