Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Winter Hiking

Frozen Cedar Tree

Winter Hiking

One of the best times to hike is during the winter. Sure it is cold out there but you will see things you won’t likely see any other time of year. When the leaves fall from the trees it opens up a whole new world to the hiker’s eyes. You will experience vistas you will never get in the summer and you may see wildlife that isn’t here during the rest of the year too.

There are several things to consider when hiking in the winter. First is keeping warm. You want to be able to enjoy your time in the woods and getting cold is not enjoyable. Another thing to consider is protection from the elements. Even though it is cold out you still need to consider the sun. If there is snow the reflected sunlight can be blinding. You could also get some sunburn on exposed areas. It is often windy in the winter so you need to think about that too. Be sure to protect your skin from the wind. Use lip balm and lotions to protect your skin. Another thing many people don’t think about in the winter is dehydration. You still need water even though it isn’t 100 degrees out there. Be sure to have plenty of good water along for any hike.

Frozen Pine Sapling

First thing any winter hiker needs to consider, other than safety of course, is how to stay warm. I know many people make the mistake of wearing too much or too little when hiking. Don’t depend on the body heat you generate while moving down the trail to keep you warm. That body heat can be a blessing or a curse depending on how you are dressed. The best thing to do is dress in several layers. You should be able to add or remove layers as you get cold or hot. Nothing is worse than getting to hot and soaking your clothes with sweat and later freezing because of it. That is why layering is so important! Also be sure to consider what types of material you layer with. Cotton is great in the summer but it is not the best fabric for the colder times of the year. Consider synthetic fabrics designed for cold weather or the old standby, wool. You should use a layer close to the body that wicks away moisture to keep you dry and comfortable. If it is windy or raining then be sure to use a windproof and waterproof outer layer. You also want to consider packing extra socks and saving space in your pack for storing extra layers of clothing just in case you do get wet. Moisture is the real enemy in the winter. If you stay dry you can stay reasonably warm even if you don’t have enough layers. Moisture next to the body increases the loss of heat during the winter. It is important to keep your skin and the clothes closest to it dry.

Consider your feet, hands, and head when dressing for cold weather. Most of the heat loss from your body goes out your head. There are a lot of blood vessels close to the surface of the skin on your head and face and this is why that part of the body looses so much heat. It is a good idea to wear some type of cap or hat that will completely cover your head and ears. If it is really cold then a face mask or scarf should be used to cover your face to minimize heat loss. Insulated boots are a good idea in the winter but don’t forget to wear good socks. Wool is by far the best here. If wool is too itchy for you then get some liner socks to wear between your skin and the wool. Avoid cotton here as well. Your feet are going to sweat and once your cotton socks get wet then you will soon be miserable. Wool retains much of its insulating properties even when wet but cotton does not. Synthetic materials might be a good choice if you don’t tolerate wool well. Use the same materials when covering your hands.

Moutain Vista at Winding Stair

Winter activities require more energy to perform so you need to think about fueling your body according to what you will be doing. Even sitting still in the winter requires more energy because your body needs to work harder to stay warm. One way to battle this energy loss is to eat a good breakfast before heading out on the trail. Be sure to eat things that are going to keep you energized through the day. Pack high energy snacks to eat on the trail. Energy bars, nuts, peanut butter, and trail mix are all good options. Keep plenty of water and take a thermos of coffee or hot chocolate to warm up with while on the trail.

Winter is a great time to get out and hike. You will see a lot of things that you won’t get a chance to experience any other time of year and there is a special kind of beauty that is only available in the winter. If you prepare for winter hiking and dress accordingly then you can have a great time outdoors no matter how cold it is.

Snowy Dogwood

Photos and text by Will Pumphrey.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

An Introduction

If you are reading this you may already know me but if not then I'll give you a brief introduction to myself. I usually go by flannelman in all of my online forays. It is a name that I have used for many many years and I don't see the need to change it now. I am an avid outdoorsman and participate in a variety of outdoor activities including hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, and geocaching. I love to be outside in all but the most extreme conditions and I'm usually outside when others prefer to be nestled in the warmth and safety of their home. I have hunted on cold snowy days and geocached in the rain. I fish in temperatures ranging from 30 degrees to 100 degrees. I have hiked in the middle of winter and at the peak of summer's heat. I just love being outside! Thankfully my kids like to be out there too. We have a lot of fun playing in the great outdoors. My kids share my outdoor hobbies, but not with the same enthusiasm as me, and I am grateful for the time we spend together out there. My wife is a fair weather fisherman you might say so she doesn't experience quite the range of outdoor activities I do. But I love her just the same!