Cold Weather Camping & Hiking
Tips and Tricks from the Pathloom Team
Middlesex Fells Reservation: Melrose, MA - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue
It’s starting to get cold out! Recent studies have shown nearly 30% more Americans turned to nature for their recreation needs under the shadow of 2020’s Covid pandemic than they did in 2019. But as the temperatures dwindle, so too does the appeal of camping and hiking for many people. This rings especially true for those of us living in colder climates where snow, rain, sleet, hail, and other forms of nightmarish precipitation rain down from the heavens with increasing frequency.
Sure, a blisteringly frosty windblast to the face when you first step outside to get the mail in the morning may not provide much encouragement to load up the car and head to the hills for a camping trip. Slipping on a patch of early-onset black ice on the sidewalk while walking your dog might not convince you to hit the trails for a long hike in the woods. Spending an hour before work scraping and shoveling the ice off of your windshield and the snow off your car may not fill you with the urge to hop in said car and drive out to the beach for a run amongst the wind-swept dunes.
Paugussett State Forest: Monroe, CT - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue
But camping and hiking during the late fall and winter has so much to offer! There are few experiences in this world as exhilarating as waking up to an alien landscape blanketed in snow. The sunlight glittering off a pine tree with each and every needle encased in ice. The patterns formed by a babbling brook frozen over. The peaceful solitude you experience out on the trails by yourself, the muffled silence of the air around you - popular places that would be bustling with crowds during the summer grow eerily quiet and all the more fascinating in the wintertime when you have the entire area to yourself.
The key to enjoying the outdoors during the cold weather months is, as with so many other things, proper preparation. Planning wisely for the weather - and equipping yourself with the right gear - is certainly important at any time of year, but it is never more crucial than during the winter months.
So we thought we’d share a few tips and tricks from the Pathloom team that may help keep you safe and warm and able to enjoy all the undeniable allure that nature in wintertime has to offer. Our staff features former Park Rangers and Search & Rescue personnel, so these are some of the most useful items they’ve come across over their time in the field. Bundle up and enjoy the weather!
Lassen Volcanic National Park: Lassen, CA - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue
“Share your plan! Make sure friends and family know where you’re going, and how long you plan to be gone for, so in case of emergency there are others who will have a general idea regarding your whereabouts.” (A)
“Check in with the local ranger to ensure there aren’t any weather-related issues with your planned hiking route (e.g. trail closures, fallen trees, washed-out trails etc). They may also have up-to-date information about any storms threatening the area.” (B)
“Many National Parks close up their visitor centers and campgrounds during winter, so its important to get as much information as you can before you head out on your journey.” (S)
“Don’t sweat! Sweat can freeze on you and cause hypothermia. Consider less strenuous physical activities when out in the cold, take more breaks, drink more water, and if possible, wear synthetic or woolen materials that won’t cause you to sweat as quickly or easily as cotton will.” (P)
“Wearing layers you can add/remove as needed will also help you avoid sweating.” (J)
“Warm socks and gloves! Cotton just won’t do the trick, and you run into that same danger of sweating. We recommend merino wool socks - they may seem expensive but you’ll never regret owning a pair - and they last forever if you take care of them!” (B)
Mohonk Preserve: Marbletown, NY - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue
“Be ready to conjure up some heat quickly upon arrival to your campsite. Have the right tools ready to build your fire fast - you might not normally need some firestarters or a torch to build your campfires when you go out during the summer, but they sure help speed up the process when you’re freezing your butt off after hiking to your site!” (B)
“Don't try and build a fire under a tree. Steer clear of any low-hanging branches - as the heat rises from the fire the snow on those branches will melt, fall, and can douse/smother what you’ve worked so hard to build.” (J)
“Bring cocoa, or decaf coffee/tea. If it’s late and you want something hot to drink, you don’t necessarily want to be up all night. Plus, you’ll want to save that caffeinated coffee for the morning!” (B)
“Clear the snow out from under your tent before it has a chance to freeze! If this isn’t possible, tamp down the snow in the area as much as possible to build insulation and prevent it melting while you sleep, which can have drastic effects on your body temperature.” (B)
“Invest in a cold weather sleeping bag - make sure it’s graded for the temperature you’ll be staying in, and make sure you don’t confuse Fahrenheit and Celsius (like I swear I absolutely didn’t do that one time).” (B)
“Invest in a sleeping bag liner - they are usually super lightweight and can add 10-15 degrees of extra warmth!” (S)
“Bring extra layers of insulation for the ground - an inflatable mat with a good R rating is vital to ensure you have enough padding between you and the icy ground to avoid losing body heat while you sleep!” (A)
“For extra warmth, put some hot water in a water bottle and stick it near your feet in your sleeping bag.” (S)
Make sure to keep CampDog nice and toasty too!
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