Guest Post by @dylanarthurnz
Gearing up for winter
So, in the famous words of Ned Stark “winter is coming” and you’re not quite reading to hang up the hiking boots just yet. The thoughts of climbing snowy peaks has left you intrigued, but you’re not quite sure where to start.
This quick guide will give you the basics you need to know to get you out on some epic adventures over those colder months.
We all know to prepare for everything here in NZ, but in winter, that mindset becomes essential. The weather can change in a instant, the daylight hours are shorter, and the cold sets in quicker than you would imagine.
Your choice of clothing is a fine balance. You don’t want to wear too much, as you’ll end up sweating too much (which will in turn leave you cold) but not wearing enough leaves you running the risk of hypothermia. The goal is to have a good balance of layers that will keep you warm and dry, as well as keeping aware of the trail, so if you know you have a steep uphill slog coming up, you can shed a layer to avoid getting too sweaty! Remember when hiking (particularly in winter) to avoid cotton clothes. Cotton gets extremely cold when it gets wet, and takes a long time to dry.
Base Layer – Start off with a good base layer (commonly thermals) of either Merino or Polypropylene, both of which have moisture wicking properties and dry quickly. The thickness of your base layer will depend on how cold the environment is. A fabric weight of around 260 provides a fantastic warmth:weight ratio.
Mid Layer(s) – Mid layers are where the greatest proportion of your warmth is gained through your layering system. Typically two mid layers is the ideal amount, depending on the temperature. A merino fleece layer on top of your base layer, followed by a down jacket over top is a great place to start. The merino fleece will keep you warm if it gets wet, whereas the down loses its warmth properties when wet. When choosing a down jacket, a higher ‘loft’ translates to a jacket that will pack down smaller when you need it compressed. Soft shell pants are a great bet if you’re venturing out into the snow, they tend to be lined with fleece so will keep your legs warm, even if you’re taking a seat down in a snowy patch for a moment!
Shell Layer – Your shell layer will provide you with the most protection from the harsh winter elements. Common shell layering systems you’ll find will be made of GoreTex or Pertex, however many outdoor companies have their own technology that acts in the same way. These fabrics are one-way permeable, meaning that they are breathable, but waterproof. They come in three different variants, 2, 2.5 and 3 layer, with the three layer being the most heavy duty and the 2 layer being more on the lightweight side. Your shell jacket and pants should keep you protected from both the wind and the rain, as this is where you’ll feel the cold the most on your winter adventures!
Extras – Gloves; Two layers of gloves can come in handy, one liner layer for dexterity and when its dry, then an outer glove that is waterproof and warm for the colder, wetter weather. Beanie; a warm beanie that pulls down over your ears and keeps your head warm is absolutely essential for adventures in the winter as the head is the number 1 place on the body that heat escapes from! Socks; two thick pairs of Merino socks (one for hiking/one for sleeping) will keep your feet warm, as it’s another place of the body that loses a lot of heat, and give you a better chance of preventing any blisters while you’re out hiking. Gaiters; tall, knee height gaiters will keep the snow out of your boots, helping to keep your feet warm throughout the day.
Mountaineering boots can be a daunting investment. Stiff soles that don’t bend aren’t the most comfortable, and it’s a lot of money to spend on an item you may only use time and again to begin with. The most important thing to note is whether your boots are waterproof, and will keep your feet warm. Gaiters can make for a fantastic addition, particularly if you’re going to be walking through snow, as they’ll stop the snow from getting into your boots and making for some cold walking!
Crampons are the next thing you would have thought about if you’re looking towards winter adventures. Helping you climb up icy slopes they are certainly a worthwhile investment (if that’s what you’re wanting to do). However, if you’re starting off sticking to the main tracks, a pair of Microspikes will suffice just fine. These strap on to your boots and provide an excellent amount of traction on slippery, icy tracks. They are by no means a replacement for crampons, but will suffice on more tame terrain.
Hiking in winter tends to burn more calories than hiking in summer. Keeping your body’s internal heating system cranked up and trudging through deep snow takes its toll, so make sure to pack more snacks than you think you’ll need. Small bites that are dense in calories are the easiest for you to maintain your energy levels whilst you’re in the go in the cold. Muesli Bars, Chocolate, and nuts are all great to have on hand as you can keep snacking while you’re going. Keeping your body’s internal engine ticking over will in turn keep you warm through the process of thermogenesis.
Drinking water in the winter months can be a very different experience to summer as well. If you tend to utilise a water bladder, the hose is likely to freeze leading you to be unable to drink. Thin walled water bottles can suffer from the same fate as well. Wide-mouth bottles such as Nalgene, that can also handle hot or warm water are the best bet for staying hydrated on a winter hike. Warm water isn’t the most appealing taste to drink for most, so flavouring the water can be a great idea to make it more appetising. Electrolyte tablets or powder will add a fantastic flavour and will help prevent your muscles cramping up while you’re on the go. You should aim to consume a litre for every two hours that you’re hiking in the winter.
Tips & Extras
PLB – always having a point of communication for if things do go wrong is essential. Most DOC visitor centres offer the hire of a PLB if you can’t yet justify buying your own.
Fire starters – Having a way to get a fire in a hut lit without much difficulty makes all the difference when it comes to your comfortability at the end of the day. A little bit of kindling, dry newspaper and a natural fire lighter goes a long way.
Batteries – Make sure that your batteries are fully charged before you go and having a small power bank with you can be beneficial. The cold saps the battery life from your electronic devices so you’ll want to make sure you have enough power to take that epic photo or send a message if you need to.
Lighting – Headlamps or a head mounted torch keeps your hands free while you’re walking around, but can become a bit of a nuisance when you’re relaxing in a hut. A few tall candles or a light such as a Black Diamond ReMoji will give you the benefit of ambient light white you’re hanging out.
Extras – The nights are long in winter so having something to keep you occupied after the sun has gone down helps to alleviate the boredom. A good book if you’re by yourself, or a pack of cards to play with friends helps to pass the time