Winter Hiking – No More Soup For You!

Posted: October 2, 2011 in Hammock Camping, Winter Hiking

Yeah Yeah Yeah…. another Winter Hiking Blog…. You love it stop frontin!

Winter is the least forgiving season to have something go wrong in. Like wise it is also the worst season to just get up and go into the trails with a piece of kit that you have never tested.

I know… I did it and I paid the price for it. I’ll never go out in the winter without fully knowing what my gear can do for me and what limitations it has EVER again.

Old Man Winter Is A Pimp:

Yes he is and he will work you on the corner and when you slip up he will give you 5 across the eyes!

You can screw up in the summer, fall, and spring and for the most part still be ok. And by screw up I mean your gear fails which is critical to keep you warm. Because for the most part in those seasons you have the option to bail and make it out to civilization with little issue (most of the time).

Winter, however, takes 2 things away from you right from the get go… It turns water into a solid form and at every opportunity it tries to suck the heat from you or turns perspiration you produce against you.

If your gear fails in the winter you either better know and start making a fire or have the common sense to bail ASAP.

Everything Looks Legit On Paper – Trust No One!

Yeah you read that right… don’t even trust me. Actually you should be spitting on your computer screen and flipping me off! Stop reading, now.

Each person is different and different gear works differently for each person. Some people are hot and 3 season under quilts can get them into single digits whereas some people run cold and need a winter quilt when it hits 40*F.

To actually watch someone else use the gear on the internet you are thinking of getting, to me is actually futile. It can give you some sort of idea of what the piece of gear can do but you will never know how it will fair out with you until you give it YOUR TEST! Only you can be the judge if it is good enough for you.

Don’t Be A Weenie

What I mean is, don’t cheat the test. Getting to know your gear by examining it in your living room is totally different than actually testing it.

Don’t test out your stove on your counter top in a controlled environment. You are NOT achieving real data from your test.

Do you know how long it takes to boil water in 10*F with your preferred stove in windy, snowy conditions? You should.

Do you know how low you can get your winter coat? You should.

Do you know how to make a fire in the snow? You should.

Do you know when to start shedding your layers to maintain moisture control? You should.

Here’s a prime example of getting to know your gear and being a WEENIE about it:

I call it like I see it. And you should too. But if you call it to my face I’d probably split your lip.

In the above video I have ZERO knowledge of various things after the “test”:

How much warmer will the winter sock get me in actual winter conditions?

Will the Tulle bug net actually keep skeeters out since there were none during that time?

Will condensation be a problem at 20*F in the winter sock?

How hard will it be to close the sock when my fingers go numb at 10*F?

How hard will it be to get the condensation out of the winter sock in the field?

Man UP… But Be Safe

For winter testing I suggest testing your gear in actual conditions you will most likely be facing. Now, I’m not saying take your new gear and hit the trails for a few days with lows in the teens to see how it fairs. Cause that’s just stupid. I did stupid once… and that wasn’t a good decision.

Do day hikes frequently and test out specific equipment. Take that snow day off you got and play in the back yard with your gear seeing how snow effects your gear and set up procedures. Do an overnighter in a car camping situation or at least in a situation that allows you to bail and bail quickly when you feel you are in danger.

Here’s a prime example of actually testing your gear in actual conditions:

What I learned specifically was that most of my gear actually worked as advertised for ME. The only variable I noticed and I wouldn’t have figured out until I tested was that my bottom base layers were too thin for the conditions I was in. FOR ME, the medium weight base layer left my legs and butt cold. I ended up going for a expedition weight synthetic base layer which worked out much better for me on my snow shoeing adventure.

Take your test results, analyze what exactly worked and things that didn’t need serious reflecting, researching and adapting to correct the problem.

In Summation:

Although my articles, blogs, pontification… whatever you call them are meant to give you some insight into hiking in various weather conditions and problem solving. In the end, it’s only giving you perspective into MY style of hiking. You need to get out there and experience the school of hard knocks for yourself.

Trust me I’d rather be hiking than writing about it!

Peace Out,

Water Monkey

  1. Great advice dude!

    Seriously, you did an awesome job putting emphasis on how a person should test out THEIR own gear.

    Do I know how long my stove takes to boil water in 10F? Absolutely not

    But, I’m going to find out soon when I test it out.

    I personally test out my 3-season gear like crazy and am already doing mad research on winter camping. Because like you said, you are screwed if you aren’t prepared.

    I hope this isn’t the last winter article you do this year, as I can use all the help I can get.

    Thanks again for making these.


    • I was starting to get the notion that many of those who were reading my winter blog were taking what I said as gospel. This is what works for me and things that I have seen and rectified by trial and error in the winter. I wanted it to be pointed out that you need to really test things out for yourself and be safe about it.

      I think the last winter blog will be my winter set up which will probably be written and filmed late January 2012.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Condo says:

    I have not yet taken the plunge on winter backpacking myself, and I am wondering what pack you use for this. I have been leaning toward an ULA Circuit for an all around pack, but am thinking that I will in reality need two packs to finally get to do both three and four season backpacking which would push me toward an Ohm and Catalyst if I stuck with ULA.

    • The Circuit for me only held enough equipment and food for 2 days max. I upgraded to the Catalyst (most of my winter gear is bulky). I will have a definitive answer on this as soon as I get a chance to test it out in January 2012.

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