Packing For Extreme Cold Travel Part 1: The Regular Stuff

“Seriously, you’re going to the Yukon in February? Won’t it be dark all the time? Won’t you FREEZE? I mean, literally FREEZE? You can die if you’re left outside for, like three minutes, right?”

“Yes, seriously. I am going to the Yukon in February. I’m super curious about what it is like to be in a place that far north in the winter. And also, I will be wearing a giant parka. I’ll have loaner gear.”

Sometimes, adventure travel means getting off the grid and diving into the backcountry. Other times, it simply means going to a destination when most don’t. A place like the Yukon – or anywhere in the far northern climates in February is an adventure indeed, and it’s totally doable if you pack the right gear.

For starters, you’re going to have to check a bag.

This isn’t easy for me; I’m a pathologically light traveler. But when your kit requires things like big boots or snow pants, you need more space. Suck it up. Pay the checked bag fee and revel in the fact that you’re not dragging a wheelie bag around the airport for a change. You totally have a free hand for coffee now. Crazy, right?Now, what’s in that bag?

The aforementioned big boots. Okay, you can wear them on the plane, and if your destination isn’t that far away and you don’t mind the hassle of getting in and out of them at the TSA checkpoint, go ahead and do that. But I packed a pair of Bogs (rated to -40F) and they served me well for almost everything I did. (I got mine from a hardware store in Forks, Washington, but you can get them anywhere.)

Loads of serious socks. I’ve got a whole array of performance socks, including some from Dahlgren (in alpaca, they’re super fluffy), Darn Tough Vermont (indeed darn tough, I’ve worn mine for over a year and they are showing very little wear and tear), Fox River (lighter merino), and a mess of other brands. Go with natural fiber blends and drop a little cash. Plus, pack more than you’ll think you need. Changing out your socks mid-day is really helpful towards staying warm. Even in subzero temperatures, your feet can get damp inside your boots. If there’s room, pack two pairs for each day, or be prepared to do some guerilla laundry.

Pro-tip: the crazy, dry climate and overheated hotel rooms mean that your socks totally dry overnight when you wash them in the sink.

The best long underwear you can afford. I’m a devotee of SmartWool (as regular readers will know) but I also recommend Icebreaker, Bergan’s of Norway and Ibex. If you have super sensitive skin, you may want to go with silk instead of merino wool, but I’ve found that the merino works just fine. Silk can be really nice for under jeans because it’s so light, but the extra warmth from wool … oh, it can’t be beat. PolarTec makes some heavy blends, but I prefer as much natural fiber in my kit as possible.

Shopping tip: this stuff is expensive. Places like REI Outlet and Sierra Trading post often have it in their online clearance sections, so go hunting. And really, drop some cash. You won’t regret it. It lasts for a very long time.

A down jacket. That critical poof layer. Loft. Fill. Whatever. All that jargon means that more poof equals more warmth. Maybe you’ll get lucky and have a day or two when the temperatures pop up to a balmy 32F and you can shed the expedition parka (more on this later). Eddie Bauer makes an expedition line – First Ascent – that’s not too pricey, or you can drop some money on Patagonia. The nice thing about down is that it packs down to nearly nothing and you can always find room for it in your bag.

Outer layers that are water and wind proof. A jacket and pants, people. I kind of love my Outdoor Research pants; they’re super light and resist the weather – with long underwear they’re good for down to freezing temps. I have a very nice jacket from Westcomb, or hey, combine the down layer with the weather-proof layer and get a three in one – Columbia does a good job on these, but heads up, they run small.

A staggering amount of moisturizing products for your hair, lips and skin. In the extreme cold, it’s a little hard to stay hydrated for two reasons. The first: you’re just not aware of the dehydrating effects of the weather when it’s cold. You don’t sweat much, and you don’t get the kind of thirsty you get when you bake in the sun. The second: if you’re doing outdoor stuff, you really do not want to expose your more sensitive parts to the weather. You may end up thinking, “It’s okay, I’ll hydrate when we get back to the lodge. For now, I’ll pass on the water.” Your skin will pay. And once you get over the vanity of hat hair, what will really bug you is that your hair feels like straw. Drink up, and toss in the product. We already agreed that you’re checking a bag, so what’s the big deal?

