SAIL Blog

Long Winter Hike: How to Properly Prepare and Equip Yourself

SAIL

October 12, 2022

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long winter hike

Are you addicted to hiking and like to walk for several days in a row, spending the night in a campsite or a refuge? Perhaps you will be daring enough to experience it in winter! Whether snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or ski touring, fill your backpack with food and warm clothes to spend one or more nights on the trails, far from the daily grind. Follow our best advice to get properly equipped and set off safely on a long winter hike.

In this article, you will learn more about:

  1. How to Equip Yourself for a Long Winter Hike
  2. How to Dress Appropriately
  3. How to Eat, Drink and Sleep Well
  4. Finding the Right Backpack
  5. Long Winter Hiking Trip Checklist
  6. Practical Tips

How to Equip Yourself for a Long Winter Hike

Whether you choose to hike the Sentier des Caps in Charlevoix or undertake the crossing of the Monts-Valin in Saguenay, a long winter hike requires adequate equipment to allow you to get about on the snow. Beginners can choose snowshoes or crampons that allow them to climb in altitude and reach magical viewpoints. Cross-country skiing enthusiasts can opt for Nordic skis for beautiful crossings of wild and ungroomed territory over several days, while skiers at heart could try their hand at ski touring with a night spent at the bottom or at the top of the slopes. Here are some good tips depending on the mode of winter hiking you choose:

Snowshoeing

Given the significant weight that you will be carrying on your back, you should favour wide and robust snowshoes. If you plan to walk on varied terrain, made up of beaten paths, ungroomed passages and a few climbs, set your sights on the most versatile models. For more advice, read our article on how to choose the right snowshoes and how to walk on snowshoes without sinking into the snow.

When the trail is steep or very icy, remember to bring a good pair of crampons. They are lighter and less bulky than snowshoes and they allow you to cross technical passages without the risk of ending up parallel to the ground. To learn all about crampons, read our article on the subject.

Nordic Cross-Country Skiing

Unlike classic cross-country skis that are used on groomed trails, Nordic skis are wider and have edges and skins that allow you to slide on deep snow while maintaining good grip. When buying your future skis, consider the weight you will carry on your back. This will influence the size and model to choose.
Read our articles on cross-country skiing here: the ultimate guide to cross-country skiing and how to choose the right classic cross-country skis.

Ski Touring

More and more possibilities to sleep at the foot or at the top of the mountain are available to ski touring enthusiasts. For this, it is necessary to opt for good, light and comfortable equipment that you will enjoy using for several days in a row. Ascension boots and skins are also two very important things to consider. To find out everything you need to learn about ski touring, also called alpine touring, take a look at our article.

How to Dress Appropriately

Multilayer System

It is essential to feel warm on long winter hikes, but also clean, even after several days of effort. For this, the multilayer system, which consists of dressing in several layers of clothing and removing them as needed, is a must. To avoid odours, choose natural fibres like merino wool for your base layer.

Coats and Pants

Whatever activity you do on your long winter hike, you should choose your coat and pants are two strategic elements to choose to guarantee the right degree of warmth and breathability. To help you find the best models for your needs, here are two buying guides, one on coats and the other on winter pants.

Winter Boots

Boots are the most valuable piece of all your gear. If you have sore feet, blisters or even frozen toes, your whole adventure will be compromised. Therefore, favour insulated and robust models that remain light and versatile. Whether snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or ski touring, never set off on a long expedition with a brand-new pair of boots. In order for your feet to get used to them, you should wear your boots for a few hours multiple times before wearing them for several days in a row.

How to Eat, Drink and Sleep Well

Eating Well

Food will be your most important fuel on your winter expedition. So remember to pack quick and easy to digest snacks to eat during the day, as well as hot and caloric meals for the evening. Dehydrated or freeze-dried food pouches are a great option to avoid weighing down your backpack too much. If you plan to cook using a stove, choose a fuel that withstands the coldest temperatures well.
Here is a list of the 10 camping kitchen essentials.

Drinking Well

Even if thirst is less felt in winter, it is essential to hydrate regularly and in large quantitie, especially during a cardio activity where you’re going to sweat, like Nordic skiing and cross-country skiing. To prevent liquids from freezing in your bottle, remember to boil them beforehand (water, tea, soup, broth, etc.) and store them in an insulated container. Be sure to boil snow long enough (more than two minutes) before drinking it.

Questions about hydration while hiking? Read our article on how much water you should drink and which water system to choose.

Sleeping Well

Third primary need of the hiker: sleep! Whether you spend the night in a tent in winter camping, in a refuge, in a yurt or in a chalet, do not skimp on your sleeping equipment. Bet on an insulated floor mattress to avoid feeling the cold coming from the ground (or the wooden structure of the beds), as well as on a sufficiently warm and compact sleeping bag. A small camping pillow will be the luxury accessory that will guarantee you a good night in the arms of Morpheus (don’t forget the earplugs either!).
We’ve put together a comprehensive sleeping bag buying guide for winter camping.

Finding the Right Backpack

Best ally or worst nightmare? It is essential to choose a quality backpack that can carry all your equipment without making you suffer. In winter, the amount of equipment is quite sizeable so bet on a large capacity (over 50 litres) and good support for the pelvis and shoulders. The rest is quite personal; number of pockets, ventilated back, storage straps and accessories, etc., it’s up to you to choose your priorities.
And if you want more tips and tricks for choosing your hiking backpack, filling it well or even saving space, read the advice in our articles without delay.

Long Winter Hiking Trip Checklist

  • Large capacity backpack
  • Travel equipment (snowshoes, crampons, cross-country skis, touring skis)
  • Hiking or ski boots
  • Sticks
  • Gaiters
  • Slippers or extra shoes for the camp/refuge
  • Headlamps and candles for the camp/refuge
  • Warm clothes
  • Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
  • Hand and foot warmers
  • Spare clothes for evening and night
  • First aid kit
  • Insulated water bottles
  • Kitchen equipment (stove, fuel, matches, pots, utensils, plates, cup, etc.)
  • Sleeping equipment (mattress, sleeping bag, sleeping bag liner, pillow)
  • Toilet paper, biodegradable soap and garbage bag
  • Map, GPS and/or satellite communication system
  • Food and water for the duration of the stay, plus a few extra meals as a precaution

Practical Tips

  • Be careful, winter days are much shorter than the rest of the year. Pan a realistic hiking route that will allow you to get in and out of the cold before night falls.
  • Remember to dry your equipment well after your day of winter hiking, in preparation for the next day. Think about your boots, coat, climbing skins (for ski touring) and even your tuque and gloves. However, be careful not to put them too close to the wood stove: the heat it gives off could melt or even burn them.
  • Try to keep it simple and avoid overloading yourself, for the comfort of your back and shoulders. Divide the food with your fellow adventurers and bring only the essentials for food, hydration, sleep, and warmth.

For more tips specific to winter camping, here are our top articles on the subject:

You now know everything about how to properly equip yourself for a long winter hike and you are ready to have a memorable first experience. Happy hiking!

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