Overnight Snowshoe / Ski Trip gear list

The following is a list of gear and other info that you should know for an overnight snowshoe / ski trip:

People who are well-accustomed to winter recreation probably already know everything I am about to say. I do want to make sure, however, that everyone has the basics. Two notes before I get into which specific items to bring:

i) The equipment you bring on this trip can mean the difference between spending the night wet, shivering and hypothermic or having a great time getting to know everyone in the group. If anyone shows up for a trip and is not adequately prepared, they will not be able to come on the trip. Do not wear jeans or bring any cotton clothing – cotton has almost no insulating ability and once wet will quickly make you cold. Anyone who is unwilling or unable to bring appropriate gear should not go on the trip. This sounds harsh, but it is necessary in order to avoid possible death and/or injury.

ii) If you’re buying new equipment to come on this trip, the temptation may be strong to try to save money and buy whatever gear is cheap or discounted. Let me advise from personal experience that if you end up in the mountains wet, cold and miserable, you will really wish that you had spent the extra $50 or $100 on a better pair of gloves or boots. However, this isn’t to say that a high price guarantees high quality (sometimes all that extra money does is finance the marketing campaign behind a big name brand, other times it buys you quality). The best way around this confusion is to talk to knowledgeable sales people and research the equipment before you buy it. Highly recommended is Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) for its products and well-trained sales staff. Even if there are gaps in its inventory, the staff can direct you to other nearby stores. See www.mec.ca if you have never heard of MEC before or don't know where it is.

You should bring everything that you'd bring on a normal overnight hike. However, here are more specific guidelines as to what you'll need to have. The sections are arranged as follows:

Backpack
Clothing
Food and Water
Footwear and Feet
Sleeping
Sun protection
Toiletries
Miscellaneous

Please be aware that there is additional group gear that will need to be redistributed before we start hiking (e.g. tents, stoves, fuel, etc.). This is just a heads up so no one is shocked when they have to carry something else.

Backpack

A well-made backpack that fits you properly is essential. Don’t suffer under the weight of a poorly fitted backpack: have someone competent fit you properly with a bag (read: go to MEC and have their staff help you if you don't know what a good backpack feels like). Before bringing a new backpack on a trip, be sure to load it with 20-30 pounds and walk around with it for a few hours. This is the best way to reveal any fitting isues with the backpack. A waterproof backpack would be ideal if you had $500 burning a hole in your pocket. As for volume recommendations, I have found it difficult to physically fit all of the recommended equipment for a winter trip into anything smaller than a 60 litre backpack, and I expect this trip to be no different. Backpacks can also be rented at MEC.

There is a fine art to packing a backpack. Be sure to leave lots of time to experiment with this if you don’t have a lot of experience. Don’t expect to just shove in everything you need on the morning of the 30th.

Clothing:

Follow the "layering" system to stay warm and dry in cold, wet environments. For those unfamiliar with the layering system for staying warm, the link below provides an excellent description:

Layering

You will need waterproof outerwear (i.e. the jacket and pants you wear as the outermost layer) in case of rain or sloppy snow. Waterproof clothing that breathes (i.e. allows sweat to pass through it but not liquid water) is the most comfortable and expensive. If you have oodles of cash, buy a complete set of Gore-Tex outwear (i.e. jacket, pants, gloves). If you are on a budget, try to get at least a waterproof-breathable jacket (in my opinion, a breathable jacket is more important than breathable pants). There are waterproof-breathable materials which are cheaper than GoreTex but may not work quite as well. If you're really tight on cash, you can always buy a plastic poncho. These will stop snow/rain from getting in but may soak you from the inside with sweat. Remember, the start of the trail to Elfin Lakes is fairly steep and you will be working hard most of the way up.

Bring insulating "midlayers" (i.e. that go between the base layer and the outer layer) that will keep you dry even if wet. Materials that will keep you somewhat warm even when they are wet include synthetics (e.g. Polartec fleece) and natural fibres such as sheep's wool. The phrase "natural fibres" does not include cotton under any circumstances! It's probably going to be quite cold (don't be surprised if it gets down to -30 at night), so I recommend bringing at least two of these warm midlayers (e.g. a heavier fleece jacket and lighter fleece or vest to go underneath it). It is also acceptable to bring down jackets/vests, but remember that if down gets wet it is useless as an insulator. Most people wear down jackets at rests stops or at the shelter, not while they are actually snowshoeing. Also consider bringing a pair of thermal long johns to keep your legs warm.

For a "base layer" I prefer something fairly thin that wicks moisture away from your skin and helps prevent overheating. This doesn't have to be too elaborate and can be as simple as a CoolMax shirt, but consider going heavier if you tend to get cold easily.

A toque or balaclava to keep your head warm. Maybe even bring both. I like to bring a baseball hat as well, but that’s largely to keep my glasses dry and my hood out of my eyes.

For your hands, waterproof gloves are preferred, but you may be able to get away with water resistant gloves if you don’t plunge your hands into the snow too often. The same layering system as above can apply to your hands as well, so bring warm liner gloves to go under your waterproof gloves. Remember that mitts are always warmer than gloves but limit your dexterity more.

When you aren't wearing all this clothing it's handy to have a waterproof bag to put it all in so it doesn't get wet inside your backpack (always assume that your backpack will leak). A simple garbage will work, but if you want to go high tech Outdoor Research makes good waterproof stuff sacks. These are available at MEC.

Don’t forget that you’re going to want second pairs of most pieces of clothing in case one gets wet.

