Winter Tips

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Revision as of 13:51, 11 January 2019 by Rory (talk | contribs) (Necessary Equipment and Supplies)
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General Winter Safety

  • Goals and schedules are good, but mindless adherence to them can put you in danger. Always be ready to turn back (or stay put, if visibility is low, for example), no matter how important your deadline is.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected - You never know when your car will get a flat tire, or you'll get turned around/lost walking to an obscure campus building and have to be outside longer than you planned. Always bring enough warm clothing with you to stay comfortable for a good length of time. Keep a sleeping bag or blanket in your car along with other survival items. Bringing a headlamp on a short hike can mean the difference between getting home safely and having to spend the night out.
  • Things break down in the extreme cold. Cars, bikes, some types of clothing. If you're not sure that your gear is going to work, check it out.
  • Stay hydrated - Good circulation is your best protection against the cold. Your body loses more moisture to the air during cold weather. Coffee, alcohol and even hot chocolate can dehydrate you. Non-caffeinated Teas and water are your best bet. Also, your body won't stay warm if there's no fuel for the fire. Don't expect to stay warm outside if you skipped breakfast and lunch.
  • Watch out for cold-related injuries. Frostbite can happen quickly when it's cold and especially when it's windy. Cover all exposed skin and watch for hard, waxy skin that looks lighter than usual. The best way to rewarm early signs of frostbite is skin to skin contact, but don't risk spreading the problem.
  • Be aware of your body temperature. Hypothermia robs your brain of the resources it needs to make good decisions. Prevent this by staying well fed, hydrated and in motion.
  • Extra socks won't help you if there's no space in your boots - this will only compress the insulation and reduce circulation. Make sure your boots are loose enough to accept thick, insulating socks.
  • Know what your feet look like when they are warm and healthy. This may sound odd, but it can be hard to tell if there are early signs and symptoms of frostbite without a baseline. You and your participants should take a good look at your feet before you go into the field.
  • Bring emergency bivvy sacks, a foam pad and a sleeping bag with each party when going into the field in winter. If you have to stop moving because of an injury, these supplies will be essential in keeping that person warm.

Driving in Winter Conditions

The best advice for driving in bad winter weather is not to drive at all, if you can avoid it. At any temperature -- 20° Fahrenheit below zero or 90° Fahrenheit above -- weather affects road and driving conditions and can pose serious problems. It is important to monitor forecasts on the internet, radio, TV, cable weather channel, or in the daily papers. Driving in the winter means snow, sleet and ice that can lead to slower traffic, hazardous road conditions, hot tempers and unforeseen dangers. Don't go out until the snow plows and sanding trucks have had a chance to do their work, and allow yourself extra time to reach your destination. If you must drive in snowy conditions, make sure your vehicle is prepared, and that you know how to handle road conditions. It's helpful to practice winter driving techniques in a snowy, open parking lot, so you're familiar with how your vehicle handles. Consult the owner's manual for tips specific to your vehicle. If you are from a climate where it doesn't snow regularly, it is probably not a good idea to be doing this for the first time with 10-12 of your peers in the vehicle. Change your plans or seek help from a more northerly driver.

Winterize Your vehicle

Prepare your vehicle for winter. Outdoor Programs does its best to ensure that all of our vehicles are supplied, but it's your responsibility to check before leaving to ensure that these things are in place.

Good snow tires are essential. All-Season radials are not generally a good substitute for quality snow tires in good condition.

  • Always clear the snow from the entire vehicle, including the roof. When driving busses, use the snow brooms provided in Robinson Hall. Failure to do so will result in an unsafe condition and is illegal in the State of NH - subject to a fine of up to $500.
Necessary Equipment and Supplies

An emergency situation on the road can arise at any time and you must be prepared. In addition to making sure you have a full tank of gas, and fresh anti-freeze washer fluid in the tank, each vehicle should carry the following items:

  • Shovel
  • Tub of sand or gravel
  • Reflective triangles or LED lights
  • First aid kit
  • Exterior windshield cleaner
  • Ice scraper and snow brush

In addition, if you are driving long distances under cold, snowy, and icy conditions, you should also carry supplies to keep you warm such as heavy woolen mittens, socks, a cap and blankets and emergency food supplies in case you are stranded.

