Posted by: davepidgeon | January 8, 2009

Surviving in winter wonderland

I lament the lengthy amount of time it took me to get to this, but Backpacker‘s Steve Howe, the Rocky Mountain editor, posted some important tips on how to survive your first (or even your tenth) winter backpacking experience. Some I knew, some took my by surprised, all of them you should keep in mind when sleeping on or in snow.


Two tents sit quietly in the White Mountain National Forest, N.H.

Two tents sit quietly in the White Mountain National Forest, N.H.

These from Steve stood out to me. His tips are in bold, my comments are in italics:

Many three-season tents are perfectly adequate unless you expect heavy snow or high winds. (No need whatsoever to invest in a Mountain Hardware 4-season Space Station when your Sierra Designs Electron should suffice on most winter trips)


White gas stoves are best for winter, but in most conditions alcohol or canister stoves work fine. For cartridge stoves, avoid 80/20 butane/propane canisters (use isobutane), and warm cartridges in your sleeping bag or parka before firing up. (Warm gas cartridges make for better functioning stoves, as Jason Stevenson  and I learned the hard way last month in Shenandoah)


Put on all your warm clothes immediately upon arrival. Preserve the heat you generated on the hike in. (I never thought of this, but it’s common sense, which I admit I lose from time to time. I used to think I should save my layers as I get colder. Not gonna do that anymore)


If you start to chill, don’t just sit there in misery. Go on a walk, do sit-ups or deep knee bends. Generate metabolic heat. (My favorite of Steve’s tips. Moving limbs and body means forcing the blood to circulate. Blood is warm. Use it.)

We’re moving into the dead of winter, now, so I encourage everyone to head out there and to be safe. Trust me when I say: Sleep through the night, and you’ll find the snowy woods early in the morning to be among the best times to be out there. Quiet, fresh animal tracks, soft light, budding anticipation for the day’s coming hike. Few better times to be in the woods.


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