Winter and early spring are awe-inspiring times to be out in the wilderness, but they can also be dangerous if you go out unprepared. (Check out the photos below for an instant comparison - from beautifully calm to blasting winds and ice pellets).
Bad weather always looks worse through a window, so my advice is to get outside and enjoy the views! Making sure you’re prepared with the right gear will ensure you have a safe and enjoyable trip outside. Check out what I take on a normal day trip in the mountains during our long Canadian winters.
Winter tip 101: Dress like an onion (LAYERS!)
Here's what I carry:
- Wool socks (+extra pair inside pack)
- 1 buffs / 1 toque (+extra buff inside pack)
- Merino wool base layers
- Waterproof softshell pants
- Waterproof gloves with fleece liner (+waterproof down mittens inside pack)
- Fleece zip-up
- Thin insulated windproof/breathable jacket
- Down jacket (I usually keep this inside my pack and only use it when stopped/taking a break)
- Insulated waterproof shell jacket (for when the snow is falling)
- Photochromatic glasses (even on a cloudy day you can get UV damage, so having sunglasses that can go from dark to clear is helpful in the winter)
And then I add the rest...
- First aid kit/fire starter/waterproof matches/multi-tool
- Poles with snow baskets
- Trail (boot) spikes
- Hot soup / Hot tea or chocolate / food / snacks (I like to save my camping stove fuel for overnight trips, so instead of bringing my backpacking stove, I pre boil my soup/water and keep in thermos for day trips)
- Water in a bottle + bottle insulator (tubes freeze too easily and end up useless) TIP: Store your water bottle upside down (triple check to make sure it’s sealed properly beforehand) so the top mouthpiece doesn’t freeze solid.
- Thermal seating pad (why not make those hot soup breaks even more comfortable?)
- Bear spray
- Head lamp with extra batteries
- Chemical hand warmers (I carry lots of these + extras in my first aid)
- Battery charger and cable for any gadgets/phone
- 2 emergency blankets
- Map of objective/compass
If I am on a longer, more remote or challenging objective, I may also take:
- Ice axe
Winter gear can get expensive, but don’t let price tags scare you; you can always find great used gear with lots of life left (and owning a piece of used gear that may not be your fave color is better than not owning it at all).
The seemingly-long list of winter gear is easy to pack and doesn’t weigh much at all, so aside from being a bit more bulky than your summer pack - there isn’t much difference.
Have a safe and fun winter and spring and see you on the trails!
Ambassador Kelly Amber Dolan lives in Calgary, Alberta, and is a Fast and Light ambassador for the 2019 Trail Tales team. Follow her here and on Instagram at: @ibex.kelly.amber