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The Seattle Backpackers Meetup Group Message Board › Preparing for safe and comfortable winter activities

Preparing for safe and comfortable winter activities

A former member
Post #: 22
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 tooke 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.

REI Snow sports expert advise­

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.

Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 110
WOW! Sak thanks for spending the time to post this. All excelent information.

A former member
Post #: 21
Well written post!
A former member
Post #: 9
Hey there,

Just wanted to pipe in with two things. The Mountaineers don't actually require you to have taken the Nav course to go on all snowshoeing trips. However, they do require that you have the 10 essentials on your person, or you can be refused when you show up for a trip.

Second, one policy they do have is that there is a lead and a follow-up person who is always at the back of the group. Getting lost on cold mountain trips can be deadly.

That being said, a winter travel or navigation course is so important for winter sports, because the usual trail markers are, by definition, covered with *snow*. Hard to tell one should turn left here and veer right there when everything looks fluffy and pretty but is totally unmarked. For our own safety, it's important that we all know how to read a map and compass, and not rely on the leaders or organizers, who are human and can either be navigationally untrained or just plain turned around.

Bottom line: be responsible for your own safety in the snowy wilderness. If everyone in your group insists on going the wrong direction, you might be the one who saves the day (and your own skin) if you are the only one who actually knows where you are and where you are meant to be going!

My strongest advice:
1) ALWAYS carry the 10 essentials, rain, snow, or shine, winter or summer.
2) Take the Mtnr's navigation course and avalanche course, and winter travel, if you can
3) Always be responsible for yourself and don't be shy if you think they group is going off course.

My two cents.
A former member
Post #: 57

The Mountaineers don't actually require you to have taken the Nav course to go on all snowshoeing trips.
I was almost certain Sak had his facts straight and I douted my own sanity so I went hunting and found this in the mountaineers' activity posting.
Just s small correction so we're all on the same page. :) It may only apply to Seattle branch.

Event: Basic Navigation Workshop - Students (Clubhouse)

Event ID: 9728
Event Date(s): 01/31/07
Event Leader: Mary C. Panza Leader Permission Required: No

The course is open to both Mountaineer members and non-members who are in reasonable physical condition with an interest in navigation. Note that members may get registration preference in some circumstances. The course is REQUIRED for Seattle basic climbing, Seattle alpine scrambling and Snowshoeing/Winter Travel. Students who complete the course will receive a Navigation card valid for 3 years.
A former member
Post #: 3
The Mountaineers permit people who have not taken the Nav course to sign up for Easy or Easy+ rated snowshoe trips. If you have not taken the Nav course but have taken the Snowshoe course you can sign up for Moderate snowshoe trips as a student. You do need to pass the Nav course in order to graduate from the Snowshoe course. That said, it's still a good idea to take the Nav course!

Depending on the steepness or icy-ness of the terrain, flexible short-pointed walking crampons such as the Grivel G10 New Classic are good for winter hiking, as well as an extendable ice axe such as the Petzl Snowscopic telescoping axe (get a rubber Grivel Cappucino to cover the metal for additional insulation and cushioning). The crampons and axe are equally useful in steep snow as on ice.
A former member
Post #: 11
Being a novice, I am taking the Mountaineer's Snowshoe 1 course tomorrow, Tuesday, Nov 27th in Tacoma @ 6:30 PM, and there's room for more signups. An easy trail event follows Sat Dec 1st which is required to pass the class. In January is Snowshoe 2, which has Showshoe 1 as a prerequisite.
Above is all good information. Thanks for the posting.
A former member
Post #: 8
The information posted by Sak is very helpful and important, but I would like to add the importance of taking an avalanche awareness/rescue course. Those who go out in the backcountry during winter months need to be aware of avalanche conditions, terrain, prepardness, equipment, rescue, and safety.

In addition, before going out in the backcountry, one MUST consider the current weather and avalanche conditions, as well as the forecast for the reminder of your trip! If a storm is forecasted for the mountains, it's best to postpone the trip until the conditions are favorable.

A former member
Post #: 1
Emergency shelter and snowshoes are also a good idea.
Michael C.
Seattle, WA
Post #: 92
For anyone information driven and concerned about avalanches, here is a link that has consumed my evening with in-depth descriptions of the elements that form avalanche hazards.

If you don't get lost for hours reading things like wikipedia for fun this might not be of interest to you, but if you do, here you go:


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