Hike Smarter in Winter
There’s a reason winter is the solitude season: Cold weather makes backcountry travel harder. But it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. Focus less on the shivers and more on the scenery with tips from Shawn “Pepper” Forry and Justin “Trauma”
Lichter, who in 2015 became the first people to finish a winter thru-hike of the PCT.
1) PACK SMART.
In winter, efficiency is key for two reasons: Daylight is precious, and the time you spend fiddling with your equipment is time spent losing heat. “I do all my packing and morning chores from my sleeping bag, then make sure I have my extra layers either on my body, in my pockets, or easily accessible in my pack,” Lichter says. Put the day’s food in your toplid or hipbelt pockets (in ultracold temps, snack rather than stopping to make lunch), and leave your puffy out of its stuffsack.
2) START COLD.
“It takes a lot of discipline to stop and take off a layer before you start to sweat,” Forry says. Ditch the puffy before you put on your pack.
3) TREAT THE SNOW LIKE LAVA.
Avoid touching it whenever you can. “Every time you kneel down, or drop your glove in the snow, you’re slowly getting wet,” Forry says. Brush off snow before your body heat melts it, and sit on raingear or a foam sit pad to insulate your bottom from wet or frozen ground. And keep track of your stuff: Setting things in deep snow is a good way to waste time looking for them later.
4) BABY YOUR FREEZABLES.
Keep water liquid by stashing bottles in your sleeping bag at night (heat it up first if you’re cold). Liquid fuel is more efficient in the cold, but if you go with a lighter-weight canister or alcohol stove system, warm up canisters in your bag or jacket for an hour before cooking to improve performance (during use, set the canister on a plate or avy shovel to keep it from sinking into the snow). Use cold-resistant lithium batteries, and keep gadgets (or just the batteries) in internal pockets when not in use.
5) DRINK PLENTY OF WATER.
Keeping your blood thin allows it to carry warmth to the small vessels in your fingers and toes. Forry suggests bringing hot drinks in an insulated bottle or a bottle wrapped in a cozy (make one; see right).
6) KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR FEET.
Even pro-level hikers can miss symptoms of cold injury, including numbness and hard, white, waxy skin. Exhibit A: Lichter and Forry both got frostbite just weeks into their hike (see right). “Be observant of sensations in your feet, and take care of them early and quickly,” Lichter says. Avoid over-tightening boots or wearing too-thick socks (poor circulation means cold toes), and keep your feet dry. Get wet? Wrap socks around hot water bottles and dry them in your sleeping bag at night.