Winter Day Hike Equipment List
Intended for hiking on well-traveled trails in moderate winter weather.
DISCLAIMER: This page intended as a convenience to friends of mine
who will be accompanied by me, and NOT as a guide to winter hiking.
All hiking is risky, but winter hiking is especially risky.
For example, there was a fatality (from exposure) on March 20th, 2004,
on Mt. Lafayette - a Class 1 hike, a mere 5260 feet high, and only four miles
from the trailhead.
0. Map and compass.
1. Snowshoes - available for rent from REI.
There's an REI at Landmark Center, near fenway. Call them (find the number from
rei.com) and make sure that a) they rent snowshoes and b) they'll have some available.
There's another REI in Reading, which is on our way north, which I know rents shoes.
But if you can rent from Boston, it's more convenient (you can pick them up the night
before, and we won't have to stop in the morning).
Make sure you tell them your weight, and that we'll be going uphill. There are
different kinds of snowshoes. You want the smallest ones that will support your
weight (plus clothes and backpack, so add twenty pounds to be safe), let your heel
come up [otherwise it's impossible to walk uphill], and have metal crampons built-in
[so you won't slip on icy patches or on hills]. Some snowshoes have snap-in bindings
and require specialized shoes, but assuming you own a good pair of boots, you want
showshoes with strap bindings that will fit any boot. [New shoes + long hike = blisters]
2. Ski poles
To help you stay balanced in your snowshoes, especially going uphill.
REI will probably rent you some with the snowshoes. I may also have a couple of extra
The sun goes down early in winter, so we'll probably be out after dark. Bring the
smallest, lightest flashlight you can find. If you don't mind spending some cash
while you're in REI, get a headlamp (get one of those LED ones like the Petzl Tikka
or the Moonbeam - they're small, lightweight, and bright).
Bring extra batteries - the cold can wear them out quickly.
Believe it or not, you'll probably work up a sweat. So bring a little to drink.
One liter is probably enough. Find a comfortable way to carry it inside your jacket
(ie, on a shoulder strap) or it'll freeze. (Or you can try to keep it well-insulated
deep inside your backpack.)
We probably won't want to sit still for a picnic. Bring granola bars and other stuff you
can eat while walking (at least 1000 kilocalories, preferably 1500 or 2000). Be sure
you will be able to chew it once it's frozen. (I break my Clif bars lengthwise inside
the wrapper before I start the hike.) Also make sure your containers are easy to open -
if it's really cold, you won't want to take your gloves off.
6. Extra warmth.
Chemical hand-warming packs, a tiny [plastic] bottle of rhum, anything you can think
of that'll give you extra warmth or confidence.
7. Survival blanket.
Stores like REI sell blankets or bags made of aluminum foil, which fold up to the size
of a couple of matchboxes. If you're injured or stranded, one of these can keep you
The biggest danger is exposure to wind. Make sure your clothing doesn't leave any
skin exposed - you should be able to cover the tip of your nose, and even the skin
around your eyes, if it gets windy. (Bring ski goggles and a ski mask. A scarf is
not as good because it can come loose in the wind, but it's better than nothing).
Make sure you have a jacket, pants, and hood that are completely windproof.
The second biggest danger is getting wet - or staying wet once you start sweating.
Dress in layers that you can easily remove and quickly put back on. The more zippers,
the better. DO NOT WEAR COTTON. Everything should be wool or artificial fibers
(brief underwear is OK).
Here's a head-to-toe checklist:
a. Hat. Warm, preferably wind-resistant, covers your ears.
b. Windproof hood. The only way to keep your head warm in high wind, even though
it'll interfere with hearing and vision.
c. Ski mask: Something to cover your face in the wind.
d. Ski goggles: Just in case the wind gets really bad, or the snow blows into your
e. Sunglasses - for glare off the snow
Neck and chin:
Be sure you can cover it. A neck warmer (eg, Turtle Fur brand) is a great way to add
extra warmth without taking up much space.
The key here is layers. It's nice to be able to remove the windproof layer
(otherwise you'll sweat too much) while still having enough insulation to keep warm.
A ski jacket with a removable fleece lining is perfect for parts c. and d. below.
A down jacket could also serve as both c. and d. but you may have trouble keeping
comfortable - down jackets don't "breathe" well.
a. "base layer": Close-fitting, long-sleeved, nylon shirt (wool is just too scratchy).
b. light fleece (or light sweater): You'll probably strip down to this once you're
warmed up, and until it gets windy.
c. Heavy fleece: Goes over the light fleece.
d. Waterproof (&windproof) shell: Goes over the heavy fleece.
I get cold very easily, so I sometimes bring a third fleece layer. (If I start to get
sweaty, I can easily remove it.)
a. Thin, light, breathable gloves add warmth, don't interfere much with your use of
your hands, & don't take much space, but won't keep your hands warm if the weather
gets really nasty.
b. Heavy, thick mittens will protect you from frostbite in severe cold - but will
fill up with sweat & become useless when you exert yourself.
Bring both kinds if you can - you may never wear the heavy mittens but then again
you might really wish for them.
Ideally (but expensively), get waterproof "overgloves" that go over the light gloves.
a. Nylon pants: light, quick-drying, and breathable.
b. Fleece pants: for warmth.
c. Windproof pants. These are sold as "rain pants" at places like REI.
Ski pants can serve as both b. and c.
Note that it's a royal pain to add or remove layers on your legs once you're out in
the snow (and wearing boots and snowshoes), so it's best to have big zippered vents
on your outer layer.
(optional) a. Gaiters. These are bits of cloth you strap over your ankles to help
keep the snow out of your boots. It's rare to encounter much deep snow on the trails,
so we probably won't need these.
a. Heavy wool socks: preferably that go up to the knee. Consider wearing two pairs
of socks (if you can fit into your boots), it helps prevent blisters and provides
extra warmth. again, DO NOT WEAR COTTON.
b. Boots. Should be comfortable, come up over the ankle, keep the snow out, and be
water-resistant enough to spend all day in the snow without soaking your feet or
9. Spare clothing to leave in the car:
When you get back to the car, it's nice to have something dry to change into. I
recommend socks, a T shirt, and comfortable shoes.
10. (optional) A camera. Make sure you can protect it from the snow.
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