I had my first winter camping excursion a couple years ago with my good friend and now roommate. While I had an absolute blast, I did so many things wrong. This post is to help anyone thinking of doing a winter hike, and tenting out overnight. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did. It will make your experience a lot better, trust me.
Lesson #1: Crampons…good crampons
The first mistake I made was an absolute rookie move, I know, trust me. I went on a winter overnight hike, on a pretty big mountain without crampons. In my defense, I did have these little crappy microspike things, but the trail conditions rendered these not only useless, but far more dangerous than just my sneakers (yes…I just said sneakers).
So this is probably not necessary to say, but getting up extremely steep and icy sections can be nearly impossible in some places, and when it isn’t impossible, it sucks. Really bad. Not only did my crappy microspikes break, but I fell 25 times, and significantly slowed down our progress. Fortunately, my friend had good crampons, and he lent me one for the way up. One crampon was a game changer. Impossible places to pass became not only passible, but easy. The spikes dug directly into the ice, and the traction was just lovely.
Lesson #2: Hiking Boots…not sneakers
Yes, I wore sneakers on my first overnight winter hike. Sneakers, without crampons. Thankfully, I am one of the least picky people you will ever meet, and they didn’t bother be much at all…until the next morning. I of course took my shoes off to slide my freezing body into my sleeping bag, but when I woke up I was in for a terrible surprise. I woke up to find not two sneakers, but two frozen ice blocks. Now I don’t mean they were encased in 3 inches of ice, but I do mean my shoes were frozen completely solid. I could hit them together and they made the same sounds as rocks do clanking together. I couldn’t bend them, I couldn’t pull the tongue, and I couldn’t move the laces…which I left tied. I could not untie my laces, I could not put my shoes on. What did I do? Well obviously I grabbed my camper stove and began thawing! 30 minutes later, by ice blocks became soggy half frozen ice shoes, and I was on my way.
I swear this is no exaggeration…we went on what turned out to be the coldest night of the entire year… -5 degrees F without wind chill.
Bonus Tip: UNTIE YOUR LACES
Lesson #3: Don’t pick the coldest day of the year…
Seriously, if its your first ever overnight in the winter, pick a time with some reasonable weather. There is no need to make yourself miserable, but even worse make your trip far more dangerous. If you have the right equipment this isn’t an issue, but just be safe.
This leads me into my next tip nicely.
Lesson #4: Sleep with your bottle
My bottle froze solid well before we set up camp…(hence why you shouldn’t go on the coldest day of the year), so I didn’t get to drink much water. At all. And since it was so cold, I didn’t sleep with my water bottle, so it just froze even more overnight. No water for me. Either find a way to keep your liquid, liquid, or buy a bottle that can really handle cold temperatures. Also, suck it up and sleep with your ice block so you can hydrate.
Bonus tip: make some tea or coffee before bed and you’ll have a nice warmer for your nights sleep, plus you’ll have a morning beverage ready to go for when you wake up.
Lesson #5: Wear warm clothes
This one is pretty obvious, but weather can change, and just beware of that. My clothes weren’t an issue for me, even though it was a freezing night. But I was still dumb and wore a thin top, without waterproofing material, and I also wore sneakers, shorts with a thin layer of breathable leggings. I’m super warm blooded and this was great, but if anything happened, I put myself in a more dangerous situation than I should have been in.
Make sure your clothes can handle wet situations, and make sure you have back ups, like extra socks.
Lesson #6: Bring a warm sleeping bag
Don’t think your bag is enough unless it is rated for warmer than your expected temperatures. I spent the night in my 20 degree sleeping bag, didn’t sleep at all and was concerned I was going to die of hypothermia. Numerous times, I almost packed up and left in the middle of the night because I didn’t think I could make it the whole night being so cold. I’m the type of person that doesn’t get cold either.
Bonus tip: This isn’t really a bonus, its a must. You must have a sleeping pad. The ground will destroy the effectiveness of your sleeping bag. Without a pad, you will be too cold. Do not go without a sleeping pad.
I made a lot of mistakes, but I still made it out alive. If your into this type of stuff, make sure you go at least try it once. I had one of the most unreal winter sunrises on this trip. It was all worth it when I saw that. Plus we slid down the whole mountain which if you haven’t done before, it will make you want to go hiking after snow every week.
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about