Noob Question about Hiking in the Snow

Don't like ads? Become a BCP Supporting Member and kiss them all goodbye. Click here for more info.

Miya

Because I am able.
.
Joined
Dec 31, 2017
Messages
941
Hey Guys!!

So, for 2019, I wanted to do my first snow hike. I am hoping to go this coming weekend!

How on earth do I plan for this?! Can I use my micro spikes, or do I NEED to buy snowshoes? How do I know in advance?! I am just not grasping the idea of blindly showing up. I tried looking up snow depth in the area, but it is just showing me ski resorts. Haha. Even if it is soft, deep snow, I mean...can I use microspikes anyways and just know that I will get wet and cold?

Is there a website that you guys use to help you plan?

As always, thanks for any tips or advice!
 

Don't like ads? Become a BCP Supporting Member and kiss them all goodbye. Click here for more info.

Outdoor_Fool

Member
.
Joined
Dec 11, 2015
Messages
1,168
@Miya Here's the site I prefer. Depending on how far east you are heading, it may cover your area.
https://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/snow_map.html

In my experience, snow spikes are not beneficial on snow, even packed snow, but if there's ice on the trails, they are a great benefit. Snow densities vary widely, but slogging through a foot of snow isn't too bad. Much more than that and it can tire you out pretty quickly, that's when snowshoes are a good idea.

Have fun with it, regardless.
 

Brendan S

Member
Joined
Mar 19, 2016
Messages
326
Hey Guys!!

So, for 2019, I wanted to do my first snow hike. I am hoping to go this coming weekend!

How on earth do I plan for this?! Can I use my micro spikes, or do I NEED to buy snowshoes? How do I know in advance?! I am just not grasping the idea of blindly showing up. I tried looking up snow depth in the area, but it is just showing me ski resorts. Haha. Even if it is soft, deep snow, I mean...can I use microspikes anyways and just know that I will get wet and cold?

Is there a website that you guys use to help you plan?

As always, thanks for any tips or advice!
This is kinda old and a lot of the specific recommendations are out of date but Dave’s general principles are still good:
Footwear for the other three seasons
In general, I’ve found the warmest/most comfortable combo to just wear my usual trail runners with medium/light cushion wool socks and Rocky goretex socks (This is my biggest disagreement in the above piece...neoprene is good for wet sloppy slushy snow if you are constantly moving but cold for drier snow and if you are stopping much at all IME). MAKE SURE YOUR SHOES ARE BIG ENOUGH. Flexible shoes that are plenty big allow nice warm blood flow.

Micro spikes are good if it’s icy or if there are steep sections but assuming your shoes have good traction you might be fine without them up to maybe a foot deep. More than that you probably want some additional flotation.

NOAA has snow data maps here: https://www.nohrsc.noaa.gov/nsa/

If you are just doing some day hikes just get out there and try some things out and have some warm socks waiting in the car.

Edit: the SNOTEL data for specific sites mention in the above post is a great compliment to the NOAA maps
 

Titans

Member
.
Joined
Aug 18, 2018
Messages
700
That will be fun @Miya ! Will this just be a day hike or?
- I'm a big fan of snow gaiters, they keep my feet and lower legs warmer and drier much longer. (Rick doesn't ever use his, but he has wet socks much quicker in his trail shoes) . I just use my normal Merrell hiking boots, but the warmer 'waterproof' ones ( not snow boots, because I need wide boots and good luck finding that.) The Merrel 'waterproof shoes' just means that they are warmer and it takes a bit longer before I get wet feet, they are not waterproof. This wet sock situation is not ideal, but it hasn't been an issue for our day hikes.
- I like what @Brendan S suggests for socks, because I don't do that right.....
- we always need micro spikes, but that's because the northeast generally has lots of icy trails and slippery slopes. We like them also in Bryce Canyon on the trails in the winter, you need traction when you hike uphill. And I like the trekking poles in the winter too.
- if there is a lot of fresh snow, then snow gaiters and probably show shoes are especially wonderful. But you wil get tired very quickly if you are breaking trail, so if you are the first person hiking on the trail, then it's much more difficult and slow going.
- bring some hand warmers (the kind you shake to activate, just in case), fingers get cold quickly. Mittens are also warmer than regular gloves.
- we always have extra dry socks and dry shoes waiting in the car. Keep extra liquids inside a cooler in the car, to prevent the bottles from freezing. Bring your gear to heat water, ramen noodle soup is awesome after a winter hike.
-you loose a lot of heat around your neck and head, so those need lots of protection if its very cold. If it's super cold you might need a full face mask. (When it's really bad I need ski googles, but it sucks to hike like that).
-watch your phone, it needs to stay close to the core of your body. The battery shuts down in no time in cold temperatures.
-stay hydrated, even though it's winter, you still need plenty of water.
- Depending on where you are it might be more difficult to see where the trail is, if you are breaking trail.