One last quick web link on staying warm:

Staying warm

Food and water

For food, you're going to need to bring breakfast, lunch, dinner, and assorted snacks plus spare emergency food in case severe weather strikes and the trip is delayed. For food that needs cooking, it's best to bring the kind that only requires you to boil water. It can take a long time to cook something in cold weather, so don't bring uncooked brown rice or anything else that needs to be simmered for 45 minutes. I recommend bringing food like oatmeal and freeze dried food if you can afford it (~$5-$7 for a single meal) and can stomach it. You can also crack eggs into a ziploc bag at home, fill them with your favourite toppings (salsa, cheese, onions, etc) then once we get to the shelter place the bag in boiling water to cook the eggs. Other good food includes precooked quinoa/rice, chocolate, crackers, cheese, chocolate, trailmix, sandwiches, jerky, small cans of tuna (you will have to pack the cans out along with any other garbage!), chocolate, powdered hot chocolate and booze in amounts that will not cause you to believe that running around outside at midnight in the the mountains without any snowshoes or clothing is a good idea.

It is a great idea to organize food among small groups of 2-3 people. The best way to do this is on the forum under your trip topic.

For water, don't plan on bringing all that you'll need for three days unless you like carrying enormous 80 pound backpacks. Bring enough water to get you to your destination without becoming dehydrated, and bring a few empty bottles with you so you can store water for later use. A hydration bag with a hose and bite valve (like a Platypus or Camelbak) is extremely handy because it means you don't have to constantly open your backpack to get water. MEC sells hydration bags for as little as $12. If you do get a hydration bag, be sure to get something that will insulate the tubing that connects the valve and the bag: the water in here can freeze solid in the winter. Once at your destination, you can melt snow on your stoves to produce water. Failing that, you can get water or ice out of the nearby lake and bring that to a boil. This goes without saying, but don't drink water that hasn't been treated or boiled. Weeks or months of illness could ensue.

Footwear and Feet

You will obviously need snowshoes or skis for this type of trip. If you do not own either, both can be reserved from MEC. It is best to reserve a pair as soon as possible especially during busy times of the year (i.e. New Year's). If MEC runs out you can also reserve snowshoes from Valhalla Pure Outfitters and Deakins. You will need to pick up your own snowshoes the day before the trip leaves.

You will be miserable if your boots leak, so ensure that they are watertight before coming (wear them in the tub if you’re unsure). If you don't have/can't afford fully waterproof boots, a comparatively cheaper option is to buy GoreTex socks (~$65). These are sold at Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC). I've never used these, but people I know swear by them. If you're really tight on cash, you could always use plastic bags. I've never tried this, but it sounds really uncomfortable and like it would make your feet slip around in your boots. It's also a good idea to put your boots in a plastic garbage bag and sleep with them in your sleeping bag so they don't freeze solid overnight. So if you don't like frozen boots, bring a few extra garbage bags.

For warmth, bring multiple pairs of thick wool socks that are advertised as being intended for cold weather. Try the socks on inside the boots you intend to wear them with before purchasing them. You don't want the socks to be so bulky that they cramp your feet and reduce blood flow, making your feet colder.

Also, gaiters are highly desirable: the snow wants to find its way into your boots, and gaiters are the best way to prevent this. For those who aren't familiar with them, gaiters are essentially nylon tubes that cover the top of your boots and the bottom part of your pants, thus preventing snow from entering your boots.

Bring moleskin in case of blisters. Moleskin is double-sided material, with a soft velvety side and an adhesive side. You put the sticky part on "hot spots" on your feet which you think might develop blisters. This reduces friction there and hopefully prevents a blister from forming.

One last piece of footwear that is nice but not essential to have is a pair of highly insulated booties for wearing around and near the hut. These are softer and more comfortable than any pair of boots will ever be, and can be a relief for a sore pair of feet.

Sleeping

A sleeping bag rated for cold weather is a must. During winter (depending on the weather), you should bring at least a -12 degree bag (but it would probably be a cold sleep). You can always wear more clothing inside it if you are still cold. However, a -20 degree celsius sleeping bag would be a much warmer sleep. Whether you get a bag with down or synthetic insulation is up to you, but be sure to have a waterproof stuff sack if you go with down. It’s a good idea to have one even if you go with synthetic. Sleeping bags can also be rented from MEC and the club also has one.

You’ll also need a mattress to put under your sleeping bag (example: a Thermarest). The ground will suck heat out of you very quickly, even if you are in a sleeping bag, so it's important to raise yourself off it. Air-filled or down-filled mats are the warmest and therefore most expensive. Closed-cell foam mats are light and cheap, but not as warm or comfortable as the former.

One last quick web link on staying warm. Check out the tips on sleeping warm:

Sleeping warm

Sun protection:

Bring sunscreen and sunglasses. I know that wearing sunscreen in December sounds stupid, but you can get burned even in the winter, especially when you are at altitude. Bring lip balm that has sunscreen in it too. As for the sunglasses, even if the sun isn’t out snow reflects so much light that you’ll find yourself wanting a pair of sunglasses to avoid squinting constantly (polarized lenses are fantastic for this).

Toiletries

Your own personal hygiene standards are up to you to determine, but if you bring nothing else for toiletries be sure to bring toilet paper! It is totally possible that there are outhouses at your destination with toilet paper, however don't count on it. I also recommend bringing some sort of moisturizer, as it’s probably going to be very cold and dry.

Miscellaneous

A flashlight or headlamp with spare batteries and bulbs. It’s also a good idea to bring a backup light source as well.

Bring something you could start a fire with. This includes matches or a lighter and firestarter.

A whistle, in case you get lost. Three whistle blasts means that you are lost and need help.

Bring a knife. The reasons why are too numerous to even begin to cover, but you should always bring a knife when you go on a trip anywhere. MEC sells decent camping knives for as little as $12.

Hiking poles or ski poles are useful for maintaining balance and I highly recommend them (I think that MEC offers you a complimentary pair when you rent snowshoes there) but they are not explicitly necessary.