View Full Version : Winter Hiking in General

11-05-2009, 09:52 PM
I have never hiked in the winter, but im getting cabin fever so i decided it was time to jump into it, and am getting a little confused about all the different types of footwear.
Any help would be appreciated

1) Do i need snowshoes? I assume that if I do I need some that were built for rugged terrain.

2) What kind of crampons should i buy? I've been looking at some different 10 point for a flexible winter hiking boot (keen growler), but do i need to have a better pair with plastic boots instead? I dont plan on ice climbing, maybe a lionhead winter hike at the most.

Thanks in advance, I didn't think I would miss the mountains this much when fall ended.

11-05-2009, 10:18 PM
I hike exclusively in Winter and use 2 pairs of boots.(and I have feet like Fred Flinstone) I have Asolo Wide 535's as well as a pair of Keen Winter boots. I also use a pair of "CAMP Ramponi" crampons, and MSR Denali snowshoes. I will usually decide the day of the hike which setup I use, but if there is any snow on the ground I use the Keen boots. They work way better with snowshoes, as well as with the crampons that I have.

I bought the boots for $135, the crampons for $90 and the snowshoes for around $150. Some of my friends spent double that on plastic boots alone, and I never need moleskin at the end of the day.... :D

Here are a few pictures of the Keen boots with the crampons...



For some additional pictures of our "winter adventures" you can click here...


KD Talbot
11-06-2009, 10:03 AM
I am no expert, but we have hiked most of NH's 4ks in winter. I usually wear a plastic boot, but I am looking for something else. My wife wears a Lowa boot which I tried but couldn't get the right fit so I'm still looking, will probably try these again. These are the exact boot that the State Park folks wear throughout winter while on duty at the top of MW. They are rated to -10. There are better boots with more insulation, but these work fine. They are pricey, but will last. If it's colder than -10 we're not out there. I'm not talking wind chill.


That said, much of winter hiking is weather dependent. Many people plan in advance, then make the hike regardless of the conditions that day. If you have the luxury of picking your days you can go on warmer, sunny days when the cold is not much of an issue. It also depends on what you plan to hike. Above tree line I would want good boots. Out all day in deep snow I would want good boots. A quick run up and down a smaller mountain, just a few hours out, I might wear my summer boots.

Snowshoes are another issue. I see a lot of MSRs on the trail. I used MSR Lightning Ascents for most of my 4ks. Because they are light they break easily. I've broken mine twice. I plan on trying MSR Denalis next. Slightly heavier but much stronger cleats due to heavier gauge metal. My wife tried them and hated them. She uses Atlas that have a unique, one pull strap system so are very easy to put on and take off, but alas, they throw snow up her backside with each step so she must wear waterproof pants which can get very hot while hiking. It's a tradeoff.

As for crampons I have never needed them except above treeline. I carry them, but seldom use them. Unless you plan to be on the Presidentials I would be more apt to suggest to you to get a pair of Katoola Microspikes. They'll work well on all but glare ice.


I am not familiar with the boots JM suggests, so have no comment. They may be perfectly fine for what you want to do.

A couple of more things. Winter hiking, in my mind, is totally weather dependent. We will still go out in bad weather, but may shift gears in bad weather. Do something on a smaller scale.

It is also considered bad policy to post hole. If a trail is packed out with snowshoes then you should wear snowshoes to preserve the track. If a trail is not packed out you do not want to post hole it. This will freeze and make passage difficult for those who follow. If you can hike a trail in microspikes and not damage the track, then fine. We always carry both. Winter hiking means carrying a lot of things you may never use.

I'm sure others will add to what I've said. Good luck, and oh, BTW, it's not winter yet, unless you're in the mountains! :)


11-06-2009, 11:38 AM
**I'm no expert either -- just one season's worth of experience. **

I bought crampons last year but never used them -- but I didn't spend much time above treeline, either.

Microspikes, however, were used on every hike.

Must have snowshoes (I have the MSR Lightning Ascents...the only ones I've ever used, so I can't compare them to anything else). Even if you don't think you'll need them, carry them just in case. Folks might report that a trail is packed out, but all it takes is an hour or so of heavy wind to throw soft snow right back over the trail. Trying to fight your way through soft, sinking snow can be dangerously exhausting. Bad things can happen very fast if you get into a situation where you're exhausted and can't travel far because you're constantly sinking in the snow.

