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What To Bring On Your Next Snowshoeing Adventure
Snowshoeing is one of winter's fastest growing sports and an excellent way to explore winter wonderlands and improve your physical fitness. It is a relatively safe and easy sport, but does carry with it a certain degree of danger. Knowing what bring snowshoeing can make it a fun and safe adventure.
This Could Happen To You
It's a beautiful 40 degree day, the sun is shining, and the snow has a slight sparkle to it. You find a snowy meadow and quickly start exploring all over the nearby bunny hills. You look back to the way you think you came and your car is no longer in sight. You thought you would see it from the top of the hill, but it is nowhere to be found. You do a 360 degree turn and find that all of the hills look very similar when covered in a blanket of snow. As you pick the direction you are sure you came from, the temperature begins to drop and a light snow starts to come down. For a brief moment you get the idea that you can follow your shoeshoe print trail back to your car, but quickly notice that the falling snow is filling in your path. It is now two hours before nightfall, it is snowing, and you don't know where you are.
This potentially life threatening situation may have been avoided with proper preparation. However, not every accident or mistake can be avoided in an unpredictable environment, so proper preparation will give you the best chance of survival.
Don't Let A Little Snow Keep You Inside
The Perfect Mid-Layer
What To Wear Snowshoeing
The snowy wonderland can be a very disorienting, and ever changing environment. An unexpected snowstorm, a broken binding, or a twisted ankle can quickly turn to a dangerous situation. However, being properly dressed for success, will make for a pleasant and safe experience.
It is important, when snowshoeing, to dress in layers, especially since it is an aerobic activity and you will work up a sweat. One important thing to remember is to avoid articles of clothing made out of cotton because once it is wet it stays wet, and draws warmth away from your body. Here are the basics of dressing properly for snowshoeing.
Base layer: Choose a polyester or wool, tight fitting base layer. The purpose of the base layer is to wick moisture away from your body.
Mid-layer: Windproof fleece, a wool sweater, or a down sweater. The purpose of this layer is to retain your body heat.
Outer-layer: Any waterproof and breathable jacket. Membranes like Gore-Tex and Mountain Hardwear's Dry-Q keep the snow out, and sweat from keeping you wet.
Footwear: An insulated winter boot is ideal. Look for a boot that is waterproof, breathable, and has a sturdy ankle. Wear wool hiking or snow socks to keep your toes warm, even if they get wet.
Accessories: Wear waterproof and insulated gloves, a fleece or wool hat, and a good pair of sunglasses. The reflection of the sun on the snow can cause temporary blindness and long-term damage without UV protected eye-wear.
What To Bring Snowshoeing
A Buddy: In any extreme environment it is prudent to go with someone because there is safety in numbers. If one of you in injured, there is someone to go get help. Having someone else to share the experience with is rewarding in itself.
Space Blanket: There is no reason why anyone should ever enter an extremely cold environment without one. You can get one for about $5, they weight a couple of ounces, and fit in your pocket. Not only are they extremely efficient at reflecting your body heat, they can be used as a ground cloth in a snow cave, the thicker ones can haul people and gear, and the reflective side can be used as a signal.
Water Bottle With An Insulated Sleeve: Staying hydrated in a cold environment is hard work. You may not feel thirsty, but it is important to drink plenty of liquids. Staying hydrated helps regulate your body temperature and will ultimately keep you warmer. In freezing environments it is important to insulate your water bottle so that it doesn't freeze.
Plastic Whistle: Whistles have a range far beyond the human voice, some up to a half mile. Chances are, at the slow rate of travel in the snow, on a day trip you will most likely be within a few miles of the trail head or your car, and with a whistle you increase your chances of a passerby hearing you. Also, if search and rescue is looking for you, you'll be way easier to find. One danger that many don't consider is the possibility of falling into a snow pit. The ground might look solid, but snow can form a small bridge over a gap, and it can literally swallow a person. without a whistle you would be almost impossible to spot. It is important to choose a plastic whistle so that the metal ball doesn't freeze, or your lips get stuck to it.
Paracord/ Duck Tape: Both are great for patching broken gear or clothing. If a snowshoe blinding breaks, your hour long snowshoe back to the car, could take up to a full day in deep snow without the lift of the snowshoes. A day trip could turn into an overnight because of something as small as a broken binding.
Knife: It doesn't need to be a 12" machete, just something that can cut a little duck tape to patch the tare in your waterproof jacket.
GPS/Compass: While some people may have the skills for winter navigation with a compass, many do not. The established trails you would normally follow on a hiking map are almost impossible to discern when they are covered in twelve feet of snow. The possible threat of a whiteout or low visibility make winter navigation very difficult. A handheld GPS makes navigation very easy.
A Lighter And Tinder: In a survival situation a fire can melt snow for drinking, cook food, and keep you warm. In a wet environment, knowing where to find good tinder is important. If you don't trust your fire making skills then bringing your own tinder may be a good idea. There are ones that will burn for several minutes, giving you plenty of opportunity to catch your kindling on fire. Having a back up set of matches or a flint is a rule some adventurers swear by. A fire, especially three set in a triangle, can help reveal your location to search and rescue.
Handwarmer: It weighs nothing and can help stop hypothermia. If you are out longer than expected, that extra warmth may be the warm comfort you need to give you the hope and strength to keep going.
An Extra Pair Of Wool Socks: If your socks get wet, having an extra pair can be a lifesaver. Also, if you lose a glove, a wool sock can keep your hand from getting frostbite.
A Reserve Micro Fleece In A Dry Compartment: If the day turns out to be chiller than expected, you punch through ice into water, or are chilled with sweat, having one dry article of clothing can save the day. are extremely lightweight and contactable. The North Face's TKA 100 fleeces
A Solid Fuel Stove: A warm cup of soup or tea can be an excellent addition to a full day of cold snowshoeing. In an emergency situation, the stove can provide a little extra heat, and melt and boil snow.
Snacks: Snowshoeing burns tons of calories! Just trying to stay warm burns even more. Your metabolism keeps your body warm, so eating can actually make you warmer. A few extra powerbars won't weigh you down.
A Cell Phone: Cell towers are popping up everywhere, increasing your chances of being able to make a call or Google Map your way out of being lost. Snowshoeing is a popular sport around ski resorts, which will usually have cell towers nearby. It may seem like you're miles from civilization, but you might be within a few miles of a resort or small town and not even know it. Cell phones can be unreliable in the mountains, but there is still a chance that they might become useful. If you do find yourself in an emergency situation, moving up to higher ground might give you a shot at a better signal.
Learn How To Make A Snow Cave
If You Choose To Go Solo, Do Yourself A Favor And Take Spot
If you've done your homework and are mentally and physically prepared to take on exploring winter's playground, strap on your snowshoes and get going!
If you do find yourself lost in a snowy forest, night is coming, and the snow is falling, the important thing to do is not panic. The choices you make in the next two hours will influence your chances of making it back safely. Walking all night, especially in an unknown direction could get you even deeper into the wilderness, result in an injury, and expose you to the cold. In the mountains, the temperature from afternoon to nightfall can drop up to fifty degrees.
If there is no hope of finding help before nightfall, then creating a shelter while it is still light out will help insulate you from the cold and elements. To make the simplest shelter, dig out a snow cave that is about three times the size of your body. Use pine boughs to insulate your body from the cold ground. Sleep with your core on your pack for enhanced insulation. When done right, a snow cave can actually be a very effective and cozy shelter.
With the right knowledge and tools, snowshoeing can be a very safe and fun experience. Here's to winter!
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