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Cold Weather Hiking (11/06)

Always be prepared for Vermont’s notoriously changeable weather. Remember that conditions are much less stable high on a mountain than down in the Champlain Valley.

Even on lovely fall days, carry the 3 W’s with you: Wick, Warm and Wind. Have a layer that wicks moisture away from you (not cotton), a layer that’s warm (fleece), and a layer that protects you against wind and rain. Pack a hat, gloves and extra warm clothing.

Carry enough water and high-energy snacks to keep you going all day and overnight, even if you’re planning to be out for only a few hours. (If you haven’t done a lot of hiking, carry more water than you think you’ll need. Stop for a few swigs of water often, before you feel thirsty.) Never drink from a stream. That sparkling water looks so tempting, but water that looks perfectly clean can be loaded with giardia, a nasty intestinal parasite. Be safe. Don’t drink any untreated water.

It’s a good idea to have a small first aid kit and a loud whistle. You might want to carry a space blanket; they take up no room, weigh nothing and could save your life.

Before heading out for a winter hike, read pages 21-22 and 24-26 of the Long Trail Guide.

More Tips about Winter Hiking from Seasoned Backpackers (excerpts from January ‘04 Ridge Lines)

  • Don’t use your stove in your tent unless you have very good ventilation.
  • An old wool sock around your thermos helps keep your soup hot and prevents your fingers from freezing when you pick the thermos up.
  • Before going to sleep, open the laces and tongues of your boots. If the boots freeze, you can still get your feet into them in the morning.
  • Days are short in the winter, and lights are notoriously unreliable. Carry two.
  • A handful of gorp at 2AM is like stoking the fire and putting on an extra wool blanket.
  • If you’re backpacking in the winter and you have enough fuel and water, boil some water at night and put it in your water bottle. Put the hot water bottle in your sleeping bag. Just make sure the lid is screwed on tight!