FEB 15, 2020

Recapping my first winter hike

February 7th, 2020 marked my first winter hike up in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. It was an overnight with two friends up to the Carter Notch Hut taking the Nine Mile Brook trail in and out.

I was a little worried about what the conditions might have in store but it ended up being amazing. I might have enjoyed it more than hiking in the other 3 seasons? It felt more calm and peaceful. There was a certain beauty to everything being covered in snow and ice. It seemed more adventurous.

Anyways, I was a little worried about my gear and general preparation. Here’s a quick summary of what I learned.


Microspikes are awesome. The weather was hovering around 32 on the hike in and there hadn’t been any fresh snow. Snowshoes seemed excessive so we set off in our boots. It only took about 2 minutes to realize there was a lot of ice under the snow. We tossed on our microspikes and it was smooth sailing from there.

I had stacked my snowshoes together and attached them with straps to the center of my backpack. It was a little clumsy. Next time I’ll do one on each side of my pack. This seemed to be how every other hiker I saw did it. Lesson learned.

I didn’t own proper snow pants or winter hiking pants before the hike. After excessively researching which ones to buy online, I landed on the Cirque II Pants from Outdoor Research. They worked great. Warm but breathable. Easy to move in. My only complaint is that I’m a little between sizes. Small were too tight at the waist and medium were a little long in the legs. I went with medium but they feel a touch baggy or bunched up. All well.

One of the biggest selling points of the pants, for me, was that they have a boot lace hook and grommets for an instep lace. This meant I could wear them without gaiters. I tried to find examples of how people did this online without much success. So here is a photo of how I rigged up some elastic cord through the grommets. It worked great. I plan to leave them on there.

I brought a wool buff instead of a synthetic one. It was nice but it stretched out and lost its shape a bit. This annoyed me enough that I might stick with the synthetic next time.

I also brought a wool hat but I think I would have preferred the thinner fleece hat I own. I was plenty warm while moving and I think it would have dried out faster after absorbing some sweat.

I had heavy duty winter mittens and a thin, packable pair for around the hut. Next time, I’ll bring really thin glove liners that I could wear inside the heavier mittens if needed. It’d be nice to have a little more dexterity around the hut so I’d take them off less and let me do things like put on my snowshoes without having my bare skin exposed in the 0 degree temps we faced the next morning.

My sleeping bag is only rated to 25 degrees but I paired it with a sleeping bag liner, which helped more than I expected. I was also wearing tights and a fleece. All that combined with being inside a hut was plenty.

Some final quick hits on gear:

I stuffed everything inside a contractor trash bag that I put inside my backpack. I’ve used this trick before to keep things dry when there might be precipitation and it hasn’t failed me yet.

Food & water

Nothing major here. I have a random neoprene bag that is for a camera lens but would have fit my water bottle perfectly. My water didn’t freeze but good to know for next time.

Related – bring less water. It was only a ~4 mile hike each way. The hut has potable water. I don’t know why I thought I needed to carry 2.5L. 1L or 1.5L would have been plenty and water is heavy. Or keep an empty platypus bag rolled in my bag if I’m stressed about it.

Otherwise, I basically brought a few clif bars and trail mix plus the stuff we had for dinner. It was fine.

Other lessons learned

Keep stuff I want to stay dry in my sleeping bag or in a bag of some sort. I had my rain shell and a pair of tights hung up on hooks on the wall of our bunk. Condensation formed there and I woke up to everything being damp. Not awful but easily avoided too.

It was hard not to sweat on the hike up in ~30 degree weather. I didn’t need the tights I had on under my cirque pants. There was some icy drizzle so I didn’t want to take my shell off. I did have all the vents open and removed my hat. But my baselayer shirt was soaked when we got to the hut. Maybe it was unavoidable but I’m going to think about this some more.

Shorten my trekking poles a bit on steeper inclines. We tried to break trail1 and summit Wildcat Mountain on Saturday morning. It wasn’t happening but my awkwardly long poles weren’t help trying to climb up the steeper pitches.

Lastly, I’m far from an ultralight or serious hiker… but I have been trying to thougthfully pare down how much stuff I bring and how much weight I carry. I’m going to get a luggage scale so I can start to weigh my pack before future hikes and see if I’m actually able to trim weight over time.

  1. About 6” of snow fell overnight and made it slow going.