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Pacific Northwest Hiking & Backpacking Group Message Board › Snowshoe/ winter hiking tips from REI

Snowshoe/ winter hiking tips from REI

Seattle, WA
Post #: 5
Before buying snowshoes, consider the snow conditions most common in your area. Wet, compact snow will require less flotation (and smaller snowshoes) than powder snow, which requires more flotation (and larger snowshoes).

Recommended load refers to your weight plus the weight of the gear you'll be carrying. Make sure to consider this along with snow conditions, and go for the smallest snowshoes that will support your weight. These will be the easiest to maneuver.

Using poles will help with balance and make crossing slopes easier. You can use ski poles, snowshoe poles or trekking poles. Large baskets are available to put on REI trekking poles so they will perform in deep snow.

Plan on carrying a larger pack for winter trips than you do during summer hikes. The extra clothing and gear you need to stay comfortable on a winter day trip can weigh as much as you'd take for an overnight in summer. A pack with an outer pocket is handy for carrying a snow shovel or your snowshoes if you should need to take them off and carry them.

Wrap some duct tape around one of your snowshoe poles as an emergency repair "kit." You can secure broken binding straps or patch puncture holes. Carry some plastic tie wraps (used for securing cables) or bailing wire for attaching decking back to the frame. If your snowshoes are constructed with grommets, consider getting a grommet repair kit.

Take turns breaking trail in fresh snow, so everyone in the group shares the extra work. As soon as the leader is tired, he or she brings up the rear and takes a break by walking on the packed snow. Then the next person in line kicks steps for awhile, and so on. This is especially important on steep slopes, so that no one becomes exhausted.

Stretching out the hamstrings (muscles on the backs of the thighs) and hip flexors (muscles in front of the hips that lift the legs) will help your flexibility for snowshoeing. Walking on snowshoes requires that you take longer steps, especially uphill. You also walk with your feet much wider apart than normal. For more on stretching, click here.

Learn safe backcountry travel techniques, whether through an organization or from reading and studying. An estimated 95% of people caught in avalanches actually trigger them as a result of unwise travel decisions! Have every person in your party carry and know how to use an avalanche beacon and a shovel if you plan to venture into the backcountry.

Carry a dry long underwear shirt to change into at the top or turnaround point of your day trip. Women may want to carry a dry sports bra as well. If you've been working hard you are likely to be sweaty and will cool off quickly when you stop. The dry clothes will keep you much warmer when you're headed downhill again and not creating as much heat.

Chemical hand warmers work wonders for keeping your digits happy. Put them next to your camera or flashlight in cold weather to keep them working, too.

Eat plenty of high-calorie, high-fat foods on long snowshoe trips. Your body will burn them for needed energy and warmth. Some folks even swear by putting a little butter in their hot drinks to stay warm at night.

Drink plenty of water, even if you don't feel thirsty. You need to stay hydrated to stay warm!

Carry a thermos or vacuum bottle with hot cocoa or tea when out on a day trip. Or you can even carry a small stove and heat up some water for soup. It can make a cold, wet trip much more enjoyable.

When snow camping, place some water in the bottom of your cooking pot before attempting to melt snow. Not only does it help the snow melt faster, it also keeps the pot from scorching and giving your water a bad taste.
Osseo, MN
Post #: 79
Preparing for safe and comfortable winter activities
By: Sak

As we transition to winter sports, safety and comfort become very important issues. It is extremely important that we prepare ourselves for outdoor activity. Upcoming events could leave us outdoors for hours in below freezing temperatures, severe winds, snow blizzard or freezing rain. You never know what's going to happen in the mountains and have to be prepared for the worst. The consequence for not being prepared in winter can be very severe, even life threatening!

