Winter Survival Guide: Prepare

The best defense is a good offense. Employ these tips before you ever leave home.

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Organize to Avoid Freezing

Peter Doucette, owner of Mountain Sense Guides, offers packing advice developed in the frigid peaks of New Hampshire.

>> Water Store bottles upside down. The water surface will freeze first, leaving the top easy to open and ice-free for longer. Hydration bladders and tubes are hard to keep frost-free at temps below 15°F (even with insulators). Pack bottles instead. Place one in an insulator and a second tucked mid-pack, wrapped in a puffy.

>> Layers Put a down jacket near the top of your pack for easy access during rest stops and so you’re more likely to grab it when your exertion decreases or the weather worsens. Also, keep a hooded windbreaker like Marmot’s Essence ($185; 6 oz.; in an outside pocket. Winds usually strengthen above treeline.

>> Sleeping bag If your warmest piece of gear gets wet, you’ve lost a huge safety net against the cold and hypothermia. Pack your bag in a waterproof sack like Sea to Summit’s eVent Compression Dry Sack ($25-45; or a garbage bag, or get a new bag stuffed with water-resistant down (see page 76).

>> Food Pack snacks in an inside jacket pocket, next to your torso. They won’t freeze, which makes them easier to eat and better tasting. High-fat snacks are especially warming. Try salami, mixed nuts, string cheese, chocolate-covered espresso beans, energy gels, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups—not Snickers, which freeze.

Bulk up for Better Mobility

“Wear an extra layer on your torso. When cold, your body shunts blood away from your extremities, but by keeping the core extra toasty, you can get away with wearing thinner clothing on your arms and legs.”

Kelly Cordes, alpinist

Drive There Safely

“Your car needs eight times the stopping distance on ice versus asphalt. Pump your brakes, make small steering adjustments, and if you go into a slide, back off the gas as you gently turn the wheel in the direction the car’s headed.”

Mark Osborne, winter driving school program manager

Check the Latest Forecast

“Look at backcountry-specific sites like for the elevation where you’re headed, and read the ‘discussions’ at, which detail the rationale behind the forecast and provide insight about potential changes.”

Jim Woodmencey, meteorologist

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