January 2013 Issue
Before heading out for some cold-weather fun, check out these tips for staying warm and comfortable.
Staying active in winter is fun and healthy, but cold air, wind and wet clothes can dampen our enthusiasm and even lead to injury. A few simple precautions can overcome winter’s darker side and help us stay active all year long.
• Get plenty to eat and drink - Exertion doesn’t work up quite the same sweat in winter as in summer, so you might be fooled into thinking you’re not losing fluids. Actually, dehydration is just as possible in winter because cold air is drier, so take plenty of water with you — and make sure you drink it. At the same time, your body needs extra calories to stay warm, so eat a good breakfast and take some high-energy treats in your day pack.
• Bundle up in layers - There is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate gear and poor planning. Without proper clothing, you’ll find a reasonably comfortable day with sunshine and moderate temperatures can become far less tolerable if the wind kicks up or it drizzles. Staying dry is critically important to avoid frostbite or hypothermia.
Dress warmly and in layers. Close to the skin, wear fabrics that retain heat and wick moisture away from the body. Avoid garments of 100 percent cotton when outdoors in winter, as cotton is more likely to retain water, which saps body heat quickly.
Add a layer of insulating wool or synthetic fleece for warmth, covered by a parka or rain gear made of nylon, Gore-Tex or other modern fabric technologies that will keep out the weather. Keep your head and hands covered and your feet warm and dry with winter-weight socks and waterproof boots.
• Keep your footing - Snow, ice, rain and even wet leaves can make hiking treacherous, so a pair of sturdy shoes with good traction is a minimum requirement for hiking. A walking stick or trekking poles may also be useful for maintaining your balance on steep hill trails.
When conditions are slippery and especially if the terrain is steep enough that a slip could lead to a serious fall, consider buying traction devices for your shoes. They come in a variety of makes from chains to cleats to spikes and could mean the difference between a fun hike and a trip to the hospital.
• Know your limits - Downhill skiers know that beginners should avoid the trails marked with black diamonds. Likewise, all of us who are active outdoors should know what we’re getting into when we plan an activity. Most hiking groups identify the relative difficulty of a given hike and whether any specialized skills are required. It’s good to push yourself, but not at the risk of injury.
Remember that daylight hours are limited in winter. Get an early start and if there is any chance of being caught outdoors after dark, throw a flashlight in the pack. Know when to turn around if weather conditions change or it seems that someone in your party is getting extremely cold or exhausted. Watch for signs of hypothermia, which include extreme shivering and disorientation, and get help immediately if you see them.