For clothing...
It all boils down to heat and moisture management. Ever hear of the phrase "Cotton Kills!" well, it's because if it gets wet (and it usually does in the winter) , it looses all insulating properties, takes forever to dry and it can even freeze while you're wearing it! So don't do it, just say no! In fact, if you show up to one of my events in Jeans and a cotton sweat shirt, you won't be allowed to go. Moisture wicking clothing like synthetics and wool are the best choices. Layering is the key. The classic setup is a moisture wicking base layer, an insulating /breathable layer like fleece, and an outer rain-proof/wind-proof shell. From this you can add additional layers as needed. One other layer that you should bring is the "I'm not moving layer" something extra to wear when your body isn't generating any heat from exercise. For me, it's either an extra fleece jacket or my down jacket. The other benefit of layering is it allows you to manage sweat/ condensation more effectively by adding or removing layers. You want to avoid sweating and soaking your clothing as much as possible. A single big thick jacket doesn't allow you to adjust. You'll soak your jacket on the accent and freeze while we're stopped, and/ or on the way down. The thing about layering, try to anticipate the layer changes BEFORE your body tells you about it. Don't wait until you get cold and then adjust. It's a lot easier to not lose the body heat in the first place, than to recover from getting cold.

Boots, hats, gloves....
Real winter boots are much better at keeping your feet warm and dry than the waterproof summer hiking boots. The winter ones are rated for much lower temperatures and normally have more rubber in the construction which adds to keeping it dry. Stuffing extra socks in your summer boots may seem like a good idea but if it restricts blood flow it can make your feet colder! I've used normal hiking boots and gotten away with it, but my feet eventually got wet. If I would of gotten lost or had to overnight, I would of been screwed! Gloves... in my opinion there's no such thing as a water proof glove, so with that being said, I carry extras and rotate them like NASCAR racers rotates their tires. Hats, I bring 2. Socks, I bring extra pair.

My personal setup, key word being personal. It took me several iterations to find out what works best for ME.
REI MTS long sleeve shirt;- Long sleeve fleece with long chest zipper, or SportsHill soft shell long sleeve, with wind blocking fabric in the front (great for cc skiing);- Fleece vest,- Winter cap with ear flaps,- Wool socks:- Light semi water proof gloves;- 100 weight fleece pants or long johns;- REI mistral pants, highly breathable, water resistant, snow doesn't stick to it.;- Gaiters;- Winter boots or Ski boots

In my pack I carry..
- Fleece or soft shell jacket (with pit zips);- Down Jacket;- very warm windproof Beanie;- Waterproof Jacket(shell) and pants;- extra socks;- extra gloves, 1 light pair, and 2nd mondo down mittens

Other Stuff...
- The essential (10, 12, 14) it depends now who you talk to;- those chemical air activated heating pads;- Hiking poles with basket, or ski poles;- Insulating pad, as people have seen I pretty much carry this year round. A small one for sitting on will do;- Extra food

Couple other points...
Don't underestimate the extra effort required to travel in snow. We're use to spanking out 8, 10, even 14 mile day hikes. Scale that down ALOT for snowshoe outings. Your body is doing a lot more work, plus it's trying to keep you warm. I've read in books that winter activity uses up to twice the energy of a similar summer event. Not eating on a winter event can cause you to "bonk" AND reduce your ability to generate body heat. Eat to exercise, not exercise to eat!

Don't forget the water either; the winter air is very dry. One of my friends tried this last winter, topping off your water bottle with snow to make more water, doesn't work very well.

It is EXTREMELY easy to get lost on winter trails!!! Sometime there isn't even a trail to follow. The Mountaineers won't even let you go on a snowshoe event unless you take their Navigation course! The bottom line, unlike day hikes where people pretty much hike their own pace and get spread out over 1/2 a mile or more, it would be a really good idea, maybe even a requirement for the group to stay together.

Just wanted to get people to start thinking about winter safety and being prepared. I'm no expert, use this as a starting point and seek further resources. There tons of information out there.

I know there's lots of expertise out there, especially the mountaineering folks, it would be great if others could share what they know with the beginners of the group.
A former member
Post #: 18
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