Himalayan trekking in the snow is enchanting but challenging ace to play. Brutally penetrating cold wind bite, freezing temperature, and undulated terrain is not very welcoming experience for you in the winter. But overcoming challenges is the most powerful passion for the human. Therefore, trekking in the snow is the most craving factor for the trekkers to embrace. Hiking in the cold weather should be a pleasant experience conditioned with three factors
- Proper hiking clothes and gear for winter
- Proper food and hydration
- Preparation for the cold-related illness and injuries
How to prepare for trekking in the snow
Before you are planning for the winter trekking in India, you must be aware of the weather condition of the trekking destination. Thorough research through Youtube video or the website can help you to understand the real situation. You can read various forums and join the Facebook groups to understand the other trekkers’ experience in the winter in the last year. Detailed research will help you to decide which part of the winter is enjoyable for the trekking.
Extreme cold is not brutal for you to beat if you are armed with proper winter cloth and layering. If you are trekking in the snow in – 15 degree, you must load six layers of clothes. As the temperature varies more than ten degrees, you must be stripped off or add on one layer. But it is not advisable to remove more than three layers at a time. The science of the layering starts from the base layer – it will soak up the sweat; the mid-layer will work as an insulator to hold your body temperature and the outer layer will shield the cold wind and snow. While walking, your body gets heated, and you have to strip off the layer. I know that it sounds quite irritating to change clothes while you are walking. But if you get wet inside in cold weather, it can lead to hypothermia.
Say a big NO to cotton – This is pro winter hiking tips while you are trekking in the snow. Wearing cotton means it will soak your sweat, and the wet layer will hug your body for a longer time. Therefore, bid goodbye to this damp, cold and miserable cotton layer and switch to polyester or woollen clothes to stay dry for a long time.
Cover your skin – As your skin is exposed to the cold weather, there is a high chance of damage with the frostbite. It would help if you took special care to nose, cheeks, toes, hands and ears.
For hands – It is always better to wear fleece gloves under your waterproof winter gloves while hiking in the snow. It has a double advantage – fleece gloves will add layer and keep your palm warm and secondly, if the first pair of the gloves get wet, the second pair will help you.
For legs – Having an extra layer on your toe is also a bonus. Along with the insulation, you have the advantage if your socks are wet in the snow. But ensure that, your boot should not be too tight with the two layers of socks – it will affect your blood circulation.
For Nose and cheeks – You must use a neck gaiter to save your nose and cheeks from direct cold wind.
For ears – You should wear a winter cap which can cover your ears.
Layering examples –
Here you find the layering example as the temperature is as low as -15 degree.
One thermal inner
Two full sweaters
One hollow-fill jacket
Here you can make the variations as per your comfort. For example, you may try one fleece jacket with a hollow fill/down jacket will be useful when you are on the move. For the lower, you may wear an inner with two synthetic track pants (Though it is not easy to move with too many layers in the lower. As per my personal experience, if you purchase a winter trekking pant which has a fleece layer inside will help to move comfortably with the single layer). You may keep one extra track pant.
Avoid tight clothing – Whatever you wear, you must consider that they should not be very tight fitting. Tight-fitting clothes will impact on your blood circulation, and there is a higher chance of frostbites due to the lack of poor blood circulation.
Don’t miss sunglasses – The sunglasses are the must-have while you are hiking in the snow. The snow reflects the sunlight, and directly it impacts on your retina. Too much light is not suitable for your eyes. It would help if you had the right sunglass to avoid snow-blindness. If you already have the prescription glass, you must try fit over glasses on your prescription glass.
Pack the headlamp – In the winter trek, you may have to summit the peak at the end of the hike. Most of the cases, the summit day starts at midnight or 2-3 am. It won’t be easy to walk on the snow if you cannot see it correctly. It would help if you had the headlamp for your summit day.