Pro-tip: don’t be an idiot; throw in some sunscreen. You might not feel the sun cooking what little exposed skin you have, but it is, and it’s reflecting off the frozen everything.

A pair of sturdy, waterproof shoes: sometimes, you’re just going to eat in the hotel restaurant and you don’t want to go down there in your giant boots. I packed the admittedly kind of weird looking but totally appropriate Sole Exhale – they’re great on the plane, too.

Your usual travel clothing: odds are, in a place that requires an extreme cold weather kit, you’re going to do fine in jeans and a clean shirt. Throw in a nice sweater if you’ve got room. You’ll need a hat, gloves or mittens, and a scarf or neck gaiter in your pile of accessories. Err on the side of casual, and don’t overdo it; you’re probably going to spend most of your time geared up to the eyeballs in expedition gear.

Which we’ll talk about in Part II: “Packing for Extreme Cold Travel Part II: The Hardcore Stuff

[Photo: The Yukon River near Dawson City. Courtesy the author, Pam Mandel]

Interactive Infographic: Where Should I Go On Holiday?

It’s like clockwork. When the temperature drops, as it did in New York City this past week, I inevitably start looking for ways to escape the cold. For Europe and North Africa-bound travelers, this nifty interactive infographic from Thomson Holidays makes the process a lot easier.

Just select the month, indicate your preferred average maximum temperature and hours of sunlight, and boom: the pink dots indicate where you should go. A search for destinations with temperatures between 16 and 40 degrees Celsius (60.8 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit) and six to 12 hours of sunlight in February yielded seven options: Seville, Spain; Las Palmas, Canary Islands; Rabat and Marrakech, Morocco; Gabes, Tunisia; and Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt. The application also allows you to post your map on Facebook and Twitter so your friends can weigh in.

So, where should it be?[Photo Credit: Thomson Holidays]

Video: “Stuff” skiers say

I’m in Lake Tahoe–California and Nevada’s premier ski destination–visiting my brother and his family. My teenage nephew, a member of the Olympic Valley Freeride & Freestyle Team, turned me on to this farcical video about things skiers say. If you’re a skier–or snowboarder–you’re fully aware that there are certain phrases ubiquitous to those who spend their days on the slopes–even if the language between the two sports differs slightly.

Even if you don’t dig snow, you’ll likely appreciate this. And if you’re a flatlander heading to the mountains for a weekend of shreddin’….please…don’t act like a gaper. “Now go get your sesh on.”

Warning: this clip contains language that may be offensive to some.


Photo of the Day: Getting cozy in the snow

Photo of the day
Most of our favorite travel memories are from summer: school’s out and the days are long, you can hit the beach, sit in a park, or people-watch at a sidewalk cafe. Spring and fall are great shoulder seasons for lower prices and fewer crowds, but winter tends to be underappreciated for travel. Outside of visiting family for holidays, winter travelers generally head to the ski slopes or Caribbean islands to escape the cold. But winter can be a lovely time to travel, whether you are enjoying the museums and bathhouses of Moscow or taking a country walk through the snow in an English village. Today’s Photo of the Day by Flickr user Kumukulanui is from St. Ann’s Well and Cafe above the spa town of Great Malvern, England. The snow outside makes it even more picturesque, inviting you to get cozy inside with a hot cup of tea and savor the long nights of winter.

Add your favorite winter scenes to the Gadling Flickr pool and you might see it in a future Photo of the Day.

8 winter hikes for outdoor enthusiasts

dolomite mountains Warm-weather months aren’t the only time to get a good hike in. In fact, there are many trekking trails all over the world that offer superb hiking and snowshoeing. This winter, why not plan a trip to experience one of these active and enjoyable hikes for people of all fitness levels.

