|On the Appalachian Trail near Mt. Cammerer|
So how does one prepare for winter hiking in the mountains of the Southern Appalachian range? Firstly, if conditions are forecast to be extreme, I simply do not venture out! But by the same token, I do love a good hike in the snow if other conditions are favorable! So what are some gear that I include in my winter pack or on my person? Here are some of my old faithful gear friends for winter hiking:
Katoohla Microspikes--I used to try to hike in the snow without these, but was always worried about falling and getting hurt which would interfere with this obsession with hiking that I currently have. These microspikes have solved that problem, that's for sure! They simply pull on over my Keen boots and I'm ready for pretty much anything the trail can throw at me. At first I worried about using them on those days when some stretches of trail were covered in snow but other stretches which lay in the sun no longer had snow cover. I don't worry about that anymore. These spikes are tough!
Thermolite Reactor Sleeping Bag Liner--I put this lightweight liner in my pack beginning in the fall when temperatures in the mountains can plummet at night just in case anyone in my group takes a spill and has to wait for help to arrive. I have a healthy respect for hypothermia and easily feel that the few ounces that this adds to my pack weight are more than worth it if anyone ever really ends up needing it. I certainly hope it is never needed, but if something happens it might make a huge difference. I just put it in my pack and forget about it. I never even know it's there it takes up so little space.
Another secret for winter hiking is to dress in layers--moisture wicking, insulating layers. Many kinds are available, and you will need to search out the ones that feel the best to you. My husband swears by the Icebreaker wool base layers, but I simply cannot wear them. I have found an REI-brand base layer that works great for me. They are so soft and feel so good, I've tried sleeping in them at home, but they're just too warm! My top has a 1/4 zip feature at the neckline which enables me to unzip it on the trail if I need a little air. I do love that feature. The thumbhole feature is great too, making it easy to put my gloves on without exposing my wrists to frigid temps. Carrying extra layers in your pack including extra wool socks is also a good idea. The little hand-warmer pouches are always in my pack too, although I've never had to use them.
However, the story of Kate Matrosova proves that gear isn't everything when considering winter hiking and neither is physical or even mental conditioning and/or keen determination. She had ALL of that! Sometimes you just have to know that the mountains rule and realize that there are times they will not be conquered! Sometimes the best decision is just not to hike at all.
What are some items you won't hike without during cold weather? I know some of you are much more adventurous than I, so what things are your "safety blankets" when planning your wintertime hikes?