About the Author, Ilse Dunbar: “I got into hiking kind of late in the game in 2014 when we moved from Ohio to Maine. Hiking has made me stronger physically, and healed me emotionally and psychologically. You can find me in the mountains of Maine and New Hampshire on an almost daily basis and if you see me, please stop to say hello. If you happen to have an extra Snickers bar, I will gladly take it off your hands.” You can find Ilse on Instagram @ukisukinaminanu.
Gear and Clothing
Before undertaking a winter hike, it is important to have the proper gear. Regular hiking boots are usually not warm enough. You will want to look for winter boots with 200 gram or 400 gram insulation and they should be waterproof as well. You will need several forms of traction. When trails are mostly unconsolidated deep snow, snowshoes are necessary. Popular brands include MSR and Tubbs. Both make women-specific models. Look for the proper length based on your weight WITH your pack. When trails are packed down, traction in the form of microspikes is more suitable. Popular choices include Kahtoola Microspikes and Hillsound Trail Crampons.
Gaiters are a nice option for keeping snow out of your boots and keeping your feet warm and dry. Look for waterproof ones with a strap that goes under your boot like a stirrup. Outdoor Research makes several great styles. You will want ones that go above your calves.
Plan to dress in layers so you can minimize sweating on the ascent but still keep warm on the descent and while you are on the summit. Merino wool base layers area a good first layer. I usually wear softshell pants over that. If I need an additional layer, I add a 1/4 zip fleece. That is usually all I wear on the ascents, along with a hat and waterproof mitts. I carry a synthetic puffy for the summit as well as a Gore-tex hard shell to protect me from wind and snow. I always carry an extra set of mitts and handwarmers in case my hands get cold and wet.
It is important to research your hike in terms of the trails you are taking and weather. Mt. Washington has a higher summits forecast, which is important to check for temps and wind. No one wants to plan a hike only to get above treeline with 80mph winds and wind chills at -50 degrees. New England Trail Conditions is a wonderful resource for hikers to check the status of trails to common peaks to determine the conditions of the trail, blow-downs to navigate, and the safety of water crossings. Be sure to bring a paper map with you and to have several bailout plans for yourself should you decide you need to cancel or change your hike.
Carrying the 10 essentials with you is critical. You should have: navigation tools which do not include your phone (phones die), food and water, emergency shelter such as a tent or bivvy, first aid supplies, emergency repair supplies, extra clothing, a headlamp and extra batteries, a fire sources/stove for melting snow and making a warm drink, and sun protection (yes, you still need this in winter). I also carry a sleeping bag and sleeping pad. In other words, if circumstances change and I need to camp overnight in an emergency, I have everything I need. I may not be comfortable, but I will survive the night.
Winter hiking is incredibly rewarding and there is no reason to be afraid to try it, providing you take the proper precautions to keep yourself safe!