The Lightweight Hiker Dude - created & donated by Dave Jarvis (Guaje)
Tips from Hiker Dude!

Winter Survival Tips

The following tips were extracted from a recent thread in the TLB Forums posted by "Jimshaw" and replied to by numerous folks.

What are some of the WORST things that can happen to you in the Winter that you should prepare for ?:

  • Keep snow out of your boots at any cost.
  • Stay off lakes and never go to the frozen edge where open water meets ice - it could break under you.
  • avoid avalanche slopes.
  • If your stove fails you are in trouble (spare stove?).
  • If you have to answer nature's call in a blizzard and you don't have a large (heavy-duty) plastic bag in your tent (to pee in), think about how you will layer your bibs and clothes so that you can lower them when you get out in the snow. Then you have to pull your bibs etc forward between your legs and cover up the hole between your legs so it doesn't fill up with snow - a condition known as the soggies.
  • Keep your down jacket dry at any cost (wet down is worthless).
  • I've had deep water collect under my tent in a warm storm because I used a footprint - I will never again use a footprint under my tent.
  • you can get snowed-in so you'll need extra food, fuel and a stove that is relatively safe to use in a vestibule.
Jim (:->)

I haven't had many epics lately, but in the past these things have happened to me or those in my group:

  • Tent poles collapse under a heavy snowload
  • Forgot a day's worth of food
  • White gas mixed with the snow we were melting for water
  • Forgot boots
  • Had a nice down bag fall off the car roof on the freeway
  • Broken snowshoes
  • Broken ski bindings
  • Lost glasses after taking a tumble
  • Lost car keys after doing the same
  • Straight 30W motor oil at 0F means a frozen engine block

  • Nothing too dramatic- Got very bad, painful bruises on my shins right above my ankles from plastic boots banging on them.
  • Fell in a crevasse up to my armpits with a full pack on-I was roped up so got pulled out fairly easily. The lesson there is never go unroped in crevasse country because even that little fall jammed me in the slot.
  • Got caught in the dark without a light on a day hike-not necessarily life-threatening, but definitely not a good idea. Too easy to make a misstep and twist an ankle.
  • Bad sunburn on my face-I didn't take off my glacier glasses except to take pictures. You can never have too much sunscreen on, but be sure to keep it out of your eyes. I recommend something like Panama Jack or Aloe-Gator that is waterproof.


I forgot the cornice incident. NEVER ski (or walk) close to an edge - it might look very solid but it might be a cornice - which is basically a snow drift - extending out over nothing. Falling through a cornice is almost always fatal. You also tend to fall head first through them if there are skis or snowshoes on your feet to cause drag. Never go to an edge to pee...

I was lucky - my skis caught on a small bush and stopped me - but I was hanging upside down from my skis and even after telescoping my poles I couldn't find anything solid in any direction. (:-<)

I pulled myself up onto my skis and my head was near the surface. So I released my three pin bindings and pulled myself up onto my skis. Then I "skied" laying on my skis, back off the cornice towards solid land.

BTW it happened about half a mile from my truck.

Jim (:-<)

MSG / Diarrhea

Abrupt diarrhea in single digit weather -- no pants. Not fun and aborted an AT section hike. Stay away from the flavor packs in Ramen noodles, they have MSG.


Mix your spices at home. Check out the contents of your favorite dehydrated soup - lipton onion in a pouch or gravy etc. Go to the next aisle over where the spices are and pick up the ones listed in the package - minus the msg and salt. Mix them and try them. You may find that you are better and mixing spices than the good folks at Ramen.


There are a few good brands of instant broth granules that don't contain MSG, but brands might vary from area to area. Look in your local health food store and you'll probably find several options. Fantastic Foods also makes a number of dehydrated mixes that are pretty decent (usually things that are easy to do yourself, but if you're in a rush, they will do in a pinch).

Andrea (midnightsun03)

Others have already give better answers, but bits of smoked Turkey jerky, peanuts, dried fruit, miso all make good noodle additives. Of course, if you know for sure you are not sensitive to MSG, no issue. Also, in a pinch you can munch eat the dry noodle pack as a crunchy, they are already cooked.


  • A few hours after eating un thoroughly cooked hamburger meat that I'd packed for more than a day, I experienced a deadly gas attack (which has been rated as "most memorable" in the annals of my hiking buddy and my careers), followed by a lunging barf out of the tent door and onto the snow. (Hope no one is eating while reading this). Lesson: cook your food completely before eating!
  • Went to set up my free standing tent and realized I'd left my poles at home. With no storms in sight, I just slept under the stars for one of my most enjoyable nights out. Lesson #1: check and double check your gear before hitting the trailhead. Lesson #2: less can be better.
  • Went to take care of personal business and realized I'd left the TP at home. Lesson #1: see lesson #1 above. Lesson #2: one can become quite creative when necessary.

