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Winter Hiking

From: Tom R.
Sent on: Thursday, January 8, 2009 10:52 PM
It's winter - and time for snowshoe adventures in the Cascades. Several group member asked for advice on clothing and equipment for winter hiking. You can find a lot of information on the web and the people at REI will be happy to advise you. Here are some basic tips.

The most important thing is to keep warm - but to avoid getting too warm. Remember - you are going to be generating heat as you hike but you will quickly get cold when you stop for lunch or if we get exposed to the wind on an open meadow or mountain top. So the trick is to avoid thick and bulky parkas and dress in a series of thinner layers so you can add or shed a layer as required. Base layers should be made of wick-away fabric. Avoid cotton at all costs. When you sweat - it gets wet and loses all of its insulation. You need a pair of windproof pants for your legs. Up top, three layers is normal - the wick-away next to your skin followed by a fleece layer for warmth and a windstopper jacket. You should always carry an additional waterproof in your pack.

You need medium to heavyweight hiking boots. Lightweight summer trail shoes are no good. Wear woolen socks. "Smartwool" or Merino wool work well.

Gaiters are essential as they prevent snow getting down your ankles into your boots.

For gloves, I tend to avoid the thick ski-type gloves. Maybe its just a matter of personal preference but I prefer to wear a pair of Merino wool liners with a windstopper outer layer.

Of course - you need a wool hat and sunglasses are highly recommended.

Snowshoes. Once again, it's a matter of personal preference but I like the plastic MSR snowshoes. A good pair costs around $150 but you can rent a pair from any of the outdoor stores.

In you pack you should carry food and drink. I happen to really enjoy a warm cup of tea or coffee so I always carry a thermos. You should have waterproofs. An inflatable sitting pad (Thermarest) is a great luxury when we stop for lunch but, if you get caught out or injured - it can be a lifesaver. Nothing drains body heat faster than sitting on frozen ice or snow. You should always carry an LED headlamp and a whistle. It is prudent to carry a spare fleece or down sweater. No-one ever intends to end up in a situation where you are forced to spend a night out in the open - but you should always be prepared.

When we go on a snowshoe hike the level of difficulty is unpredictable. If the trail is compacted and the weather is nice - it's just like hiking on solid ground. 10 to 12 miles is relatively easy. However, if there is a new snowfall and we have to break trail, it can be an exhausting effort to cover one mile in two hours. And if the temperature rises above freezing, even the best compacted trail can turn into an energy-sapping slushy mess.

A few words about trail etiquette. We try to stick to marked snow-shoe trails. However sometimes we will follow cross country ski trails. You should always avoid walking on the ski tracks. Always give way to skiers.

Finally, you are all grown adults and you participate in these hikes at your own risk. However, you have a responsibility to the hike leader and the rest of the group to be well prepared for the conditions. After all, if you get into trouble these are the people who will do their best to take care of you. If you turn up for a hike wearing inappropriate clothing then please be prepared for the hike leader to respectfully tell you to go home.

I hope this is useful.


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