Have fun!
 
Last edited:

Ugly

Life really is better Here
.
Joined
Apr 20, 2013
Messages
608
What they said.

Reading a lot helps to find strategies and to understand some safety. The biggest thing though is go a few times, especially with someone who has experience, and dial into what you like.

I only add one thing.

The hardest planning is always when there are transition conditions. Today Utah got tons of new snow. So tomorrow it's easy, it will be snowshoes and an expectation of tromping new trail on more mellow terrain. Other days it is a packed trail... The harder are having the right mix for no snow, to ice, to packed, etc in the same trip. Sucks to sometimes get high and find the snow is not consolidated and wishing you had something more. Other times you don't need them and carried them up a couple of miles and climbed with them attached the whole time and never used.

Far, far into the spring season I have traction devices banging around in my pack or on the outside. Ice, or frozen mud, and I do not get along on the downhill especially. They are light and there if needed.
 

regehr

Member
Joined
Mar 28, 2012
Messages
1,035
In Utah I always see snowshoe tracks on thin or highly packed snow, which I can never understand-- outside of deep snow those things just get in the way.

I almost never use microspikes, and definitely not for routine winter hiking.

Winter hiking is weird, often you can get away with very light clothing if you're working hard and it's sunny and not too windy. But if it's -4 degrees, shady and breezy you suddenly need totally different stuff.

Gaiters are awesome.

I do most of my winter hiking in these and just totally love them, they're just trail runners with built-in waterproof gaiters:
https://www.roadtrailrun.com/2016/11/review-saucony-razor-ice-lightweight.html

I have a couple of cheapo but highly compressible down jackets that I bring as insurance against bad conditions, these pack down to about the size of a nalgene and feel great to pull on when you stop for a break.

Anyhow as people are saying the main thing is to just go out and do it. Take a thermos of hot soup, or a jetboil for making tea/cocao. If you're miserable just turn around.
 

Miya

Because I am able.
.
Joined
Dec 31, 2017
Messages
941
@Miya Here's the site I prefer. Depending on how far east you are heading, it may cover your area.
https://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/snow_map.html

In my experience, snow spikes are not beneficial on snow, even packed snow, but if there's ice on the trails, they are a great benefit. Snow densities vary widely, but slogging through a foot of snow isn't too bad. Much more than that and it can tire you out pretty quickly, that's when snowshoes are a good idea.

Have fun with it, regardless.
Thanks! I will check out the link tomorrow at work. Doesn't seem to be loading on my phone.
Yeah, I was thinking it has to be possible to just walk in it, but waste deep or something, I might be regretting my choice. Worse case, I turn around though haha. I just like to be somewhat prepared!
 

Miya

Because I am able.
.
Joined
Dec 31, 2017
Messages
941
Thanks everyone!
I am just going for a day hike, since I will probably be myself. I want to backpack in the snow, but want to find someone who has experience with that type of camping and go with them so I can learn!
There were some great tips from you guys! A lot of things I didn't even think of! I will probably do a real short hike and get a feel for it!
 

Titans

Member
.
Joined
Aug 18, 2018
Messages
700
In Utah I always see snowshoe tracks on thin or highly packed snow, which I can never understand-- outside of deep snow those things just get in the way.

