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Hiking in the Snow for Beginners.
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marcus hampton

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Hiking in the Snow for Beginners on 04/30/2014 17:43:12 MDT Print View

Surviving in the snow is a topic that not a lot of people seem to want to touch. I work around lots of inexperienced visitors who are absolutely set on heading off to hike in the snow. I made these tips, with an emphasis on snow travel, to allow eager new hikers to explore more safely.

I am posting this here for feedback.

or copy and paste!about1/cnal

Edited by TheCritter on 05/02/2014 09:09:46 MDT.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Another book on winter travel on 08/20/2014 22:12:01 MDT Print View

"Allen and Mike's Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book" is the very best book on the subject I've ever come across.

As a ski patroller who has taught US Army ROTC cadets winter survival (In class and in the field) I have read volumes on the subject.

Allen and Mike's book is about 60% winter camping and the rest on ski and snowshoe travel.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Another book on winter travel on 11/03/2014 23:18:42 MST Print View

Eric, I just picked up that book on gear swap. Lots of good information, and the illustrations are hilarious!

Jim Muller
(muller_jim) - F

Locale: Upstate NY
Hiking in the snow for beginners on 12/04/2014 07:38:59 MST Print View

Here is a free resource:

Lori P
(lori999) - F

Locale: Central Valley
re: winter on 12/04/2014 08:25:42 MST Print View

Winter is not for beginners going it alone - not overnights anyway, unless you are somewhere like Glacier Point Road and the place is swarming with skiers and other walkers.

Eating snow is a bad idea - takes too much energy for the body to melt ice. That hastens hypothermia. Energy is important - calorie intake and water intake should increase quite a bit, because you are not only working harder, you are likely not feeling like drinking.

Winter weather can change on a dime and things like knowing what to do in a white out and how to dig a snow cave are really important for longer outings. While your article is a good start, there's nothing addressing how to dress in winter, or issues such as frostbite - when it's 20F all day, and you're in the cold the whole time, tips of noses and chins can start to lose skin as the fluid in the cells starts to freeze. Scarf, balaclava, neck gaiter or other means of covering skin to keep it warm are important. Sometimes in biting wind or sleet/snow a pair of goggles with uv protection can help. Eye pro is very important - glare off snow can blind you faster than glare off granite.

Unless you know the snow is not deep everywhere - a shovel is a must. Digging a hapless person out of a tree well or digging a snow cave or merely making a place to pitch that winter tent (walls around the edges to prevent draft and spindrift).

No newbie should go out overnight without an experienced winter camper, IMO.

In short, I don't think an article for newbies is complete without putting forth a basic understanding that winter is a completely different beast in some parts of the country, and should not be underestimated. The Sierra is my backyard and yet, as mild as the winters are said to be, winter is not anything to wander into with three season gear or without the knowledge of the risks that are present any time day temps are below freezing and the snow is piled deep. How to get water changes. How to stay warm AND DRY (this isn't mentioned in the article either, and it is IMPORTANT especially on an overnight) changes. How to avoid avalanche zones - there is a clinometer on my compass, and I do know that this is why - and how to not fall through into creeks flowing under the snow (MUST be mentioned for anyone traveling in deep snow).

There are a lot of things that folks don't even think about that can be dangerous. A friend of mine, for example, will not snowshoe without a helmet. While out one day on a day shoe a huge pine cone fell and missed him by just a few feet. It was encrusted with ice and must have weighed ten pounds. Newbies I take snowshoeing often bring no rain shell - I always do, as on a sunny day it rains freezing snow melt falls out of snow covered branches as we go. I've been known to take an umbrella. I always take a stove and a piece of ccf to put under it to keep it from freezing into the snow (canister physics) - warm drinks on cold day outings help newbies who are getting mildly hypothermic due to making do with their usual hiking clothes and not taking me seriously when I make suggestions. Waterproof boots! extra socks in the pack!

Making the point that winter camping involves a lot more prep and more skills than any three season trip would go a long way to helping start newbies on a safer path. I don't think you have to write the comprehensive guide to winter camping, but I do think more information about why more care and preparation is needed for trips out into the snowy wilderness. And as always, even on day trips (because driving in winter is also more dangerous!) everyone should leave an itinerary with someone at home. is a great tool that all backcountry travelers should know about.

Allen and Mike's book is a great start. So is the page over here -

William Forgey wrote the most quoted text on cold injuries.

Freedom of the Hills (the mountaineering guide) has a ton of great information on snow travel as well.

Edited by lori999 on 12/04/2014 08:32:51 MST.

David Gardner
(GearMaker) - M

Locale: Northern California
Re: re: winter on 12/04/2014 11:59:43 MST Print View

++1 Lori. The single most important thing you can tell winter beginners is to go with an experienced partner - NOT ALONE.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: re: winter on 12/04/2014 12:33:58 MST Print View

"Eating snow is a bad idea - takes too much energy for the body to melt ice. That hastens hypothermia."