Driving safely on icy roads

1.Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you. 2.Most modern vehicles have ABS brakes. Always brake smoothly but firmly and steer normally. 3.Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists. 4.Keep your lights and windshield clean. 5.Don't use cruise control on icy roads. It can accelerate at inappropriate times causing a skid and takes time to deactivate if conditions change rapidly. 6.Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges. 7.Don't pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you're likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind. 8.Don't assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. All wheel drive is not a safety feature - it does not help you stop. At best it may allow you to go when you shouldn't. Do not rely on this. Part-time 4 wheel drive is useful for getting up steep driveways, but these can be treacherous on the way down, so be cautious.

If your rear wheels skid...

1.Take your foot off the accelerator. 2.Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they're sliding right, steer right. 3.If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control. 4.If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS) apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.

If your front wheels skid...

1.Take your foot off the gas but don't try to steer immediately. 2.As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go and accelerate gently.

If you get stuck...

1.Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper. 2.Try going downhill to a flatter or clearer surface. Avoid steering into the drainage ditch on the side of the road, especially if backing. Always use a spotter! 3.Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your vehicle from stop to go. Static friction is much more powerful than kinetic friction. 4.Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car. 5.Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction. In a pinch, small evergreen tree branches can help as well. 6.Try rocking the vehicle. Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you're in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.

If You Become Stranded...

Do not leave your car unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to possible help, and are certain you will improve your situation.

To attract attention, use the LED warning lights in the vehicle (usually under the driver's seat) and place one at each end of the car a safe distance away. Hang a brightly colored cloth from your antenna.

If you are sure the car's exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending upon the amount of gas in the tank.

To protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia use the woolen items and blankets to keep warm.

Keep at least one window open slightly. Heavy snow and ice can seal a car shut.

Frostbite and Hypothermia are Social Diseases

by Julie Clemons

Contrary to popular belief, cold injuries and suffering are not an integral part of winter camping. They are totally avoidable with good practice, but it requires constant attention, vigilance and effort. They are social diseases because when one person starts showing signs of distress it is more than likely that others are suffering too. The best winter campers are big wimps who put inordinate effort into being warm and cozy all the time, not the folks who want to tough it out when their fingers and toes are getting cold.

Good practice starts before the trip:

  • Conscientiously bringing EVERYTHING on the equipment list
  • Packing in an organized manner so you can find things quickly (1)
  • Hydrating like mad for maximum blood volume/maximum circulation

Winter health and comfort is a mindset:

  • Constantly stoking the body's furnace with calories, water, and exercise to generate heat (2)
  • Maintaining the integrity of your insulation (clothes) at all costs (staying dry) (3)
  • Not depending on external heat sources like a campfire or chemical packs
  • Fixing little problems before they become big ones (4)
  • Staying organized in all aspects of the trip (5)

1. Packing in an organized manner. Everyone has their own way of doing this. I like to use stuff sacks and to pack one full set of long underwear, socks, and extra hat right in my sleeping bag so I can change before bed without trying to find everything. You should know where everything is all the time.

2. Camping in the cold means you are basically traveling, jogging in place, or in your sleeping bag. Standing still for more than a few minutes is a problem. Avoid situations where you or the group have to stand still. Swing your arms, swing your feet, play toe tag, run around until you are hot right before getting in bed. Sleeping bags and down jackets don't make warmth*they just store the warmth that you make, so make plenty of it.

3. Stay dry from the inside: adjust your layers to avoid sweating. Stop when you get warm and peel off a layer*you'll preserve your insulation and your hydration at the same time. Stay dry from the outside: wear shell garments and brush the snow off when you fall down. Don't sit in the snow! Change into a dry set of longies, socks, hat, for sleeping.

4. Blisters, chapped lips, a wrinkle in your sock, a little hungry, a little thirsty, a little cold. The best winter campers are comfort-loving wimps.

5. Minimize the time that anyone is standing still or waiting for anything. Usually this means waiting for meals to cook and waiting for people to pack in the morning, so do everything you can to make meals quick, easy and organized, and keep your stuff organized so packing up is an efficient process. It is very likely that it will take two hours from the time you first wake up to the time that you are actually leaving your camp. With practice and forethought this will get shorter, but keep it in mind and get up EARLY!

These basic things are better prevention than any amount of talk about what frostbite or hypothermia look like. But just to cover the bases:

Frostbite looks like: grey or white patches on skin (usually nose, ears, finger and toe tips - but CAN happen anywhere). It is frozen tissue & it is bad. Make a practice of looking over people's faces at all times, and pay attention to the little details - boots too tight, a wrinkle in your sock, keeping your face covered in the wind. A patch of frostbite means evacuation and the end of the trip. Cover it loosely to keep it from getting worse, but don't try to rewarm it in the field. Take the person to a hospital.

