Brrrrr it’s starting to get cold on the mountain! Many people shy away from hiking in the Fall and Winter because of the cold weather. What most people don’t know is this can be a great time to go hiking. There are less people on the trail, the leaves are off the trees so you can see out further, and snow and ice can be beautiful! We want to encourage ya’ll to take a chance on the cold and go for a hike!
Checking the weather before your hike is key. It can be difficult to get an accurate report for the mountains. Checking towns nearby can work. Whatever the temperature in town is, know that for every 1,000ft elevation gain, in the South it will be about 5 degrees cooler because of the humidity. Somewhere out West where it is dryer, would be about 3 degrees difference. Check out Mountain Crossings for example. Going to weather.gov gives us the weather conditions for Blairsville with some good detailed information. It shows the elevation there is around 1600ft, whereas Mountain Crossings is at 3100ft. Subtract about 8 degrees to get a more accurate temperature for Mountain Crossings. Another great site is atweather.org. This has more specific weather for particular shelters on the Appalachian Trail.
Know your exit strategies. If you are on a trail that could cross roads, or other connecting trails, make sure you note these and have possible shuttle drivers on hand. Cold weather camping isn’t for everyone and if you realize this halfway through your hike, go a head and get out of there. If the weather turns worse than you expect, know how to get out of there. Better to be safe than sorry!
I’m not going to go into gear too much. There are so many reviews online about clothes and gear that are very useful. Just remember to be smart and pack accordingly. Jeans may not be the best choice if it looks like it might snow. A fleece sleeping bag may not keep you the warmest in 15 degree weather. For cold weather camping, you will have to drop some money for quality gear and clothing.
I do have a few recommendations. I know my finger and toes tend to get the coldest. Invest in some warm, waterproof mittens for your hands. Having your fingers all together helps keep them warmer. I do have to take them off to do some tasks but they warm up right away in the mittens. The feet get special treatment. At camp, I will wear wool socks, down socks, and down booties. This keeps my feet super warm and everyone else at camp jealous. Nothing beats a great down jacket either. It keeps you warm and you can use it as a pillow when you go to sleep.
We have included our winter gear list winter-gear-list-2015 to help you get started!
After experiencing some cold weather camping myself, I’ve learned a few things to help keep me warm, and prevent my things from freezing. Your sleeping bag at night is your friend. You need to keep several items in there to keep them from freezing and keep yourself warm. I put my hiking clothes in the bottom of the bag to dry them out if they are damp, and to keep them warm. There is nothing worse than putting cold clothes on in the morning! I will also boil water before bed and put it in a Nalgene bottle and throw that at the bottom of my bag. Keeps me and my toes nice and warm. You will also have some drinking water for in the night. You don’t want to keep water out during the night if it is going to get below freezing. I keep water in my pot so even though it freezes, you fire up the stove the next morning and it melts. The water filter should also go in the bag. If it freezes, you won’t be able to filter water. If you use fuel canisters, that also needs to go in the bag. The fuel wouldn’t actually freeze, but water will boil faster if the fuel is warmer. So your sleeping bag is nice and full, but you will be happy in the morning.
Drinking hot liquids and eating hot food will keep you warm. Hand and toe warmers can also help but should really only be carried in case of an emergency. If you are well prepared with your gear and clothing, you should be warm enough to not need the warmers.
We hope this post has encouraged you to go ahead and take a trip this winter. You can stop by the store for some more recommendations on warm clothing and gear. We hope to see you out there!