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November 2022

Gearing Up For Winter Adventures

Guest Author: Cassie Markham (@cassie.adventuring)

Growing up on the West Coast spending my winters in the mountains wasn’t entirely foreign to me; I had been snowboarding for many years and was quite comfortable in the snow (or at least so I thought). As my love of hiking grew, and I got into fall and winter hiking I was caught off-guard at how different this was from spending a day at the ski resort.

When you’re at the resort your activity levels tend to be more regulated throughout the day than say hiking, with variable elevation gain, to an outdoor lunch spot, and then hiking back down to the car. At the resort you also have the option to pop into the lodge a warm up whenever you want or grab a hot meal, but with hiking, if you hope to eat a warm meal you need to bring all the tools to make that happen.

You also need to consider the shorter days, snowy terrain and potential avalanche risk. Many of these things are mitigated in a resort with overhead lighting, ski equipment and avalanche control.

So where do you start? Some things to consider when preparing your winter gear:

With the days being shorter carrying your own light source is essential. I like to pack a rechargeable headlamp with a spare battery like the Petzl Actik Core Headlamp - 600 Lumens. Bringing a spare battery provides me with peace of mind in the cooler temps. Some people prefer to bring a back-up head lamp or buy a lamp compatible with AAA batteries so they can use the batteries out of their avalanche transceiver in a pinch.

A good headlamp forms part of your 10 essentials. For more information on this check out the essentials list at the bottom of this blog.

The other essential I like to call out is a satellite communication device. Having a satellite device is truly a lifesaver, even if you don’t think you’ll be out of reception. These devices are weather resistant and made to withstand the cold whereas phone batteries are often drained by cold weather and don’t hold up well in the snow. My device of choice is the Garmin Explorer+

Each of the different devices works a little differently in terms of their functionality as well as subscription plans and what goes on behind the scenes. To determine the best device for you, consider where you will be using the device and what your needs are. If you’re still unsure, the gearheads at your local VPO store are also always available to help with your selections.

The next thing you’ll need to consider is microspikes or snowshoes?

Microspikes: If you will be walking on hard-packed snow or ice, microspikes are the way to go. Microspikes are designed to slip on over your hiking boots to provide added traction.

Snowshoes: If you will be hiking in deep snow that hasn’t had a chance to condense or pack down or is lightly trafficked you’ll want to opt for snowshoes instead. Snowshoes help you stay on top of the snow and make it easier to travel through this terrain.

With snowshoes you’ll want to consider if you will be dealing with elevation or not, if you plan to hike uphill in your snowshoes you’ll want to choose ones that have “teeth” on the edge of the frame and under the foot for added traction as opposed to a tubular frame. You’ll also want to have adjustable risers under the foot.
Note: On some trails you will need both microspikes AND snowshoes, starting off with spikes and transitioning to snowshoes as you gain elevation and the snow gets deep.

With both microspikes or snowshoes you’ll want to have a good pair of adjustable trekking poles. Poles help provide traction in the snow and also help you keep your balance as you adjust to walking on variable terrain.

When traveling through avalanche terrain it’s also important to carry snow safety gear and know how to use it. If you’re new to snow travel, AdventureSmart BC and search and rescue teams recommend taking an Avalanche Safety Course (commonly referred to as AST1). There are also a number of resource guides on AvalancheCanada. Many Valhalla Pure outfitters stores also rent safety gear, check in with your local store for more details.

Other things to consider when hiking in the snow is your fuel, you will typically burn more energy when hiking in the cold and on variable terrain. I like to pack electrolytes, such as Nuun and bring a stove or insulated food jar to enjoy a warm meal at my destination. Aside from the gear listed above we recommend bringing the essentials below and checking out our layer up guide for clothing recommendations.

Winter Gear Essentials