10 Hacks for Winter Backpacking
So you’ve decided that your love of backpacking is so great that not even Old Man Winter himself can keep you cooped up when the temperatures drop. Good. Welcome to the club, fellow maniac. Whether it’s the beautiful, snowy vistas, the refreshing chill of the air, or the solitude of the trail during the winter that draws you out, here are a few things that you can do to make your excursion into the cold even more enjoyable (and safe!)
1. Flip your water bottle upside down.
Water at the top of a bottle freezes first (due to the fact that ice is less dense than liquid water) effectively shutting off your access to the water below. If you flip your bottle, the ice will then form at the top of the upside down bottle, meaning that when you go to drink it, and flip it right side up, you are still able to access the liquid, drinkable part of your water.
2. Keep snacks in a warm pocket
There’s not much liquid in most snack bars, but what little there is will freeze and become tooth-shatteringly hard to eat. Figure out your snacks before hand and keep anything that you plan on eating on the trail that day in a jacket/pant pocket. Your body heat will do the rest.
The best thing to wear to bed inside of your bag in the winter is a dry base layer. And that’s it. Wearing too much clothing is counter-effective in that the extra clothes can compress the insulation of your bag and cut off circulation to your extremities. A sleeping bag is designed to work as a single unit, the warm parts of your body heat up the cold parts of your body. If you wear your warmest coat then there is no passage of warm air to travel to your toes. Also, if you’re wearing damp clothes inside of your bag, this moisture will get trapped in your bag and make you colder.
4. Warm your clothes before getting out of your sleeping bag
If your hiking clothes are moist, take them off before bed and change into something dry. In the morning, your moist clothes will be cold if not frozen. You can avoid a chilly start to your morning by placing your hiking clothes in a plastic bag (to keep moisture out of your sleeping bag) and warming them up inside your bag before putting them on.
5. Don’t hold it all night
I won’t go too far into this, but having a full bladder impedes kidney function which is important in keeping your organs (and thus your whole body warm.) Added to this, if you can’t sleep because you have to go, then just go and get it over with! Being well rested is important on any hike. We won’t talk about the other option, but let’s just say that a wet bag is a cold bag.
6. Warm up before crawling into your bag
Right before you get into your bag, its good to have your blood flowing. This will help in creating heat for your bag to trap, which will make you warmer more quickly once inside. So go for a short walk or do some jumping jacks before turning in. Don’t get sweaty, of course, but get the heart pumping and the heater going.
7. Calories = Energy = Warmth
Most hikers don’t need the encouragement, but: don’t forget to eat! Keep in mind that you’re not just replacing lost calories from the hike, but that you are also adding fuel to your inner furnace. Bring extra snacks for the hike and make sure to eat something filling and warm in the evening (preferably not too long before lying down for the night.) Carbs and fat work best to keep the fire going. Plan on an extra 500 calories at least when the weather gets cold.
Cutting a piece off of an old insulated foam pad to use as a seat in the winter will save you from a wet, cold bottom when you stop for a pack break halfway up the mountain, not to mention keeping you warm as you eat around camp in the evening. It can also double as extra insulation under your mat, pillow, or even as a sleeve to keep dehydrated meals warm as they cook inside of their bag.
9. Layer, layer, layer (and pack your layers intelligently)
If you’ve been backpacking in the cold before then you know that layering is the only way to go: a base layer under a mid fleece layer under an insulating layer under a wind/waterproof shell layer (or some combination that works for you.) As you warm up, you ditch layers. When you stop or when the weather turns, you put them back on. Just remember to pack your layers in a way that they are easily accessible while on the move . This includes, of course, hats and gloves.
10. Add traction to your shoes
You won’t always need full crampons, but on slippery, steep surfaces, some sort of after-market traction added to your boots can keep you moving vertically without ending up horizontal, face down in the snow (or, worse, creating a giant snowball by rolling down the side of a mountain.) This is obviously terrain dependent, but on any winter hike where the elevation changes, you can bet that the amount of ice and snow on the trail is also going to change.
So don’t let the weather keep you down! With proper gear and smart planning, you too can be pointed at by folks from the comfort of their cars as you head out on the trail into the beauty and serenity of the winter landscape.