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My snow kit

Winter Conditions

Snow and extreme cold present one or two challenges for comfortable living that we in Britain are not traditionally very used to but it also opens up new opportunities and experiences for enterprising bushcrafters.

Northern cultures like the Saami, the Inuit and the First Nations have all thrived in extreme cold conditions for centuries and I often look to these for inspiration in my cold weather gear, with the addition of a few modern technical innovations where appropriate.

Layering is the best approach to insulation, rather than one or two thick warm items, try to build up multiple layers of thinner clothing that can be put on or taken off as you heat up or cool down. You will generally need less insulation as you are moving and working than when you are stationary.

Mittens will keep your hands warmer than gloves with the same thickness of insulation. You will have to decide between warmth and dexterity on occasions but either way it is a very good idea to secure your gloves or mittens to your clothing so they cannot be lost. Losing you gloves in extreme cold, could mean losing a few fingers soon after. The time tested idea of a cord running up the sleeves and across the back is a good one but if you are carrying a pack the cord can rub. I favour a couple of loops sewn into the sleeves that your mitts can be clipped to.

Add cord loops to any zippers on you clothing that are big enough to slip the thumb of your mitten through and make a chunky knot that is easy to grasp with cold fingers.

As I have mentioned in the clothing section, I favour natural materials like wool and canvas for comfort, which although unfashionable in modern outdoor suppliers, really performs well in cold conditions. If your insulation is sufficient then snow will tend to build up on the surface of your clothing without melting. This means you are not getting directly wet but when you enter a warm tent or vehicle that situation can rapidly change. A stiff brush for removing snow is a worthwhile accessory in these situations.

Another type of equipment that has never been very fashionable in the UK are snowshoes.

In Canada and North America their use is well known but until recently we have not had the level of snow that warrants their use.

Having recently obtained a pair of surplus military ones I am surprised how handy they have already become for me.

Much of my local terrain is boggy, tussocky grassland and heather.

Snowshoes

Crossing this in the Summer really means sticking to the very few footpaths available or slogging your way across very rough, wet ground.  Very hard work.

In Winter, most of the bogs are frozen which makes it slightly easier but when there is a covering of snow, the underlying vegetation still makes it hard going.

This is where snowshoes come into their own. Because they spread your weight across the surface, you are not treading as deeply into the snow. For much of the time you are walking above the rough ground and bridging the gaps between the vegetation and this makes it possible to travel with considerably less effort.

Although I still consider myself  a novice in their use, I can see that they are going to prove very useful if we continue to get the sort of Winters that we have had lately.

Aside from keeping warm and travelling, one of the other challenges is remaining properly hydrated.

This can seem odd considering that we are surrounded by water. The problem is that the water is frozen, we cannot easily access it and we even have to guard against our bottled water freezing as well.

Using my hobo stove to melt snow for a drink.

The ability to make a fire or carrying a stove and it’s fuel is not just a luxury under these conditions. Dehydration can be just as dangerous as getting cold and a warm drink addresses both these issues in a very cheery manner. Once warm, try to keep some water in a flask between your clothing layers to keep it from freezing and take regular drinks while on the move too.

Most of this is fairly basic stuff but don’t underestimate the conditions. The  weather can still change rapidly and navigation can become a vital skill in a whiteout. Make sure you have a reliable compass, batteries fail fast in the cold and a GPS is just an expensive paperweight without them.

For more information on specialist clothing, equipment and and many other winter travel related articles, wintertrekking.com  is a resource well worth visiting or you may enjoy my new Ice Raven site.

 

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