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Everyone loves a winter wonderland. The snowy trees and piles of powder may be the best parts of the chill of winter. Some people choose to stay indoors and avoid the frigid temperatures but they’re missing out. Definitely bundle up and get outside, even when the trails are snow covered and the wind is nipping at your nose. However, take a hot second to make sure you’re prepared for the winter weather. We’re working on the assumption that you know how to dress for the cold weather and remember to strap on some sort of traction for the icy trails. But what about the ten essentials?! Have you taken the time to winterize your stash of trail must-haves? If not, keep on reading, we’ll get you a few tips and tricks to have your pack ready for wintry adventures.
Always, always, always take the basic “ten essentials” along for your adventures. Whether you’re headed out on a day hike or a weekend in the wilderness, have some variation of the ten essentials with you. Hopefully you’ll never need to use them as life savers, but be prepared and know how to use everything you’ve packed. Also, we strongly suggest you make slight adjustments to your essentials based upon the weather and terrain you’ll be exploring in. Since the weather has us huddled over our steaming hot chocolates, we’re going to focus on just the cold weather essentials. Interested in the necessities of sweaty adventure in the sunshine check out the ten essentials of summer adventures.
The snow and ice transforms the wilderness we’ve grown to love, giving us a whole new experience during the winter months. We love this, it’s stunningly beautiful. However, it also makes navigation harder. Be sure to pack a map and compass and know how to use them! You might be headed out onto a familiar trail but it’s easier than usual to get lost on snow covered trails. You never know if the person breaking trail followed the standard trail. If all goes well you won’t need to pull out the map and compass to navigate, but always pack it, just in case. The Kula Academy has some excellent virtual navigation courses to get you started.
If you’re not comfortable using a map and compass you may want to consider packing a GPS device or a downloaded map on your cellphone. That said, we do not recommend depending upon your cell phone as it is not very reliable, especially on cold days when the battery doesn’t hold a charge for long.
Even if you’re headed out onto the trails in the early morning light, pack at least one headlamp and back up batteries. In the perfect world, you won’t need them. But if things go awry, you’ll be happy to have them. Besides, how else will you be able to see in the depths of the random rock cave you discover while out wandering?
Great lightweight headlamp options include the USB rechargable Biolite 200 Headlamp and the Black Diamond Spot 350 headlamp. If you don’t have the space for a full sized headlamp you may want to get a mini Nite Ize flashlight to easy stash away.
It’s 5 degrees outside and you’ve covered 98% of your body with warm layers, adding sunscreen seems silly, right? But don’t forget it! Even on cloudy days, that fresh layer of snow will become a shiny reflector for the sun and you’ll return home with some very interesting tan lines! Not to mention, the painful glare of the sunshine beating into your eyes and cause both short term and long term damage.
You can actually sunburn your eyeballs, called snow blindness. This occurs when the sun reflects off the snow and directly into your eyes for an extended period of time throughout the day. The best way to prevent this is to have proper eye protection. On days with excessive sun and snow your basic sunglasses may not be enough. You may want to look into getting a pair of glacier glasses or snow goggles for extended winter adventures.
You’ll leave the house layered up and ready for the cold. Even if you feel like that kid in the Christmas Story, toss another layer in your pack. You might be warm now but you’re either in the comfort of your house or your plowing through knee deep snow.
Be prepared for the moments when you won’t be moving, either because you’re snacking or because you can’t. Plan to have a base layer, at least one puffy layer and a protective outer layer — for your upper and lower body. Also, don’t forget about your head, hands and feet. Hopefully it won’t be necessary, but be ready for a night in the unforgiving cold of winter.
We are grouping your first aid kit and repair kit together because during the winter months they’re both really freaking important! When the weather is cold and seasonably inclement, having to slow down because of an injury or broken gear can be detrimental to your survival.
You can start by getting a pre-made kit at REI, Moosejaw or Outdoor Gear Exchange. These pre-made first aid kits often come in very durable pouches. Once you have spent some time with the pre-made kit you’ll know what you need/want and can use the durable pouch to carry along everything you’ll need.
If an essential piece of gear breaks do you have a backup plan? This can apply to anything from your shoelaces to your tent poles to your backpack strap. A few items that are very useful for repairing gear include duct tape, nylon paracord, scissors/knife, sewing kit with heavy duty needle/thread, a multi-tool and anything you may need to make a specific gear repair [such as gear tape for tent repairs].
Get a little creative with how you pack a shelter. Anything that will protect you from the elements will work. In the winter, consider adding something that’ll also keep you warm. This is where the creativity comes into play — work your extra insulation layers into your shelter plan.
This is important year round, especially when it comes to preparing food, but in the colder months you’ll need fire to keep yourself warm as well. Be sure to pack along a fire starter that is waterproof and functional in the cold. It can be as simple as waxy cotton balls and waterproof matches or a little more elaborate such as white gas, a pocket stove and a lighter. Having the ability to create fire and produce something warm to drink/eat is a necessity if things go wrong while you’re out exploring.
You can pack fire starters [waterproof matches, flint sticker, etc] or small cook stoves [JetBoil, MSR PocketRocket, Biolite CampStove 2,etc]. What you pack will depend upon where you’re going and what you plan to do while you’re there! On a day hike close to home simple fire starters will do while you will likely want a small cook stove for an epic backcountry trip!
When packing hydration remember how cold it can get. A hydration bladder may not be the best option as the hose can easily freeze. A better option would be an insulated bottle with a wide mouth opening so you’ll be able to either keep the water from freezing at all or give you access to the water that hasn’t frozen. Also, eating snow is not an acceptable hydration plan — the cold of the snow can be detrimental to your core body temperature.
You can thaw snow with one of the camp stoves and filter it [or not, depending upon where you’re adventuring]. Filters you may want to consider packing include the LifeStraw, Mini Sawyer, or SteriPen.
Sugary candy is the easy, quick option while you’re out moving around as your body digests it quickly and kicks up your energy. However, while choosing your food for the worst case scenario consider fattier, heartier food. Dark chocolate, nuts, and beef jerky are great options that will help keep your body warming you from the inside out.
Get more insight on great trail treats in our article called The Best Trail Treats For Any Adventure.
While not a traditional item on the “Ten Essentials” list traction tends to be essential on the snowy trails. If you’re headed out without cross country skis or snowshoes you will likely want to pack along lightweight traction. Investing in a pair of YakTrax or MicroSpikes is a great idea if you’re headed out in the winter as they’re easy to pack along and great for keeping you upright on icy trails. They’re even great for icy sidewalks around the neighborhood.
These ten categories are meant to work as a checklist to ensure you have everything you need to prepare for nearly anything the trail has to throw at you. Ideally you won’t need these items but if you do, you will be glad you had them!
These are just the very basic items you’ll want to pack along for winter wandering. Use this as a general checklist when packing for your adventure but always take into considering the terrain and weather you’re headed out into. There is always a fair bit of risk that comes with treks into the wilderness, but winter tends to come with more. Be aware of the avalanche risk, know what type of weather is coming your way and let people know where you’re headed.
What other items do you *always* pack [or at least consider packing] when you head into a winter wonderland? Let us know…reach out in the comments, via firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram / Facebook!