Winter Hiking

MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes; Outdoor Research Crocodiles Gaiters; Patagonia Merino Base Layers

Review & Photos By Elizabeth Kane

Keeping the spirit of adventure rolling in sub-zero temps and deep powder requires some extra tenacity-and the right gear.

Photo (C) 2015 Elizabeth Kane
Photo (C) 2015 Elizabeth Kane

Winter in the White Mountains of New Hampshire can be brutal and variable, but getting that fresh air and summit rush is not impossible. When I decided I couldn’t put away my trekking addiction for several months a year, a few pieces of gear became imperative for my safety and comfort: MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes, Outdoor Research Crocodiles gaiter, and Patagonia merino base layers.

Drift-covered trails, ice dams, slick rock and talus fields-the White Mountains will give it all to you in just one hike. These MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes can take it on. They’re lightweight, durable, with easy on/off bindings that work even with chilled stiff fingers, and crampons that grip the most slippery of surfaces. You’ll move with ease and without the annoyance of constant adjustment. During long uphill pushes, the heel risers give you an extra lift, and save some of that precious energy you’ll need to finish your day.

Waterproof boots are a must, but adding a Gore-Tex gaiter can give your foot warmth a big boost, and keep snow from creeping in. Both durability and comfort were high on my criteria list, so I went with Outdoor Research Crocodiles gaiter. These over achievers sit high enough on your leg to prevent even the deepest drifts from getting in, and Velcro adjustments on the calf allow for a personalized fit. A metal tab at the front closure hooks to your boot, keeping these put even after hours of steady movement on the trail, no re-adjusting required. The combination of 1000D Cordura fabric, nylon and Gore-Tex means these will last me seasons to come.

One of the trickiest parts of winter hiking is body temperature regulation: sweat too much and the moisture can compromise your warmth, but let your core temperature drop too much and you may have difficulty getting it back. Layering is key, but your next to skin fabric can make all the difference. I was after a lightweight, soft material that would wick sweat away from my body with the highest warmth to weight ratio possible. I chose Patagonia Merino Lightweight 2 bottom and top. This merino/polyester blend wicks well, dries rapidly and stretches to move along with you. Elastic waistband and thumb pull loops keep these pieces in place, and the odor control feature means you can wear them a few days in a row without guilt. I combined these with a waterproof outer layer pant and shell and lasted through everything the elements could throw at me on two trips through the high peaks.

Sure, this isn’t everything you need for a successful winter hike – but these three items will keep you comfortable and take you further than you thought possible in the cold.  There’s room for error up there, the seemingly small things make a big difference.

Photos (C) 2015 Elizabeth Kane

Elizabeth Kane lives in New England and gets out hiking whenever possible – no matter the season. You can follow her adventures on her instagram.

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