I almost never use microspikes, and definitely not for routine winter hiking.

Winter hiking is weird, often you can get away with very light clothing if you're working hard and it's sunny and not too windy. But if it's -4 degrees, shady and breezy you suddenly need totally different stuff.

Gaiters are awesome.

I do most of my winter hiking in these and just totally love them, they're just trail runners with built-in waterproof gaiters:
https://www.roadtrailrun.com/2016/11/review-saucony-razor-ice-lightweight.html

I have a couple of cheapo but highly compressible down jackets that I bring as insurance against bad conditions, these pack down to about the size of a nalgene and feel great to pull on when you stop for a break.

Anyhow as people are saying the main thing is to just go out and do it. Take a thermos of hot soup, or a jetboil for making tea/cocao. If you're miserable just turn around.

@regehr - excellent suggestion for shoes! Rick got all excited, those will be perfect for him for winter hiking and winter running on trails. He received a pair of Saucony Peregrin ICE plus (good winter traction) right before our trip, but they are low cut. He will get a pair like you mention. Now if they were made in wide sizes for women, then I might be all set too.

@Miya - if you do end up wanting to heat up water after your hike, then butane canisters will not work in cold temperatures. It needs to be a 4-season fuel blend like Jetboil (isobutane/propane fuel mix) as mentioned by @regehr .
(I like the high snow gaiters- the kind that goes up to just below the knee and has a strap going underneath the shoe.)
 
Last edited:

Don't like ads? Become a BCP Supporting Member and kiss them all goodbye. Click here for more info.

regehr

Member
Joined
Mar 28, 2012
Messages
1,035
One more thing that hasn't got mentioned yet: be careful about avalanches. It's mostly skiers / snowmobilers who get caught but hikers / snowshoers aren't immune.

A lot of people will be like "take an avalanche class, get a beacon, etc." but that's a whole lot of commitment and responsibility. For a long time I've taken an alternate approach of "either travel with people who know what they're doing or else try to avoid places where there might be problems." If you ask around, people can tell you about routes that are almost certainly safe / almost certainly unsafe in winter. Also get used to glancing at the avalanche forecasts for your mountains since this stuff can be pretty counterintuitive (e.g. huge wet slides in spring when things might look calm and safe).

Just as a random example (and I know you're not in the SLC area so the specifics aren't that helpful) one of my guidelines is "Broads Fork is generally pretty OK up to the meadow, and generally hella unsafe past that point."
 

Jackson

I like to go outside.
.
Joined
May 31, 2015
Messages
1,756
I'll be the somewhat dissenting voice on the microspikes. I pretty much always use them on packed snow unless I'm walking on a completely flat trail or the snow is really wet/melty (because then it sticks to the spikes and balls up). With even a slight incline, even with my boots that have great traction on most surfaces, my feet slip slightly with each step on packed snow. With that happening on every step, it's a fair bit of wasted energy, especially when going up, and I can feel my lower legs wearing out more quickly. So I'll use microspikes so my feet don't slip and my steps are more efficient. For me, it makes a pretty big difference.

If I'm going out on a hike in the mountains in the snow, I'll usually bring both my snowshoes and microspikes. I can be pretty sure the snow will be packed at least for the first few miles on the trails near where I live, so microspikes are enough, and then if it gets powdery higher up, I can switch them out for the snowshoes. And like @regehr said, a lot of people will wear snowshoes when it's completely unnecessary, with a few inches of snow or on very packed snow. Take advantage of trail conditions like that and just carry your snowshoes on your back until you truly need them. It's a lot less work to tote them on your back than it is to walk with them on.
 

regehr

Member
Joined
Mar 28, 2012
Messages
1,035
Take advantage of trail conditions like that and just carry your snowshoes on your back until you truly need them. It's a lot less work to tote them on your back than it is to walk with them on.
Exactly-- a couple of accessory straps makes this job quick and easy.
 