Equipped To Spend A Forced Night Out during the Winter?

In relation to what you're asking about, I'd like to point out how many people (percentage wise among the general Backpacking/Snowshoeing/Skiing population) are actually Equipped To Spend A Forced Night Out during the Winter?
"How many people who 'you' know are actually equipped right to spend a forced night out during the WINTER as on a Dayhike only?

Do you change your Ten Essentials Plus List when the Winter Season hits for your Dayhiking? Or do you just wing-it and pray nothing happens? :)

I've made a little Candle-Fired Stove that uses two-tealight candles and two metal vegi' cans inside eachother held up by a horizontal 16-penny nail that I can melt snow & ice for HOT water to 'stay hydrated' overnight on a forced overnighter if it ever happened.

Experiments today in my kitchen with a 10-fluid ounce can inside another slightly larger can and 2-tealite candles burning was sufficient to boil 4-cups of chicken boulion soup with some tiny bits of my home-dried celery and red bell peppers.

I first put the cooking can in the frezzer for 20-minutes, then removed it, put several large ice-cubes inside and lit two candles in the bottom of the burner can and timed the whole process.

Speed is not the issue, keeping properly drydrated in an emergency situation on snow in the backcounty in Winter time is.

It takes about 20-minutes for the ice to melt and another 25-minutes to boil it. The idea is that one can use a candle-fired stove in a tight, narrow constructed Snow Trench contiously with no danger from carbon monoxide poisoning that any other type of Stove produces in quanity that can kill you. I've also made a much larger Candle-fired Stove from a 28-ounce tomato can and a smaller 15-ounce vege can and this one holds 3-Tealights for a slighter faster boil time as well as offering alot more hot liquid for a Ginger Tea or Hot Soup. Ginger Tea is a non-diuretic = you don't piss it out.

Anyway, I'm pleased with the results. Monty Alford the guy who designed the Yu-Can Survival Stove and has over 30-years field experience working and living in Canada's Yukon Winter environment wrote a great book I have here called Winter Wise: Travel and Survival in Ice and Snow.

There is documented proof of this type of emergency Stove as helping to save people's lives in Canada's Yukon and beyond. So I take the smaller Candle Stove in my 2,000" Day pack for non-snow Winter Day hikes and the larger 'stove in my 3,400" Pack when I go Snowshoeing. I also bring a Thermolite reflective Bivy Sack, long section of Evazote pad (20" x 48" x 3/8"), a zippered VBL, Pile Booties, extra wool socks, etc.

What does everyone here take for your Winter Day hiking Ten Plus Essentials List?

And Do YOU think you are well enough equipped to spend a 'forced' night out without any type of sleeping bag in reasonable comfort?

Has anyone any experience using a Western Mountaineering HOT SACK which is a silver, reflective-coated Vapor Barrier Liner alone without a 'bag?

I bet many people who venture out in the backcountry in the Winter whether on snowshoes or non-snow conditions are NOT properly equipped to spend a 'forced' night out. Scary, but true.


Lets see - as trips and years pass by, the goofs, humiliation and suffering seem to revolve around the following - "mis-orientation" (never lost!), dehydration, hypothermic, snow blindness. The following list has been concocted and performed/carried in one form or another the last few years;

  • NO snow in/on/down the inner clothing layers (at bathroom breaks, sock change overs, etc)!
  • Bring more lighters than i would EVER think i would/could loose, i mean USE ; -)
  • Even on (winter) day trips, i don't mind carrying my little soup thermos, stove/fuel, little kettle (used to use an old steel Army canteen cup) and a few boullion cubes/hot chocolate
  • Toilet paper (in a ziplock w/ a lighter)
  • Compass/map
  • Film canister w/parafin dipped cotton balls or fire ribbon/starter/gel
  • 1ltr Lexan bottle w/water
  • head lamp w/batteries stored in a separate ziplock
  • extra mittens/socks
  • light wgt. fixed blade knife
  • Army poncho w/poncho liner and mylar "space" blanket w/ some 3mm cord
  • only the car key comes along and it must be TIED/CLIPPED to pack AND spare key somewhere on car - DOH!!!
  • sunglasses/goggles
  • Carmex/Sunblock
  • hat or balaclava
That rounds out day-long winter hike packing. Maybe add in some gorp and jerky and good to go. Sounds like a lot, but hardly noticeable in a little pack. If needed and not there - VERY noticeable, and it all weighs less than a brief case or bag of books.



Here are some other Winter Hiking resources for your consideration:



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