November 6th, 2019
Even though it says November in our calendars, winter is here in the Adirondack High Peaks. Packing for winter hikes is more involved than preparing for summer excursions. Conditions vary greatly, so being prepared for a host of situations is key to staying safe and comfortable in the backcountry. The big question that I always ask myself when I am packing is, “Am I prepared to spend a night in the woods if I get hurt or lost?” In the winter, this means being able to survive temperatures well into the negatives as well as wind, rain, snow, and whatever else might come along. Here is what we recommend packing for winter day-hiking:
Clothing – Synthetic or wool material, cotton should be avoided because it does not insulate when wet, “cotton kills!”
- Top and bottom base layers
- Wool socks (always pack an extra pair!)
- Softshell pants
- Sweater and/or mid-weight jacket
- Waterproof shell
- Down/synthetic puffy jacket
- Waterproof mittens/glove shells
- Liner gloves
- Winter hat
- Insulated winter hiking boots
Proper clothing can mean the difference between life and death in the winter. The above items constitute a layering system that will allow you to add/subtract layers depending on conditions. Especially for remote winter excursions, I always pack a backup set of base layers. If I were to fall through ice or get caught in a surprise rainstorm (they happen, even in winter!) having a dry set of base layers can help stave off hypothermia.
Gear – Inspect before your trip to make sure everything works and is in good repair
- 40-60L backpack
- Ski goggles (for alpine/exposed summits)
- 2-3 wide mouth Nalgene water bottles
- Insulated water bottle carriers (or a wool sock to put over each bottle)
- Propane or white gas backpacking stove with fuel
- Backpacking pot or kettle
- -20 to 0 degree sleeping bag
- Emergency shelter
- Emergency fire starter
- First aid kit
- Headlamp with extra batteries
- Map and compass
- Traction devices like Microspikes
- Snowshoes and/or skis*
- Food (lots of it)
*Snowshoes or skis are required by state law in the High Peaks Wilderness when there is 8 inches or more of off-trail snow
A note on emergency shelters: these can take on many forms. SOL emergency bivvies are a great, affordable option that can save you in a pinch. Mountaineering groups often take more robust shelters, such as bothy bags (YouTube link), which can protect several people at once from stormy weather. What matters most is that you are insulated and protected from the elements.
Packing enough food is another critical aspect of preparing for winter hiking. While this may sound obvious, many first-time winter hikers are surprised by how quickly they get hungry. Your body burns significantly more calories just to keep warm, so you will need to pack more food than expected.
Bonus Item: Emergency Beacon
While an investment, emergency beacons like a Spot Locator can save your life if time is of the essence. Cell phones rarely have reception in the High Peaks Wilderness and cold temperatures can kill their batteries quickly. Not a requirement, but definitely something worth considering if you regularly spend time in the backcountry, especially in remote locations.
Ben Brosseau is ADK’s Content Strategist. After graduating from Grinnell College in Iowa with a BA in English with honors, he decided to return to the Adirondacks, where he was born, in order to spend more time in the mountains. When not at work, he can often be found hiking, making coffee, or working on photography.