Also, seriously consider packing a sleeping bag and emergency bivy in case you have an accident. Staying still for any amount of time means you will become very cold very quickly. It's important to have means of staying warm and dry while you're waiting for help.

11-06-2009, 12:33 PM
I'm glad someone brought up this subject! I got snowshoes a couple years ago (just some standard Tubbs) and used them a lot last year. We did some less threatening hikes, like Arethusa falls and up into the base of Tux to watch the lunatics. We didn't end up needing the snowshoes for Tux which we were glad to find out in the parking lot before we dragged them along with us! Just some microspikes. I didn't have spikes, but had some 'creepers' that did the trick. I will be getting microspikes this year though, and hopefully do some more challenging winter hikes (nothing serious though!). Thanks for all the suggestions, even though I didn't ask the question!

11-06-2009, 09:28 PM
Thanks for all your advice, and providing some insight as to when to use crampons, SS and micro spikes, because i am also confused about that.

Also thank you for providing vocabulary terms i needed to look up such as posthole, i have A LOT to learn before i venture out.

11-07-2009, 01:25 PM
how about pants what type do you use for cold weather and do you just put a pair of rain pants over them in the snow

KD Talbot
11-07-2009, 04:27 PM
John- Postholing is just what it sounds like. If you've ever dug a post-hole for a fence then you know it's a narrow deep hole. That is what your foot and leg does in the snow without snowshoes. You can go right up to your hip. Deeper if there are spruce traps under the snow, but that's a different subject.

The danger of this is that you expend a lot of energy extricating yourself from the post-hole. Also, if you are to pitch forward with your leg jammed in a hole you can cause serious injury to your knee and leg.

The hole will freeze and when someone else comes along it makes for difficult passage as compared to the nice smooth track snowshoes leave behind. Really, after it's been packed it's like walking on a sidewalk. No roots or rocks to step around. Makes for nice traveling conditions!

Also, if you plan to do a lot of uphill, like climb 4k's, make sure your snowshoe is equipped with a "televator" which flips up and levels your foot. Your feet are walking on flat ground while the snowshoe absorbs the incline.

Charlie- I like to wear light pants while hiking, even in winter. Believe me, you get warm! As you know, sweat is a big issue in winter because if you don't have clothes to wick the moisture away from your skin you can easily get hypothermic. People can literally freeze to death soaked in their own sweat.

I didn't figure this out myself, but the thing I've learned to do is start out cold. I see a lot of people start out all bundled up then strip off layers. By the time I realized I was too warm I was already sweating and stuff was getting wet. If I start out cold I warm up fast and I can control how much I sweat.

This is where the pants come in. If I'm stopping for any period of time, or heading into wind exposure, then I stop and put on a waterproof-windproof pant layer. I use stuff like a skier would that zips from top to bottom on the outside of the leg so you can put it on, take it off with your boots on. Velcro is actually the best because dealing with zippers and cold fingers is very hard for me. Velcro won't seal as well as a good waterproof windproof zipper, though.

Hope this helps.


11-07-2009, 04:53 PM
I quickly went through the posts and did not notice the mention of a standard mountaineering axe.

I know you are not ice climbing but a standard mountaineering axe is something you should not venture onto snow slopes without, regardless of the angle of terrain. An axe will help you obtain purchase when travelling over uneven terrain and aid a self arrest should you have a slip and fall. It's far better to stop a slide with an axe rather than wait for you to hit a tree or rock on the way down. Thin snow and icy patches can be far more dangerous that most people would assume. When they learn the hard way ... well, don't learn the hard way.

Mountaineering axes are cheap, lightweight and can save your rear. I carry one on all trips where I may encounter snow & ice regardless.

On another note, crampons are not very useful unless the snow is very hard packed, and icy. I just came back from a trip out west where we climbed steep slopes with hiking boots because the snow was moderately soft. Under these conditions the crampons have a better chance of hurting you, than helping you. Also, if you are new to using crampons I'd suggest practicing with them on ... yes I'm serious. They take some practice and ensure you do not scrap your calf muscle while walking. They can tear through clothing and your flesh quite easily. Just be careful.

