Adventures in Winter: Cold Weather Hiking

February 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

Winter is the worst. It gets dark at six PM so you can’t play in the park as late as you want. There’s fog until like noon so it’s not warm (70 degrees) until one, and that only sticks around till four. It gets down to 40 at night so you have to wear double pants and a hat. Sometimes it rains for like.. two days in a row. Those are the worst days – I just stay inside and cuddle up under a blanket and wait for the yuckiness to subside.

And then I moved to New Jersey.

I spent most of the fall being terrified that this “fall” thing that everyone loved was actually just the least terrible season that the east coast has to offer. Everyone is all, “it’s so nice, and pretty!” and I’m all “It’s not 90 degrees, snowing, or pouring rain… That’s every day in California.” Once winter hit, I blocked it out of my mind as a figment of my imagination and flew to Colorado to ski (snow in vacationland is acceptable as long as accompanied by powder) and back to San Diego where I got a sunburn hiking by the beach.

But, it’s now February and I can no longer pretend that I don’t live here, and I think it’s no longer acceptable for me to be a big baby about this “weather” thing (I was complaining to a friend from Connecticut about how cold it was walking between the shower and my room and she looked at me like I was nuts.)

So I decided to join a bunch of outdoors groups, buck up, and become a real east-coast-amateur-outdoors-woman. The first meet-up I RSVP’d to was a 6 mile hike in South Mountain Reserve by Millburn, NJ. The temperature range was supposed to be 20 – 32 degrees with half an inch of snow on the ground.

The coldest hikes I’d ever done before this were:

1) A 30 minute snowshoe tour on Aspen Mountain in CO where I was hung over and thought I was going to die, and
2) a hike up Yosemite Falls in the spring when it got down to maybe 50 but I was mostly cold because I was wearing Chacos and there was three feet of snow at the top.


So, I started Googling profusely. “Hiking in the winter,” “Snow hiking gear,” “Hiking in snowboarding gear,” etc. The general consensus was, no cotton base layer (check, I’d just wear my cycling base layers) and definitely don’t hike in your boarding gear because it’s not breathable.  I went back and forth all Friday and Saturday on what to do and ultimately decided that my surface area to volume ratio which has made me a chronically cold person for as long as I can remember would make the boarding gear okay with a polyester long-sleeve, moisture wicking tights, and smart wool socks.

My friend Dan picked me up at 8AM in a pair of jeans and his ski coat.  Shut-up Dan, I’m from California. Oh, that excuse still works? Awesome.

We get to the parking lot to find two people in just athletic tights and North Face fleeces, one in army cargo pants and a ski coat, and a couple who went with Dan’s tried and true out fit. “Hi, nice to meet you, I’m from California.” Ooohhhh. Awesome, still works.

Turns out, I was dead-on in my estimation of my own temperature. On longer climbs, I just adjusted my pit-zips on my coat and pants, when we were enjoying the scenery I zipped everything back up again. Other folks were cold if we stopped for too long, but I found that my boarding gear provided for the perfect balancing temperature regulation for a warm-blooded California expatriots.

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