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Preparing for a Snow Backpacking Trip – Part 1: Hiking Essentials

Two nights from now, if everything goes according to plan, I’ll be sitting high up in the mountains in Yosemite at Dewey Point. This will be my first official snow backpacking trip and it has been a serious process getting ready for the adventure. While I did try to find as many resources as I could online, the reality is, the incredibly knowledgeable staff at REI ended up being the most helpful by leaps and bounds.

I grew up going to Yosemite and actually learned to ski at Badger Pass (where we’ll be parking), so this particular trip has special meaning to me. From what I’ve heard, Dewey Point also sounds like an absolutely spectacular hike in the winter and a truly amazing snow backpacking destination.

Since I haven’t actually done the trip yet, I’ll wait until I get back to write a post about all the details of backpacking Dewey Point in the winter. For now, I thought a post about everything I learned about getting prepared for the trip would be a fun one to write. I’d say about 75% of what I learned here came from snow backpacking experts at REI who spent a lot of time walking me through every little detail, in short – I spent a lot of time at REI over the last week and the staff there is amazing. Special thanks to Mimi and Chris at the San Francisco store.

Okay now onto the preparations. I thought it would make sense to divide this into three parts; the hike, the campsite, safety. In part one of this post of this series I’ll be covering everything I have put together to make sure I am fully prepared for the hike itself. Let’s dive in!

Preparing for the hike to Dewey Point

Snow Backpacking Footwear

I needed all new gear here, both waterproof hiking boots and snowshoes. Originally I just planned on hiking with hiking boots…then I went to REI, told them the trail I was doing and they quickly informed me that without snowshoes it would be a no-go. I spent quite some time researching waterproof boots and landed on the North Face Chilkat Nylon boot. You can check them out and read some reviews at Backcountry.com. This is what they look like:

north-face-chilkat-backpacking

I liked the maroon boots since they look a bit different from your average hiking boot. I was surprised at how light they are, seriously these boots are incredibly light. Given that I will have snowshoes on my feet it feels like having light boots should make life easier right?

Now onto the snowshoes. Originally I was going to rent snowshoes, and then as I did more research I ended up getting pretty inspired by snowshoeing in general. It feels like something I’d like to do for years to come and since renting is a hassle I thought I’d just bite the bullet and buy some. Luckily there was a really nice pair of snowshoes from MSR on clearance at REI. I ended up buying the MSR Revo Explore Snowshoes. They are normally around $220 and I got them for around $160 which seemed like too good of a deal to pass up.

msr-revo-explore-snowshoes

A few things I learned about snowshoes that make these special – the sides are made of metal, you want to avoid all plastic snowshoes, while they are super cheap, I read a lot of stories of them breaking mid-trail which would really suck. The Revo Explore’s also have a really simple system for attaching your boot to the snowshoe that doesn’t have a million straps. Both the Revo Ascent and Revo Lightning have I think five straps in total which means it takes more time getting in and out of your snowshoe.

There’s also a really handy metal bar at the back that you can use to keep your heel elevated which apparently makes it easier to climb up hills with the snowshoes on. I have only been snowshoeing a handful of times in my life and the last time I did it I used wooden snowshoes so these should be pretty fun to use this weekend.

Gaiters

So I’ve never heard of Gaiters, which apparently makes me a total snow backpacking noob since these seem to be a must-have piece of gear for the hike. So what do they do? Well, when you’re hiking snow can easily get kicked up and then end up falling into your booth. That doesn’t sound very fun and gaiters prevent that from happening, they were $65 so I sure hope they work! I decided to go with the Outdoor Research Men’s Verglas, you can check them out here, and below is a shot of mine:

outdoor-research-gaiters

Clothes

I learned a lot about what to wear while hiking on a snow backpacking trip from the staff at REI. It turns out that it’s actually pretty darn easy to overheat when you’re hiking, so while you want to bring lots of warm gear for when you’re at your campsite, during the hike a pair of normal hiking pants and a long sleeved shirt will actually do just fine.

Sunglasses

Apparently sunglasses are a make-or-break essentially when you’re going snow backpacking. Without sunglasses, staring at bright white snow all day with the sun beating down on it could cause you to get snow blindness. REI has some really nice, expensive, fancy sunglasses that are really perfect for this, but I decided to go with a simple pair of sunglasses I already have. I’m hoping this won’t come back to bite me but I just didn’t feel like throwing down $300 for a new pair of sunglasses for a weekend trip made much sense.

I’ve also decided to bring my ski goggles as well. While I don’t think I’ll end up using them, they’re light and if for some reason the sunglasses aren’t working well, I know the ski goggles will do the trick…I’ll just look ridiculous.

Sunscreen

Last, but certainly not least – sunscreen. As a skier I know how easy it is to get a sunburn on just about any exposed skin that you have while spending a day on a mountain. One of the staff at REI emphasized the importance of putting sunscreen between your nose and your upper lip which I thought was a good tip. I’ll be using an SPH 50+ sunscreen and will likely re-apply every couple of hours just to be safe.

Okay, well that covers it! Preparing for a snow backpacking trip definitely requires a lot more preparation than a regular trip, but like most activities that involve going deep into nature, being prepared is critical and missing a single item could have serious consequences.

I hope this was helpful, if it was, please comment below so I know at least a couple of people made it all the way to the end!

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