Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Share your favorite winter gear essentials

I was talking to digital editor Melissa Hart earlier this week about future projects, and one of the ideas we settled on was bolstering our web and social media content aimed at people who are new to outdoor activities and the Adirondack Park. I’m talking about topics such as essential gear and info that can aid with trip planning.

At the Explorer, we’ve always focused on this type of content, but now the demand seems even greater because of the continuing rise in new visitors to the Adirondack Park.

The timing to start rolling out this material is also good because this type of info is extremely important in the winter months, when the environment is less forgiving for outdoor users. If you have problems in the woods when it’s 85 degrees, things can get uncomfortable. However, if you get lost when it’s 15 degrees, things can get very serious quickly. So you better be prepared before heading out.

But before I get started, I’d like to hear from you – the reader. I’m curious what you consider essential winter gear or food in cold weather. Do you add a few items to your usual essentials?  Perhaps a sleeping bag on day hikes or extra food and more high-calorie food? I’d like to hear your thoughts. Send me an email at and tell me what you’ll be packing for your trips in the near future or during snow season.

In the meantime, I’ll point you to a series of articles from past intern Zach Lawrence about cold-weather recreating and winter gear. The main one can be found here, and he also wrote stories about layering clothing and footwear.

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Mike Lynch is a staff writer and photographer for the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly news magazine with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues. Mike’s favorite outdoor activities include paddling, hiking, fishing and backcountry skiing. In 2011, he paddled the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine. From 2007 until 2014, Mike worked as an outdoors writer and photographer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake. Mike welcomes story ideas and can be reached at

16 Responses

  1. Bob Fox says:

    A pint of Wild Turkey.


    Someone in your party should have a thermos of hot chocolate. The hot chocolate should high in sugar and fat content.

    My personal favorite item is a very good wool scarf. Easy to adjust on the fly.

  3. Tim says:

    I always say: chips, tp, and a head lamp.
    But seriously, folks, the head lamp is the most important thing in your pack, with extra batteries. Better yet, 2 headlamps and extra batteries. Think about it. I got myself in a bad situation once, minus 17, dark, hypothermic, miles to go. If my headlamp had failed, I would not have been able to change batteries. Would have died.

  4. Vanessa says:

    Adequate layers of technical materials! You can *sometimes get away with cotton and etc in the summer, but in the winter it will actually kill you.

    I love my microspikes for the ADK, because I find the trails surprisingly busy and packed down at low elevations. But don’t count on that – snowshoeing is also quite fun. I tend to wear the snowshoes and bring spikes.

    An emergency blanket is really good, but yeah the sleeping bag idea is also good. If you can afford it and are hiking farther than a couple of miles, a fancy GPS emergency locator could save your life. Hand warmers, and I have a modified first aid kit + headlamp.

    For water, ditch the camelback bladder because we’ve had them freeze at the nozzle connection. Any water bottle can freeze if it’s cold enough, but I’ve had luck with the wide-mouthed Nalgenes. Thermos is good too. I feel like people do not bring enough water because they think they’ll sweat less – you can get quite dehydrated and it’s more dangerous in winter, so don’t be that guy.

    Finally, perhaps a weird suggestion: cables to jump your or anyone’s car, a AAA membership, whatever will help you deal with a dead battery at trailhead. Even as an innocuous looking millennial woman, I have been asked to jump a shocking number of cars in my day. People with their fancy indoor garages don’t park their cars outside a long time. I’ll know I’ve achieved the American dream if I ever have an indoor garage :p

  5. Jack says:

    A alternative to jumper cables a Halo Bolt. I have one in each of our vehicles. They run around $100, I have used ours a few times jump starting other vehicles up to and including a Chevy Silverado with a 350 engine. This way you don’t need another vehicle for a jump start. There are other functions including the ability to recharge your cell phone and other stuff, it also provides a LED light. The two I have hold a change very well, I tend to check out and recharge every couple months and especially prior to any trip. Lots of YouTube videos on this…..

  6. Kathy says:

    Map and researching the area you plan on being in…common sense and knowing how to dress and prepare for emergencies (unexpected weather changes and equipment failure),recognizing your tolerance and limits for the trip planned….and personally I wear bright outerwear that will contrast with white snow (just in case?).

  7. James M Schaefer says:

    Newcomers come to the Adirondacks from a tech-dependent culture. They habitually rely on their smartphone for directions and communication. Once in the wilderness they think that they can call for help if they get in trouble. They think a phone’s GPS system will help them find a spot they want to get to and give them a route home. They need to understand that once in the mountains, they will be unable to use a cell phone in many places to send or receive messages. Family and friends who know their hiker has gone on a route in the High Peaks may send requests for updates on the weather, trail and camping conditions. But messages sent cannot go through. Many hikers are pleasantly surprised when they get towards the top of many of the High Peaks suddenly their phone comes alive. Reliance on their phone even then can be misleading as a battery eventually will run low or “die.” There are no charging stations — and a currant bush is no help.
    Therefore with smartphones useless, or nearly so, newcomers need to learn how to read a map, use a compass and have a working watch. These old-fashioned ways of finding or knowing where you are, still work. They not only provide a degree of comfort to find your location, but under severe conditions could be a life saving skill — helping you get to a safe place. It is all about acculturation to the real conditions of the Adirondack wilderness. Newcomers need to learn how to be away from the electronic trappings of civilization.