Bill O
11-07-2009, 06:47 PM
Good point. A mountaineering axe is a versatile tool. You can use the same axe on Washington, Rainier, Denali and Everest. And they are very affordable.

11-08-2009, 06:41 AM
Regarding the ice axe....may I suggest starting winter hiking by not going anywhere you'd need one? I didn't use mine at all last year, but since it was our first season, I made sure to keep to the relatively unexposed summits.

Peaks I did last year where an ice axe was not necessary: Tecumseh, Pierce, Eisenhower, Carter Dome, Wildcat A (conditions on slide were not dangerous, otherwise I would have turned back), Wildcat D, Liberty, Tom, Field, Willey, Cabot, Waumbek.

I'm not saying one shouldn't have one at some point....but for a first-timer, perhaps getting into a situation where you WOULD need one could wait until after a season's worth of experience?

Just a suggestion, of course, I'm a relative newbie myself, so take whatever I write with a huge grain of salt.

11-08-2009, 01:12 PM
A couple of thoughts:

Crampons: They may be overkill in some situations of packed snow where something like microspikes is all that's needed, but don't rely on anything less than crampons for steep icy slopes, such as you may encounter above treeline. Last winter a participant in this forum described a trip in which one of their group was injured by a long slide, trying to get by with microspikes rather than crampons.

Axe: My opinion--poles work just as well in many below-treeline situations. But every now and then you will come across something unexpected even down in the woods where you'll wish you had the axe. For example, this happened to me and a friend on a steep icy boulder on the Fishin Jimmy trail. If the trail description says anything about scrambling up a ledgy section, consider bringing an axe.

11-09-2009, 09:23 PM
I'm really glad everyone started chiming in here because a lot of questions i didn't ask but wanted to are getting answered. I was planning on buying an axe, I do plan on eventually attempting hikes that I would think requires crampons, but I have tecumsah slated as my first 4000 fter once I am prepared. Also I normally hike alone, but I have enlisted a very experienced winter hiker friend of mine to be an accomplice.I think as far as clothing goes I'm not too worried. I have pretty good shell clothing, skimped a little on the pants, as they are not water proof below the knee, but I think that they should be fine for day hikes. Thank You all for your advice.

11-10-2009, 04:52 PM
If the trail description says anything about scrambling up a ledgy section, consider bringing an axe.

Also make sure one knows the proper use of an axe such as self arrest. There are classes (better) and video on the 'net (better than nothing) that one might want to take a gander at.

One thing also worth mentioning in case anyone new to winter gear views this thread; An Ice Axe is different, and has much different uses, than an Ice Tool. Tools are for climbing vert ice (primarily). I've seen confusion on other forums about this so I thought I'd throw it out there.

11-19-2009, 02:39 PM
redthorne: good point an ice "rectractor tool" is a completely different tool that has a removable pick that is designed to really dig into ice, something that vertical ice climbers would use... generally they are $100+ more that basic "mountaineering ice axes"

1) Do i need snowshoes? I assume that if I do I need some that were built for rugged terrain.

2) What kind of crampons should i buy? I've been looking at some different 10 point for a flexible winter hiking boot (keen growler), but do i need to have a better pair with plastic boots instead? I dont plan on ice climbing, maybe a lionhead winter hike at the most.


you should be able to get buy with an ice axe & decent pair of crampons... used on ebay for $100... like said above don't buy a $278 "ice tool" unless you really plan on hanging upside down from a ice mushroom or doing some serious class4+. For the snowshoes you'll probbaly only need them if you are on a relatively untraveled trail, and Lion's head is far from that.

I'd go with Grivel for the Crampons and Black Diamond for the axe.... as far as points only thing I'd be concerned with is having some front points; you probably won't really need them but is good to have them

Lion's head is a good route to start on; only bad thing is that the toughest part is at the bottom ( i.e. the section from fire road to Lions head rock outcropping), but the good thing is that there will be quite a few people around to chat with / see what they are doing so you can play the old "monkey see monkey do"

Best of luck and enjoy, Tim

BTW nothing wrong with hiking alone as long as you are prepared, it is not on a moving glacier (no worries here), and you let somebody know of your plans + check in/out with them