15 Essentials for Below Freezing

The upcoming barometric forecast is indicating that the extended Fall of 2022 is coming to an end. With lows in the single digits our transition from Fall to Winter is going to be abrupt this year. With that change will come snow. This is the time to adjust the gear closet from Fall hiking gear to include winter items. I’m sure most of you have heard of the term “the 10 essentials”. This was a concept created by the Mountaineers in 1974, in the publication of climbing “bible”, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills. It’s a breakdown of the minimum gear you should take with you on any outdoor outing.

Here is that list:

  1. Firestarter (Lighter, matches, flint)
  2. Water (water + Filter or Iodine purification tablets)
  3. Food
  4. Knife or Multitool
  5. Insulation (extra clothing layers)
  6. Illumination (headlamp or flashlight)
  7. UV Protection (hat, sunscreen, sunglasses)
  8. Shelter (rain jacket and/or emergency bivy/tarp)
  9. Navigation (map + compass, GPS)
  10. First Aid kit

These items can be broken down into 3 categories of need.

  1. Find your way
  2. Protect yourself
  3. Emergencies

Does this list prepare you for the added particulars of winter adventures? They do with a few modifications and a few more items. Let’s call it “15 for Under Freezing”.  32 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature in which water becomes a solid; ice or snow. This is the point to include these additional mods to your gear list. Elevation, wind, wind chill factor will of course, modify this temperature rating. For the sake of safety purposes, let’s agree that 32 degrees is the demarcation threshold for these additional items.

Additional 5 items:

  1. Cooking system (pot with lid, stove and fuel)
  2. Sleeping system (mattress + solid pad with minimum 4 R-Factor)
  3. Traction device (Microspikes, Crampons, Snowshoes, Trekking poles, Ice ax and helmet)
  4. Avalanche Safety Gear (Transceiver/Beacon, Probe and Snow Shovel)
  5. Wind Protection (Waterproof jacket/pants, gloves, stocking cap and/or balaclava, googles)

And these modifications to your 3 season “10 Essentials” kit:

  1. Does your Firestarter work in high elevation, in windy conditions? Take multiple options.
  2. Don’t carry your water in a bladder. They will freeze, the tube will clog with ice. Carry an insulated water bottle or 2. You can leave the water purification at home too. It too will freeze up quickly and you typically won’t find a thawed stream to draw water from anyway. You can melt extra water from all the snow you are recreating in. Also, In an emergency, you can use the insulated water bottle inside your sleeping bag to help keep you warmer.
  3. Your shelter needs to be beefed up to include a tent, snow stakes and extra “guy lines” or utility cordage.
  4. Navigation should include an Altimeter, barometer, or weather radio.
  5. Take extra batteries for your headlamp or flashlight. The cold will sap the energy out of them. I carry my spare batteries in my inside jacket pocket.
  6. Your extra insulation should include tops, bottoms and no cotton. Often while snowshoeing or cross country skiing you will get super warm. Take off layers and stow in any easy to reach pocket in your pack. When you stop for lunch or an extended break, get those layers back on quickly. Trap all that heat you created inside your insulative layers.

This is a long list…your pack just became pretty dang heavy. Use your discretion when planning and packing for your trips. If you are below the tree line, you can probably remove the ice ax and helmet.  If you are navigating on a forest service road, close to your car, you might not need the sleeping bag and tent. Sub out for a heavy-duty mylar emergency blanket. They’re compact and will work in a short-term situation.  Winter adventures are amazing. The snow creates a silence in the forest you won’t experience in the summer months. There are no mosquitos or biting flies. The lighting is defused and creates wonderful photography opportunities. Embrace your all the beauty that winter has to offer, just do it safely. Leave a detailed itinerary with someone who will act if you don’t check in on time. Be smart and plan for the unknown, for the “what ifs”, and create amazing memories this winter.

            If you aren’t comfortable recreating in winter conditions, or your friends and family don’t embrace the cold…join one of the many Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness guided hikes. They are led by qualified volunteer or staff leaders and they are complimentary. As in free of charge. We will have a detailed list of trips to select from posted online in early December. Check our events page https://www.scotchmanpeaks.org/hiking/current-hiking-schedule/. We hope to see you in the snow this winter.

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