Winter in the backcountry is a magical time, the easiest hikes can become adventures and your old summertime standbys evolve into unfamiliar worlds of white and wet and wonder. It’s also a time to take a few extra pieces of gear in your pack (as I’m assuming you always head out with the ten year-round essentials) so if the unexpected does happen you’re as prepared as possible.
Not just for avalanches, these sturdy, lightweight snow displacement machines are indispensable for building a shelter out of snow whether it be a cave, a quinzee or a trench. They’re also handy if you your car is buried in fresh powder when you return from a trek. And if you’re headed into avalanche territory take a beacon too for Santa’s-sake.
Extra set of layers for all your extremities
During the summer taking additional layers can seem like a unecessary luxury, but in the season of solstice it’s a bare-bones necessity. For cold weather hiking I tend to wear my lighter base layers, including hat and gloves, so I don’t overheat and get the lunchtime chills when I stop. For this reason I pack my heavier layers including: a lightweight synthetic puffy (down is fine if you live in a drier clime than I), thick wool socks, insulated and waterproof gloves, heavyweight beanie and at least a medium weight set of thermal top and bottoms.
Since you already have an emergency shelter in your kit, adding a sleeping bag is your next best defense against freezing during an unexpected overnighter. While packing a zero degree or colder bag is the ideal, even a lightweight summer bag will provide potentially life-saving warmth if you have to bivouac, especially since you packed your extra set of layers, right?
These can weigh as little as an ounce and will keep your seat warm and dry making your lunch break much more palatable. They can also double as an emergency pillow.
Pressurized Butane Lighter
Why not just take the trusty old bic? They just don’t light as well in the cold as a pressurized lighter which will flame without hesitation. Taking a few extra waterproof matches won’t hurt either. And if you do end up in cold weather distress with your summertime lighter, warm it up in your armpit.
If you are snowshoeing you can skip this one and if you’re mountaineering you’ve already packed some gnarly crampons, but as I found out last winter just a stroll of a hike, like Eagle Creek in the Oregon’s Columbia Gorge, can turn into a slippery slope. A set of easily attached traction devices will provide plenty of grip on an icy trail, so I’ve added them to my winter arsenal of safety equipment.
Thermos of hot goodness
Fill it with your preferred beverage whether it be coffee, hot chocolate or one of my cold day favorites; matcha green tea with honey, lemon and ginger.
Stay toasty my friends.