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The Art of Packing for a Winter Hike

Contingencies. I pack for contingencies. Most of it stays in the bag, bulging against the sides, weighing the pack down directly onto the hip belt, as designed, and a bit on the shoulders, as is the way. First aid kit, extra warm clothing, extra food, and, it turns out, just enough water for this eleven mile trip. Snow demands micro spikes, but also snowshoes. Mine spent most of the day strapped to my backpack, but I gave them a try for about an hour of hiking before strapping them back on the pack. The compressed snow and narrow trail made wearing them more hassle than salvation. Sometimes you try out your contingencies and realize that you were better off with the original plan. But I do love those heal lifts on steep inclines.

It was -4 degrees Fahrenheit at the start of my hike this morning. Most layers packed as contingencies went right on the body for the start of the hike. Snow has a way of being crispy and slippery when you dip below zero. And the trail we started hiking wasn’t the same trail we descended when the sun rose and warmed temperatures into the twenties. Having the right footwear and accessories is essential when you see swings in temperatures like that.

Still, for all the contingencies planned for, most everything stayed in the pack. Sleeping pad, extra layers, way too much food, all of it mocking me on the steepest parts of the incline and for most of the descent. But as soon as you don’t pack it you know what’s going to happen. Yeah, contingencies, especially in winter, must be a part of your kit. You’ve got to have a winter pack that can handle all the extra stuff, provide tie downs for the snowshoes, and remain an afterthought for the duration of the hike. For day hikes I’ve settled on an ULA Photon pack, which offers everything I need and the space for those extras.

Winter hiking in New Hampshire offers plenty of beautiful moments. Moments that serve as exclamation points on the trip and in your life. But winter can offer up stunning beauty and calamity quite rapidly in the White Mountains. Mother Nature doesn’t care about your feelings. You must be prepared for whatever she throws at you. And that’s what contingency packing is for. Sure it mocks you when it never gets used, but it also assures you that it will be there for you if you need it.

The next blog post will cover the actual hike. Memorable, incredibly clear, and two more 4000 footers checked off. Stay tuned, there’s a lot to cover.

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