Hypothermia looks like: A person who is crabby and not actively working to maintain their body temperature (i.e. sitting down, refusing to change clothes, etc). The rule of umble - a person who stumbles, fumbles, mumbles, grumbles, etc is losing the battle with cold. Prevent prevent prevent, as discussed above. Anyone "umbling" in any way needs immediate exercise, sweet hot drinks, and a change of clothes or more insulation. Just getting in the sleeping bag is not enough - they need to create body heat pronto. If every person on the trip is not constantly cheerfully proactive about their own and others' body heat, they are not good candidates for winter camping. Go home.

Tips on Food for Winter Trips

Food and food preparation for outdoor winter activity requires a bit more planning and different choices than for other seasons in order to meet your body's needs for calories and hydration. Here are some suggestions:

Stoves and cookware:

  • Two stoves are better than one because you can melt snow/heat water on one

stove while you are cooking your meal on another. Plus, if one stove fails you'll have a back-up. Bring a thin piece of plywood to set your stove on to keep it stable and insulate it on the snow. Make sure everyone knows how to operate the stove before you need to use it.

  • Although some of the newer fuel canisters perform well in cold

temperatures, generally a stove that burns white gas with a tank you can pressurize by pumping performs best - plus you don't have to carry out the empty canisters. Alcohol stoves don't produce enough heat to be effective in winter. Bring a windscreen, and don't use your stove in the tent.

  • Bring a big pot that you can dedicate to melting snow and heating water.

Bring another pot or two big enough for cooking your meal. Bring lids for your pots to significantly speed cooking time and save on fuel.

  • Bring one ladle and one mixing spoon
  • Everyone bring one big mug and one big bowl, plus a spoon, fork, and

pocket- or sheath knife.

  • Everyone carry strike-anywhere matches (keep box in a plastic bag or plastic

bottle/box) AND a lighter (needs to be kept warm in pocket).


  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate - especially in the winter - to help prevent frostbite and to help your body efficiently burn calories to keep you warm

and give you energy. You should need to urinate frequently, and your urine should be almost clear. Plastic water bottles are better than metal, especially on bare hands, and the bottle should have a wide mouth so the opening doesn't freeze shut. You need to have some way of insulating your water bottles (everyone should carry at least two one-quart bottles or one bottle plus one thermos); if you don't want to buy a "bottle parka," you can improvise one by using your spare socks/mittens or by wrapping your bottle in an extra sweater. Fill your water bottles with hot water at night and sleep with them in your bag (which will help to warm your bag and will keep them from freezing overnight).

  • On very cold days, heating your water in the morning and insulating it during the day will encourage hydration - nobody likes chugging almost frozen water in the cold, whereas warm water will be a treat.

General food considerations:

  • Avoid food products that will freeze, such as fresh fruit and vegetables; or

that will be unusable when hard (peanut butter, honey, etc.)

  • Avoid paper bags and cardboard containers; re-package into plastic bags.
  • Include lots of fats and carbohydrates
  • Avoid complicated preparation; "soupy" one-pot meals are best
  • Prep lunch in advance and carry sandwiches in your inner jacket pockets to keep it from freezing.
  • Avoid trail mixes and things that need bare hands to eat. Bars and sandwiches are better.
  • Hot drinks - cocoa, tea, coffee, tang, etc. Lots! Plus sugar and powdered milk.
  • Instant or quick-cook hot cereal. Plus butter, sugar, powdered milk, dried fruit.
  • If you want more carbs, things like pop tarts or breakfast bars are good.
  • If you have time to cook it, bacon

(a series of snacks that each person can carry in a warm pocket and regularly while on the go, rather than a single meal):

  • Pre-sliced sausage
  • Pre-sliced cheese
  • Pre-sliced bagels, English muffins, pita or wraps
  • Energy bars
  • Cookies (something like fig newtons)
  • Chocolate
  • Powdered Gatorade or lemonade
  • Powdered soup mix - something you can prepare and consume quickly while dinner prep is underway
  • One-pot stew or "glop" of some sort - with quick-cook pasta, rice, couscous,

etc. to which you can add meat or cheese and dried vegetables. Tuna, chicken, salmon, etc. is available in pouches.

  • Hot liquid with lots of salty flavour is perfect for cold days as it's often difficult to drink enough to stay hydrated in the cold.
  • Condiments - salt, pepper, plus a couple simple spices
  • Butter
  • Dessert - candy, cookies, brownies, etc.


  • Dig a single toilet pit in the snow and everyone use that location. Burn toilet

paper. Carry out feminine sanitary products.

