It’s winter, and for us, The fun outdoors doesn’t stop. Let’s discuss how to go Backpacking in a blizzard and how to be safe and successful in this frosty adventure.
You are getting ready for an upcoming backpacking trip the forecast is calling for a record blizzard. While many people may call off the trip, it can still be done and be an epic memory. To take on your backpacking trip in a blizzard, there are three different contributing factors that are going to make this a potentially extreme backpacking trip, temperature, wind, and snowfall.
Let’s discuss how factors like temperature, wind, and snowfall will affect the trip overall, what to be aware of, and how to mitigate it.
Share Your Location
As an outdoor adventurer, chances are you like being in areas where no one else is around and trust me, I get it. However, in this case, even when I solo hike or camping trip, I still give my planned area coordinates to my wife and make sure to update her as I move along. While you may not have service, at a minimum share the location before leaving and of the trailhead.
Navigation and Snowfall
Many people often wonder how you can navigate during a snowfall event in the outdoors. While snowfall does have an impact (visually) it can’t outsmart maps and GPS devices. When there is no snowfall, hikers ad backpackers can just visually follow the trail and any associated trail signage. However, when the snow falls, it has a pretty substantial effect on your visuals. A once heavily trafficked trail now is just another area of snow mixed in with the mountain alpines and you can’t see any hint of a trail. So, what do you do?
Personally, I have the Garmin Instinct GPS watch, however, most modern GPS watches will work assuming they have the ability to download offline maps to use in conjunction with the watch’s GPS tracking. So, I load the maps up onto the watch and then I’m able to follow it.
I know what your thinking, “What happens when that fancy watch battery dies?” Well, we have a couple of options.
- Power Bank: Keep a small packable power bank in your bag. We personally own the Otterbox Qi Wireless Power Pack which will keep your gear charged including your watch and phone. You can check it out here at Amazon.
2. Phone Downloaded Maps: Speaking of a phone, when (or if) the watch dies, you should have a downloaded copy of your area maps on your phone, both Google Maps and Apple Maps support this function as well as many other outdoor navigation apps. Check out the BEST Outdoor Apps of 2020 and 2021, there are some true outdoor gems in that list.
3. Compass and Map: You’re not going to like this….but….I gotta say it. Learn to use a compass. I know I know, who needs a compass? well, your partially right, but if we ever lose all this awesome tech around us, you will be in trouble if a paper map and compass are foreign to you. How will you get to Starbucks?
4. Terrain Association: As you navigate, be familiar with the terrain around you. Mountain ranges, sunrise and sunset directions (East/West) as well as treelines and water locations like lakes, ponds, and rivers or streams. Each of these along the way is a visual marker that will not move or be covered and you can use them to remind yourself of your route or general location.
Campsite Location and Wind Speeds
Selecting your campsite when backpacking in a blizzard is a bit more serious. We need to factor in the snowfall that has now accumulated on trees and their branches. Because of this added weight to the trees (and the wind), we must remain aware of deadfall trees or branches that could come crashing down at any moment.
Look for campsites that are out of the way from any tree-fall issues. Here in the west, we have really large boulders all over the mountains. I like to find a good windbreak for my tent using a large boulder or other land feature in the area.
Another trick is owning a good quality and LOW PROFILE tent. This will allow the tent to withstand the wind speeds from both managing their pressure, but also being engineered to taking on less of that said pressure thanks to the lower profile design. A cheap, tall, and boxy tent will quite literally come crashing down at 3 am, ask me how I know.
We have been using NEMO tents for years and they are so well designed with such high quality, paired with their lifetime guarantee, it makes it hard to use anything else.
While it may be obvious, or maybe not, it’s worth mentioning here, that although you are in a blizzard, and you’re not how or sweating, you still need to be hydrating well with water and electrolytes. Your body is working hard both with physical exertion and with keeping you warm, because of this, you may not realize how quickly you can get dehydrated in a winter event. Often overlooked, but don’t skip this.
Sleep Systems in a Blizzard
Your sleep system in ab blizzard will be much more important than when you camp in the summer. So if you used a great sleep system combo last July, you may want to re-think what you bring in a blizzard. We will cover the basics of a Sleeping Bag and Sleeping Pad/Mat to use in the winter.
- Sleeping Bag: Your sleeping bag choice will be a serious consideration depending on your location and expected temps. However, if you’re prepping for a blizzard hike, you need a bag with a warm rating. Plan to go a bit lower in rating than that of the actual temp. The ratings listed on bags are not what the comfort level will be. For example, a bag rated for 32 degrees Fahrenheit will be comfortable around 40-50, not at 32.
- Sleeping Pad: Sleeping pads may be the most essential part of sleep comfort when in the outdoors, and often, newcomers overlook them as an upgrade option that isn’t needed, when in fact they have a massive role in your bag’s temperature and ultimately your temperature. Sleeping pads are rated in a system called an “R-Value”. The R-Value will be your guide for how much insulation and temperature regulations your pad can achieve when sleeping. The higher the R-VAlue, the better it will be at keeping you warm. Sleeping directly on the ground with no pad will be a really bad idea and you will stay cold, regardless of your bag.
Food and Nutrients
This is another area where you need to plan thoughtfully about your trip. Just like hydration, your body is working overtime to keep you warm. It’s working at an elevated pace the moment you step out of your rig and hit the trail, let alone once you have hiked for hours and set up camp. You need to plan to eat enough calorie-dense foods that your body has the fuel needed to keep you in good shape.
As we know, weight is a major factor in backpacking trips. I like to keep a small, packable MSR Pocket Rocket for my food and boiling water options. The MSR Pocket Rocket is a backpacker’s friend. With just a tiny burner element connecting to the fuel can, it makes for a good choice in keeping your food hot, and your pack light.
When it comes to food options, this is always a highly debate-able issue. People either love or hate backpacker food options, so I’ll let you taste try what you think is good on your own. Personally, we like the food options from Good To Go, as they are a bit healthier and still offer a great amount of the needed carbs and calories for hard work in the backcountry.
Medical Supplies and Adventure First Aid Kits
I always beat this topic to death, but coming from a military and public safety career background, I’ve seen too many cases where people head off into adventures, only to bring selfie sticks and a granola bar. The fact is, you need to remember that you are your own first responder. Factor in a blizzard or any snowfall and you could be in a situation where there is quite literally no help that can come rescue you. Having a quality adventure medical kit is a really big deal. Don’t cheap out here and don’t ignore this. It’s like water and food, you just need it.
CJ loves his VSSL and I love the MyMedick ifak. Both are quality and offer good choices, however, regardless of what you choose, the fact remains, bring a good first aid kit. Check out our guide to Adventure Medical Kits where we break down what you need, what they cost and how to make your own.
And just like that! you are ready for your next backpacking in a blizzard adventure. Be sure to plan accordingly, ensure you have the right gear, and then go GET OUTSIDE. In-reality, a blizzard backpacking event can sound intimidating but it’s a really and doable event and one that offers a truly unique experience and gives you the ability to see a side of snow and nature scenery that is really beautiful.