Keep your batteries warm – Whether you are using your camera or the mobile, the freezing temperature will kill the battery life. Therefore, you have to keep the batteries warm when you are not using them. Many trekkers put the batteries in the sleeping bag or in the jacket at night to keep it warm at the body temperature.
Don’t forget sunscreen – Always it is not possible to cover all your skin while you are hiking. Therefore, carry a sunscreen lotion and apply on your naked skin.
Accessories for head protection
One woollen cap
One pair of waterproof gloves
Three pairs of woollen socks
Pro tips: In the daytime, you will experience quite warm while you are walking on the snow. In that case, the inner T-shirt you must be wearing will be moistened in sweat. Therefore, avoid cotton cloth and prefer quick-dry t-shirt as the first layer. As per your comfort use the layers in the day time. In the night time, if you are planning for a summit, you have to wear the cloth accordingly.
Do you have microspike, gaiter or trekking pole?
Another essential trekking gear is the shoe. You must wear a good pair of a trekking shoe. If there is snow on the terrain, you must wear microspikes to avoid slipping down.
If the snow level is till your knee, it is always advisable to wear a pair of the gaiter. It would help if you took the risk to moisten your trouser and shoe in snow water. Even walking for a long time, there may be a chance of getting frostbites. Therefore, gaiter will be the saviour on the same.
A trekking pole is always considered as the alternative knee support while you are trekking. It will work as an extra leg and share your body weight.
Food and Hydration tips
Remember to eat and drink – In cold weather, we feel too lazy to eat and drink. While you are hiking, you are burning your calories a lot. Therefore, the supply of energy is the mandate for your health. You must keep the snacks and drink ready at your reach. The foods will keep you warm and offer you quick energy.
Prevent food from freezing – Nobody enjoys the frozen food in the winter. If you are eating candy or energy bar frozen in the minus temperature, you have to bite hard before chew. Therefore, keep the food warm at your body temperature, so that you can enjoy your munching.
Drink water – When you are hiking in the winter, you have to drink water frequently. In the winter season, you are apprehensive about drinking the icy water and avoiding them. But due to hiking exercise and super dry weather, the moisture from your body gets evaporated. It would help if you took plenty of water to fight the dehydration. Don’t ignore the drinking water. Otherwise, you may have to experience severe trouble in the high altitude. You may carry a thermal to drink the warm water to avoid cold.
Cold related injuries
In the excessive cold, the tissue of your limbs gets frozen. Frostbites are very common on fingers, toes and ears. There are three stages of frostbites – frostnips, superficial and deep frostbites. When you can see the signs, you identify frostbites –
- Skin becomes cold and pale
- You can feel the numbness and pain in the affected area
- Sometimes, blisters are formed in the affected area.
If you are affected with frostnips, you need to put the affected area on the warm part of the body – underarm, belly. Do not rub or pour hot water on the affected area because the skin tissue will be very susceptible to damage. Frostnips is the initial stage of the frostbites. For the other two stages, you have to consult with the medical expert. Do not ignore frostbites, it may damage the part of the body permanently.
If your body temperature goes down below average, you are suffering from hypothermia. Many of the trekkers in the winter hiking trail, experience hypothermia. The suffering of hypothermia is not limited to winter hiking only; if you are drenched in cold water, your body can lapse temperature. There are three stages of hypothermia –
Mild Hypothermia: You can experience shivering, clumsiness and mood swing
Moderate Hypothermia: You can experience intense shivering and lack of body co-ordination (fall down)
Severe Hypothermia: You can suffer from the low pulse, lack of control and intense shivering.
Treating Hypothermia –
Hypothermia occurs to hikers due to the fall of body temperature, and sometimes, it can be dangerous. Therefore, if you experience the mild symptom of it, you have to be extra careful. You have to eat or drink energy-offering food to get your energy back. Try to shelter some warm place so that you can suffer less from shivering. Wear more winter clothes to repel your body temperature dropping.
Now you are ready for the winter trek. You must warm up a little before starting the trek to avoid any muscle cramp. Few minutes stretching will be the bonus.