    • Jack says:

      I totally agree that map and compass skills are absolutely necessary and dependence on cell phones and such should not be the only resource. However, I may be wrong on this but I believe that cell phones don’t need the cell towers for mapping coordinates. The GPS will work off the satellites without the cell tower. But then again try it out for yourself.

  8. Tony says:

    My 20 year old wool sweater, layers (no sweat), ability to use a compass/map, and survival skills.

  9. Boreas says:

    I have mentioned before, my favorite piece of “extra” gear in winter is at least one ensolite-type pad. Full-length is best, but even a short piece for sitting on or extra insulation can come in handy. You can always sit on your pack, but if you have a pad, you can sit on that and put your feet in the pack. If you are injured, an ensolite pad can save your life.

    Obviously a sleeping bag can be good, but an emergency blanket or two will do many things a sleeping bag can’t. It can keep you dry, block wind, signal help, and even use as an cloak while hiking. Don’t forget 25-50 feet of parachute cord to secure it. I prefer the “sportsman” blankets (with grommets) to the pocket-size emergency blankets, but either are better than none.

    Extra pairs of dry socks and either plastic bags or vapor barriers to keep your feet dry in frozen or wet boots. Extra gloves. Extra hat.

    Consider using a full-size backpack even for short day trips. They allow you to carry some of this “extra” gear without trying to cram it into a day pack. A full-size pack can also be used as a partial bivy sack.

    • Tony says:

      I forgot the mention the extra socks in my post but I bring extra socks in the summer, I watched Forrest Gump too many times as a kid, Lieutenant Dan…

      Love the plastic bag idea though, so simple, light and could really make a difference.

      You mention the emergency blanket, another thing I bring on all hikes as it is my emergency kit. That should be said, bring an emergency kit. I have had blisters from new winter boots and having the ability to put something over those made my day a whole lot better.

    • Dan Ling says:

      Yes, this is experienced advice! Think about what you would do if your feet broke through snow/ice and into water?

      First, wear gore-tex pants/gaiters that are snug over the tops of your boots – this will keep your feet dry for a few seconds under water, even if you go in above the knee. I broke through the ice (more than once) up to my waist and my feet and legs stayed dry because I was wearing gaiters over gore-tex outer pants. Think of it like putting a glass upside-down into water. The water doesn’t enter the glass due to pressure inside. This works for a few seconds…long enough to get out of the water hopefully!

      Second, as Boreas said, have plastic bags that fit over your feet, or better, wear vapor barrier socks beneath your outer foot insulation. This approach keeps your socks from getting soaked with sweat. You can wear your Icelandic Boot Socks for days on end and they remain dry. You really want to carry a full change of clothes for every day? No, you don’t. Also, if you do get your feet, socks and boots wet, dry your feet, put on dry socks, then the vapor barrier socks, then your wet boots. Now the vapor barrier prevents your wet boots from getting your fresh socks wet. This is why some wear 2 pair of vapor barrier socks at all times – to sandwich the insulation between one inner sock and the outer boot.

      Another winter camping trick: bring a metal bottle to fill with hot water, to keep your feet warm in the sleeping bag all night. In the morning, your water isn’t frozen! Another mistake noobs make is to bring food that freezes solid: fruit, eggs, etc. Not that I ever did that mind you …

  10. Mike says:

    Always have a good supply of duct tape, usually wrapped around ski poles just below grips. Can be used for numerous functions.

    • Boreas says:

      Indeed! I used to carry an “emergency” roll that had virtually no spool, so was very compact. You can make your own by rolling tape onto a stick, ice axe, or ski poles as you mention.

      I forgot to mention above, I used to carry a cheap, emergency whistle on the same lanyard as my compass. Any emergency gear in your pack is almost useless if you are in a spruce hole!

  11. Dan says:

    Micro-spikes have been a game-changer for this old man…

  12. Sensible Andy says:

    Yes of course, a headlight and a spare, always in my pack.

    But, the crucial item I always carry, year-round, is a Personal Locator Beacon. Yes it’s technology and it isn’t cheap, but in a life-threatening situation, I’m going to turn it on. Not for something trivial like late for dinner or an unplanned night out, but for a serious problem like compound fractures of both thighs.

    I would never go out without the equipment, skills and intention to self-rescue but if really big one happens, I’ll call for help. A Personal Locator Beacon doesn’t rely on sketchy cell-phone connections; it broadcasts an SOS with GPS coordinates via satellite.

    Rangers I’ve asked say that if they’re looking for me, it helps enormously to know right where I am. On the other hand, if ever I turn my Personal Locator Beacon on for a rescue, I’ll never live it down among my first responder friends. But, I’d rather be a live laughing stock than a cold corpse in the woods.

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