There is an exception to this. If it is a warm winter day and you are not carrying much water, then snow consumption can help avoid dehydration. You can put a mouthful in your mouth and let it melt. A better way is to add one cupful of snow to a half-ful water bottle. That lets the existing water melt the snow, and that way you will drink cold water instead of warm water. If you put too much snow into the water bottle, then it might freeze up the whole thing.


Andy F
(AndyF) - M

Locale: Midwest/Midatlantic
Re: Hiking in the Snow for Beginners on 12/05/2014 14:43:59 MST Print View

Eating snow while hiking is part of my standard winter routine.

So is wearing a cotton anorak as a softshell in dry cold conditions. Cotton kills, except when it doesn't. :)

Not wearing snowshoes and just postholing through it in waist deep snow won't always work. That depends on snow depth and conditions and physical fitness and the lack of surprise voids caused by objects and brush under the deep snow. You might also need a GoreTex jumpsuit or waterproof waist and neck gaiters. ;-)

Snow conditions don't always firm-up during the day.

Much of the information in the post is location-specific and a little too overgeneralized.

Edited by AndyF on 12/05/2014 14:45:13 MST.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Hiking in the Snow for Beginners on 12/05/2014 14:57:47 MST Print View

Many years ago in March, I was on a cross country ski tour in Yosemite National Park. We skied from Yosemite Valley up to Tuolumne Meadows, laid over one day, and then skied back down to Yosemite Valley. We were all experienced cross country skiers, we had good weather and good snow, and none of us were having any problems. On the return leg, we were skiing along the unplowed road, and we noticed boot tracks postholing in the deep snow. It seemed strange to see the signs of anybody out there without skis or snowshoes. So, we followed the tracks since they were going almost the same direction that we were. We followed the tracks toward the restroom building at Tenaya Lake, and the tracks were fresh. We climbed down from the deep snow bank and stepped inside the unlocked door.

There were two teenage boys, maybe 18 years old, laying semi-conscious on the cold floor. We checked them out, gave them some warm liquids and some snacks, and got them to tell us their story. These two lads had walked over from Lee Vining, and they were headed toward Yosemite Valley. They had no serious gear with them, no skis or snowshoes, and they had no stove. All they brought for food was breakfast cereal. Each one had two boxes of cereal. Once we got them up again, we were wondering how we were going to get them helicopter evacuation. Then they said, "No thanks." They were off, postholing again, making their way toward the Valley.

They were traveling so light that they didn't even bring any common sense with them.


Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
re: winter on 12/05/2014 15:14:36 MST Print View

Eating snow is a bad idea - takes too much energy for the body to melt ice.
I cannot agree -- eating snow is a bad idea if you do not have any surplus heat, but a lot of times in winter travel you are exercising hard enough that you have plenty of heat to spare. Back when I was doing eastern snowshoe winter mountaineering eating snow was routine. In fact, none of us carried liquid water. The trick was to eat snow frequently -- if you waited until you were thirsty it was hard to get enough water, but if you ate it as you traveled you got enough. So most of us would just keep a little snow in a bare hand, increasing its water content with body heat, and eat from that as we went.

Lest you think I am talking of warm days, -10F to +10F days were typical. We were just exercising hard enough that our clothing was mostly unfastened anyway to disperse extra heat.

Now if your heat is well-balanced to cold -- i.e. if you are all buttoned up, then you probably do not want to try to eat snow the way we did. It is also difficult to do that if you are skiing -- both hands are occupied with ski poles (one of the reasons we snowshoed with an ice axe, not with ski poles).


Edited by blean on 12/05/2014 15:17:03 MST.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: re: winter on 12/05/2014 22:50:06 MST Print View

Hi Lori

> Unless you know the snow is not deep everywhere - a shovel is a must.
I've never carried one, and never needed one. But we don't have pine trees in the snow.
Different places in the snow - very different styles.


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Hiking in the Snow for Beginners on 12/05/2014 22:54:34 MST Print View

> They were traveling so light that they didn't even bring any common sense with them.
Thank you Bob - that one has gone in my collection of quotes - with acknowledgement.


Lori P
(lori999) - F

Locale: Central Valley
re: snow shovel on 12/06/2014 07:48:22 MST Print View

Yes, location specific - in a normal snow year in the Sierra, I always have one when out.

Just in case we have to dig someone ELSE out of a tree well.

There are also times when an avalanche beacon is a nice thing to have. As well as a nice long snow probe.

Edited by lori999 on 12/06/2014 07:49:18 MST.

Lori P
(lori999) - F

Locale: Central Valley
why location, and how much snow, matters on 12/06/2014 07:59:45 MST Print View

Welcome to Alaska.