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Winter Backpacking - Six Lifesaving Tips
By Steven Gillman

Did you check the weather report when you last went winter backpacking? You probably did, but I am sure there are some who are thinking "Weather report? How about cold and snowy - it's winter!" However, cold and snow are not the only aspects of the weather. You may actually be in more danger if there will be a warming trend while you are out in the wilderness.

Getting wet when the temperature is just over freezing is far more likely than when it is far below freezing. Getting wet, and then cold because of it, is one of the primary reasons people die in the wilderness in winter. A down coat might keep you warm down to zero, but it might also become almost worthless in a steady freezing rain. You need to be prepared for the specific weather you are likely to see.

More Winter Hiking Tips

Stay as dry as you can. Getting wet is what kills you in the winter wilds. Proper preparation means more than just bringing a rain jacket, though. You also have to avoid letting too much snow melt into your clothing. Jeans are the worst for this, and should never be worn when backpacking in snow. You also need to monitor your perspiration. It's easy to get wet from sweating during a hard hike. This sweat will chill you fast once you stop moving. Remove those layers as you warm up, to prevent sweating.

Have proper clothing. What should you have with you when hiking? Avoid cotton, for starters. Synthetic underwear, like polypropylene, is a great invention, in all it's newest forms. "Wicking" pants and tops work well. Always have a hat and gloves. Dry socks can prevent frostbitten toes, and are a good idea even for a day hike. Down coats and vests are the best - if you can keep them dry.

Bring enough water. Eating snow is an extremely inefficient way to get water into your system. Bring water and keep it from freezing. This might mean keeping your water bottle inside your coat, or next to you in your sleeping bag at night. One of the primary problems that climbers of Mount Everest have is dehydration, by the way, and it can contribute to hypothermia.

Bring a heat source. Many of us get by backpacking with no stove in the warmer months, eating cold foods only, but in winter a cooking stove is a necessity. It isn't just that you will appreciate having hot food. You will need a way to melt snow and ice for water. Always have enough matches, and a lighter too. A fire can easily be a lifesaver if you fall into a stream of lake and need to get warm and dry.

Learn some basic principles of cold weather survival. Maybe you won't remember that you can turn a light jacket into a winter coat by stuffing it full of cattail fluff from the nearest swamp. However, if you understand how dead air space insulates, it will seem obvious to you that you can use a pile of dry leaves or grass as an emergency blanket. Once, while backpacking along the Manistee River in Michigan, setting up my tent on a pile of dry bracken ferns allowed me to stay warm with no sleeping bag when it was almost freezing.

Think about these things before you are out there. Proper preparation is what will make your winter backpacking trip a safe one.  (related article)

Copyright Steve Gillman. To get the ebook "Ultralight Backpacking Secrets (And Wilderness Survival Tips)" for FREE, as well as photos, gear recommendations, and a new wilderness survival section, visit: The Ultralight Backpacking Site:

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Like this article?  You may also enjoy:  Cheap Backpacking by Steve Gillman, Do Walking Sticks Conserve Energy? by Steve Gillman, Ultralight vs Traditional Backpacking by Steve Gillman, and Breakfast Recipes by Steve Gillman


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