  • Everyone carry a little bottle of hand sanitizer and use it
  • Avoid sharing water bottles, dishes, spoons, etc.
  • Use hot water and moss or spruce tips to wash out pots and bowls.
  • Treat or boil stream water if you can; melted snow doesn't need to be



  • Don't leave stoves, pots, food containers, etc. out uncovered overnight.

They're attractive to animals and they might get covered or lost if it snows.

Cold-Weather Equipment List

This cold-weather equipment list can be adapted depending on weather, type of trip, and conditions. You need to be prepared to be self-sufficient, warm and safe in extreme conditions and to assist someone else if needed. Would you be comfortable spending an unplanned night out? You don’t necessarily need to bring everything on the list if you’re doing a short day hike, close to home in mild conditions – but you should have a good reason why you decide not to bring some item of winter gear. A good rule of thumb is to have at least one more insulating layer than you think you’ll use. Leaders, please share this list with trip participants. Participants, check with your leader or OPO staff if you have questions. Please give us suggestions for improvements to the list. Stay warm, dry and happy!

Items available at DOR (Dartmouth Outdoor Rentals) or from the OPO staff are identified with “*”

  • Pack (large enough to put things in and out without a struggle on the trail)*
  • Skis (touring, backcountry, AT, etc. depending on trip)*
  • Climbing skins*
  • Ski boots*
  • Ski wax, scraper, cork, torch
  • Maxiglide or similar (for no-wax skis)
  • Ski poles with powder baskets (wrap extra duct tape around the shaft)*
  • Personal repair kit (screwdriver, pliers or multi-tool, screws, wire, nylon cord, hose-clamps, sewing supplies, duct tape, etc.)
  • Snowshoes (don’t “post-hole” up a snow-covered trail!)*
  • Winter boots (mountaineering double-boots*, pac-boots, insulated boots)
  • Non-cotton sox (light liner plus heavier insulating)
  • Gaiters*
  • Micro-spikes or crampons*
  • Non-cotton underwear
  • Non-cotton long underwear bottoms
  • Winter pants (wool, soft-shell, fleece, etc.)
  • Wind/rain pants with full-length or ankle zippers to put on over boots)*
  • Non-cotton t-shirt
  • Non-cotton long underwear top
  • Wool, fleece, or poly shirt or light sweater
  • Wool, fleece or poly heavier sweater
  • Fleece, poly, or down vest
  • Wind/snow/rain parka with hood – un-insulated
  • Insulated parka with hood– warm enough for the conditions if you have to stop for a long time*
  • Hats (warm wool/fleece hat, light hat or ear-band, sun/snow/rain cap)*
  • Face mask or balaclava for above tree-line*
  • Goggles for above tree-line
  • Sunglasses
  • Buff, bandana, or scarf
  • Insulated gloves*
  • Light poly, fleece or leather gloves
  • Warm mittens (always have mittens in addition to gloves)*
  • Personal first aid and toilet kit – bandaids, moleskin, tape, chapstick, sun cream, aspirin/ibuprofen/Tylenol, toilet paper, wipes, tampons, meds., etc.)
  • Large-mouth water-bottle(s) with insulated cover – or cover with an extra pair of wool sox. Even insulated hoses on hydration bladders tend to freeze.
  • Thermos
  • Matches and fire-starter
  • Knife
  • Headlight and extra batteries
  • Compass and knowledge of how to use it*
  • GPS with extra batteries and knowledge of how to use it*
  • Map and knowledge of how to read it
  • Trail guide
  • Phone and emergency contact information (did you leave your trip plan with someone responsible?)
  • Emergency bivouac sac
  • Small foam pad
  • Lunch you can carry with you and eat quickly
  • Emergency food
  • Whistle (often on chest strap of newer packs)
  • Dry clothes to change into when you get back to your vehicle

Additional Gear for Overnight Trips, Climbing Trips, and Group Gear

  • Tent with snow-stakes*
  • Winter-weight sleeping bag (or two lighter bags)*
  • Insulated sleeping pad*
  • Mukluks*
  • Down booties
  • Stove(s) with extra fuel and stove pad(s)*
  • Pots – at least 2 (1 large pot to melt snow and heat water, 1 medium pot to cook in) and pot-lifter*
  • Large mixing/serving spoon and spatula*
  • Personal bowl, cup, spoon
  • Lantern(s)*
  • Shovel*
  • Axe*
  • Saw*
  • Group first aid kit*
  • Group repair kit*
  • Extra sleeping bag*
  • Sled*
  • Extra sox, mittens and base-layers
  • Avalanche safety gear*
  • Climbing equipment*
  • = available at DOR or from staff