I've found that a foam pad — a closed-cell foam sleeping pad — is a handy thing to take along when I’m headed out for a winter day hike.
While I might not be planning an overnight trek, the lightweight pad offers a welcome barrier from the snowy ground if I sit for a rest or lunch break, and it can be rolled up and snugged to the top, bottom, or side of a day pack while adding scant ounces.
The tried and true “10 Essentials” are still vital in winter. And a few extra items on your back or in your pack can add to your comfort and safety on a winter hike.
As always, you’ll want to be protected from the weather by wearing clothing that keeps you warm, dry, and sheltered from wind. In winter, this means extra layers of insulating, moisture-wicking undergarments and mid-layers, topped off by an insulating, windproof, waterproof, and breathable outer layer. (Cotton layers should be avoided because the fabric can hold moisture from perspiration and be an invitation to hypothermia.)
A warm hat as well as gloves, mittens, or mitts are also essential gear. Glove liners are useful in providing some weather protection if you need to remove outer gloves occasionally to perform tasks that require manual dexterity.
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and the White Mountain National Forest offer gear lists on the www.hikesafe.com website which include The 10 Essentials (map, compass, warm clothing, extra food and water, flashlight or headlamp, matches/fire starters, first aid kit/repair kit, whistle, rain/wind jacket and pants, pocket knife) and additional recommended gear.
Specifically for winter, the HikeSafe site adds the aforementioned extra warm clothing as well as insulated boots, extra mittens and overmitts, a balaclava, and snowshoes.
Above-treeline travel calls for crampons, a face mask, ice ax, and goggles, the site says. Additional safety gear is needed for travel in avalanche prone terrain.
Of the recommended gear lists, the site notes, “…it’s important to remember that hikers not only take these items with them, but know how to use them as well — knowledge is power on the trail, so come armed with the tools and know-how to keep yourself safe every time you go out.”
Other items listed in addition to The 10 Essentials include a trash bag, sunglasses and sunscreen. (Plastic trash bags can serve as emergency rain ponchos or bivouac sacks. Protection from the sun’s rays shouldn’t be forgotten in winter, especially if you’re traveling in a snow-covered and highly reflective area.)
Additional gear should be added for overnight trips and for groups.
In their “AMC Guide to Winter Hiking & Camping,” authors Yemaya Maurer and Lucas St. Clair also recommend a snow shovel, liner socks, and goggles for winter day hikes. They also offer a detailed clothing list. Their day trip packing list collects items into three groups: Head-to-Toe Clothing, Traveling Gear, and Food.
They offer a more extensive packing list for winter camping trips.
Hikers should become familiar with the workings of their gear before heading out on the trail. Learning how to adjust snowshoe bindings, or change batteries in your headlamp is more easily done in the relatively controlled conditions at home than in the backcountry.
Don’t forget the weather
Likewise, winter weather can present additional challenges. Drinking water can freeze if containers aren’t insulated, for instance. Changing conditions underfoot can call for the use of traction devices.
AMC offers recommended gear lists for various outdoor pursuits, including winter hiking and backcountry skiing, online. Click on “Gear Advice” at www.outdoors.org.
It’s advisable to leave your hiking itinerary with a friend or family member.
Checking the weather forecast (and avalanche forecast if you’re heading toward avalanche-prone terrain) is an essential part of trip planning. Weather and trail conditions for select locations in the White Mountains can be accessed by clicking on “Weather & Trail Conditions” at www.outdoors.org. The White Mountain Avalanche Center posts avalanche forecasts for Tuckerman Ravine at www.mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org.