Must-Have Gear: Winter Hikes

winterhikeThe wilderness is no place for the faint of heart or weak-willed. Mother Nature does not tend to suffer the ill-prepared or careless to venture deep into her secluded reaches for a glimpse of the untouched, majestic beauty of the American outdoors. No, those with the daring to trek forth unto the trails, canyons, and ridges of the fields and forests must take into consideration the potential danger that accompanies such an endeavor, especially in more treacherous regions or during harsher seasons, such as winter. You’ll need specific gear to safely hike through deep snowfalls and freezing temperatures this winter, and today I’ve provided you with a few pieces of equipment I feel are necessary not only for comfort, but potentially for survival in such conditions.

As I’ve said time and time again, it all starts with the boots. In the colder temperatures and potentially wet situations you’ll most likely find yourself in, mid to high length waterproof models lined with Gore-Tex are a great choice. Higher lengths will help keep snow from fiding its way into your boots, and you’ll thank your stars for the Gore-Tex and waterproof material when the temperatures drop and the snow gets deep. My Targhee II mids, made by Keen, have long kept my feet dry, warm, and comfortable during my trudges through deep snow. Not only that, but their reliable treads keep me from slipping on unstable surfaces.

On long winter hikes where you’ll be bringing along more gear than usual, it might be smarter to pull your equipment on a sled, rather than carry it. It’s slower going in snow, which—compounded with a full pack and long distances—can tire your body faster than usual. Do yourself a favor and don’t be a hero in such situations; pull a sled. Just check your designated route beforehand to make sure the terrain is optimal for a sled.

Winter nights are long, so it’s crucial to make sure any electronics you have—headlamp, flashlight, two-way radios, and GPS units—are equipped with fully charged batteries. You’ll want to be sure the batteries for each are new or fully charged before heading out and always take extras. Lithium batteries perform better in cold weather, but they can overpower some devices, so be sure to check your product’s compatibility. Alkaline batteries are cheaper and are more universal, but they tend to drain at a faster rate. Keep in mind that cold temperatures decrease battery life, so store your batteries and devices inside your sleeping bag to keep them warm and lasting longer.

In areas where deep snow, not just cold temperatures, is a reality, snowshoes are a great idea. By distributing your body weight across a broader surface area, it’s less likely that you’ll fall through the snow. Not only can this be a potential lifesaver, but you’ll find that not having to constantly lift your legs to fight for each step in deep snow will keep your strength from being depleted faster than normal. Even if deep snow isn’t a risk, trekking poles are still a good idea for winter hikes. The extra point of contact will only add to your balance, which is always nice when conditions are icy.

If your winter hiking finds you deep in the backcountry, there are a few more items you’ll do well to have with you. A small snow shovel is great to have in an emergency situation, such as an avalanche. Not only can they help dig yourself or another out of sudden snowfalls, but they can level snow piles to make a site for a tent or even dig a shelter. Furthermore, if you’re heading to areas where avalanches are common, be sure to carry a personal locator beacon that relays your position to satellites when activated.

I love winter hikes, but I also know the importance of being safe and responsible when I hit the woods after the snow starts to fall. The further I get from civilization, the more risks I take on, so having the proper gear for cold weather ventures to the wilderness is a must. Keep the items listed above in mind if your outdoor aspirations find you in the snow this winter. I guarantee you’ll be thankful that you did. 

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