SteveR

Member
Joined
Sep 22, 2016
Messages
241
As a cross country and backcountry skier- I don't quite get the winter hiking thing, which is also growing in popularity here in Alberta. To each their own though, and I guess many locales don't really get consistent enough snow conditions for great skiing.
A word on etiquette- we two-plankers get a wee bit cranky when someone on foot, or snowshoes, tramples up a ski track, whether machine groomed or skier set. :eek:
 

regehr

Member
Joined
Mar 28, 2012
Messages
1,035
As a cross country and backcountry skier- I don't quite get the winter hiking thing, which is also growing in popularity here in Alberta. To each their own though, and I guess many locales don't really get consistent enough snow conditions for great skiing.
A word on etiquette- we two-plankers get a wee bit cranky when someone on foot, or snowshoes, tramples up a ski track, whether machine groomed or skier set. :eek:
Y'all perform a super valuable service in triggering all the avalanches so we can walk around safely, thanks for that!!
 

ImNotDedYet

Member
.
Joined
Sep 28, 2018
Messages
49
I almost always check alltrails.com when prepping for a winter hike. There are usually recent reviews that state whether you need spikes, snowshoes or none, and I know the recent weather. Having said that, I always take microspikes. I absolutely love them. It's so much easier on lightly to heavily tracked trails with snow, and the addition of trekking poles helps as well. Given that I tend to hike trails that see decent amounts of use, the need for snowshoes is minimal, but if I were going long distances off trail or breaking my own trail I'd definitely want to have snowshoes with me.

Avalanches definitely should be on your mind if you're going off trail or breaking trail. I would recommend an avalanche awareness class at least where hopefully they teach you slope avoidance, anchors, snow types and terrain traps.

I also switch up my ten essentials in the winter so I have better emergency shelter and some hand warmers. I should also add some more food.
 

swmalone

Member
Joined
Apr 27, 2016
Messages
285
If you have no experience with winter hiking/snowshoeing looking into a nordic park in your area might be a good place to start to build confidence. Often times nordic parks will have rentals available as well as people that can give advice on where to go in the park to experience different types of trails and terrain. It has been mentioned before on this thread, but depending on if you are on a packed trail vs. breaking trail through several feet of snow they are very different experiences. I did a combo of the two last weekend and was able to travel 3 miles on the broken trail in the same amount of time it took to break trail for around half a mile.
 

Miya

Because I am able.
.
Joined
Dec 31, 2017
Messages
941
As a cross country and backcountry skier- I don't quite get the winter hiking thing, which is also growing in popularity here in Alberta. To each their own though, and I guess many locales don't really get consistent enough snow conditions for great skiing.
A word on etiquette- we two-plankers get a wee bit cranky when someone on foot, or snowshoes, tramples up a ski track, whether machine groomed or skier set. :eek:
Don't worry, I am going to a hiking trail. Not a place where people can ski or snowboard.
 

Miya

Because I am able.
.
Joined
Dec 31, 2017
Messages
941
I almost always check alltrails.com when prepping for a winter hike.
I checked alltrails. There usually isn't recent reviews where I go though. There was one review for the area, and he snowshoed. I wish alltrails had a messaging feature so I could ask how deep it was. :)
 

Jackson

I like to go outside.
.
Joined
May 31, 2015
Messages
1,756
As a cross country and backcountry skier- I don't quite get the winter hiking thing, which is also growing in popularity here in Alberta. To each their own though, and I guess many locales don't really get consistent enough snow conditions for great skiing.
I've got 2 main reasons why I haven't taken up backcountry skiing:
1. my lack of skiing/snowboarding knowledge and equipment
2. an aversion to having to deal with ski resort costs, crowds, and traffic to learn it well enough to do it competently in the backcountry

I'd definitely ski if I had the gear and know-how. I could save tons of time getting back downhill to my car!

Sorry for messing up skin tracks sometimes. :oops: I only really do that when they've been on the main trail. If I'm heading off the trail, I'll usually take a route where I have to blaze my own path.
 

Don't like ads? Become a BCP Supporting Member and kiss them all goodbye. Click here for more info.

Similar threads

Don't like ads? Become a BCP Supporting Member and kiss them all goodbye. Click here for more info.

Top