Hill Walking Winter Skills 2 – The Equipment You’ll Need
Of course, it should go without saying that you’ll need to know how to use the gear properly! Walking in crampons and making proper use of the ice axe are both essential skills. Get a mate to show you, join a club or pay for a course. If you’re going to pay for it, I’d go to Scotland where you’re much more likely to see some snow. Snow transforms summer routes. Something that’s easy in summer might be a mountaineering challenge needing some ropes and stuff in winter.
Snow also obliterates landmarks, so your navigation skills need to be up to scratch. Take a GPS for a’belt and braces’ approach. I find a quick look at the GPS when you’re not sure a good morale booster and more importantly, minimises the time you’re stopped and getting cold. Snow might also cover rivers, and you could well find yourself falling through. This could hurt your pride, or be much more serious. Knowing where you are can minimise the chance of this happening. Snow filled hollows are the same, you’re guaranteed to find yourself wading through these at some point. The usual method of discovery is sinking up to your waist in it. These are energy sapping and best avoided, but easier said than done.
Avalanche risk is another thing! This is rare outside Scotland, but still a hazard to be aware of. SAIS is useful information about the condition of the snow.
Rest of the stuff. Finally, the rest of your gear should be the same as your summer stuff. Rucksack might be a bit larger to take the warmer clothing you’ll need. I find that a fleece (or two) and a thick insulator with a hat thrown in for good measure is more than enough. If you don’t use the Paramo system, you’ll probably need some warm leggings under your trousers, and decent over trews too. Same goes for your upper body, where a windproof over a fleece – or even a windproof with a fleece lining might be ideal out of the rain. Spare socks, especially if you’ve got planned river crossings, should be regarded as essential. A flask is almost a must, take two and you can have soup and coffee. Head torches should be carried as emergency equipment in summer anyway, but are essential in winter. If there’s snow and sun, sunglasses are vital. You can easily suffer mild snow blindness without them. If it’s windy and snowing then a pair of goggles will be most welcome, even if they do make you look like Bender off Futurama.
I’ve mentioned a flask, but one of the most overlooked things in winter is water. You still need to drink, but I know I tend to dehydrate on winter walks quite easily. You’ll be expending much more energy winter walking than the same walk in fine summer conditions (unless it’s too hot). Fighting the wind and wading through snow is tiring work, so you’ll need to make sure you’ve got plenty of high calorie food. Protein is apparently good as it can help keep you warm. I take plenty of chocolate (but the first time you bite into a frozen Yorkie bar you’ll realise that it’s not the best choice for winter) and goodies like pies and jelly babies. Whatever you eat, you’ll likely burn off anyway.
Safety equipment will then include a first aid kit and a bivvy bag. I take a proper RAB Bivvy as opposed to the orange bag, and I’d probably take a light sleeping bag (Alpkit half length Pipedream 200, or the full length 400) if I was crossing anything large in Scotland such as the Cairngorms. I usually go up a mountain with the ability to survive overnight. In summer that would involve very little extra equipment but sheltering miserably in my bivvy bag would not be a comfortable night, but one I’d survive. Winter would mean the extra bits of gear mentioned above. Of course, you could always build a snow hole!
One thing that is definitely not obvious to most is that batteries will die in the cold. If you do take spares for your gadgets (including essentials like your torches and GPS) then make sure they’re Lithium ones as they’re not affected by the cold. Unfortunately, there’s no option for rechargeable lithium batteried that I’m aware of so you have to use disposable batteries.
All you need now is some snow. So keep an eye out on Snow Forecast and with any luck, Snowdonia might live up to its name some time before Christmas. Of course, they typical snow pattern recently has been snow followed by rain and melting in the next few days. The only way I know I’m going to see some decent snow this year is to go up to Scotland at the end of February or early March.
Coming soon… Winter Camping…. If we get some snow…