The Dolomites, Italy

While the Dolomite Mountains are beautiful all year long, there is something especially captivating about them covered in a layer of sparkling white snow. While snowshoeing in the Dolomites, you will be able to explore numerous trails while taking in high snow walls, white-capped mountains, and trees so covered in flurries they look fake. Adding to the charm of the trek, ambient Alpine-huts line the path, offering a warm and cozy place to stay with a fireplace, hot cappuccinos, and freshly made strudel. Interested in doing a long trek with a group? Dolomite Mountains, a locally based company, offers an 8-day Dolomite snowshoeing tour.The Swiss Alps, Switzerland

The beauty of the Swiss Alps cannot be described in words. No matter how many photographs I took while I was there I still felt as though the diverse landscape, the snowy mountains, crystal lakes, and lush green fields couldn’t be captured on film but needed to be seen in person. If you’re backpacking, home-base in Interlaken, a hotspot adventure destination on the backpacker circuit. From there, you’ll be able to access the beautiful Bernese Oberland as well as numerous trails and mountains, including my personal favorite, the Jungfrau. Click here to view a list of numerous Swiss Alp winter walks.

utah Zion National Park, Utah, USA

For those who want to experience nature in winter but aren’t big fans of the cold, Zion National Park has mild winters while still getting those blankets of flawless snow that make for stunning photographs. For the most scenic winter hikes, go to the east side of the park (along the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway), where the white frost sticks itself over sheets of flat burnt rock like iced oatmeal cookies. This is where the snow is deepest in the park, so snowshoes are advisable. For a less snowy hiking experience, the Watchman, Coalpits, Chinle, Huber, Eagle Crags, and Scoggins trails, which are unbearable in the summer, are pleasant and sunny in the winter.

Chugach State Park, Anchorage, Alaska, USA

There are many excellent snowshoeing trails in Archorage, one of which is Chugach State Park, the third largest state park in America. Over a half-million acres of well-developed hiking trails give visitors options for easy, moderate, or difficult hikes along with the chance to experience the backcountry of Alaska (and possibly even encounter a moose!). For an easy hike featuring a mixture of lakes, mountains, and thick pine forests, as well as an educational preview of the trek, start at the Eagle River Nature Center, where you can access various paths for beginners, like the Rodak Nature Loop, which gives you access to beaver and salmon viewing, and the 3-mile Dew Mountain Trail, where you will be able to see Dew Mound, a unique glacial erratic, as well as Dew Lake and Eagle Creek Valley. For something a bit more challenging as well as historical, opt for the Crow Pass National Historical Trail, which you can access from either the Eagle River Nature Center or the Crow Creek Trailhead in Girdwood. The trail is 21-miles one-way and gains an elevation of 3,100 feet to 2,100 feet respectively, depending where you start. Along with seeing waterfalls, wildlife, glaciers, and old mining ruins, you will be following the historic Iditarod supply route. Click here for a detailed list of trail maps for the park.

banffBanff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Traversing through Banff National Park during the winter will allow you to experience the Canadian Rockies from a unique perspective. The air is clean and crisp and offers a serenity that can only be found when snow covers the ground. According to BanffNationalPark.com, the region also contains about 932 miles of hiking trails, more than any other mountain park in the world. If you’re looking for an easy trek try the Fenland loop, a 1.2 mile round-trip flat stroll near the Vermillion Lakes that can be accessed along Mt. Norquay Road, between the railroad tracks and the Trans-Canada Highway. If you want something more difficult, do the Sulphur Mountain Summit, which is about 3.5 miles one-way and gains an elevation of 2,149 feet, helping to provide panoramic views of the Bow Valley. You can access the trailhead from the Upper Hot Springs parking lot. For more detailed hike descriptions, click here.

Nahuel Huapi National Park, Bariloche, Patagonia

Often considered the “true wilderness”, Patagonia is a prime destination for snowshoeing. Nahuel Huapi National Park encompasses 1,875,000 acres of land and stretches from the Patagonia Steppes to the high Andes. It is also the country’s first national park. Remember that their winter is from June to September, although all year round you can enjoy hiking on well-marked trails. One of the most interesting features of the area is the vast quantity of crystal-clear lakes and rivers set against backdrops of ancient glaciers, native forests dusted with white powder, deep valleys, and high peak mountains. Take in Tronador, an extinct stratovolcano standing at 11,454 feet, as well as the glacial-formed Lake Nahuel Huapi and panoramic views of the city of Bariloche.

new zealand Westland Tai Poutini National Park, South Island, New Zealand

There are many reasons that New Zealand makes for a perfect winter hiking destination. For one, the country usually enjoys a mild climate. Remember that New Zealand is another country where the seasons are switched, and when traveling there in December through February you will actually be experiencing summer. Nevertheless, a trek at Westland Tai Poutini National Park during these months will expose you to an array of seasons and landscapes. Because the park is split by the Alpine fault, the landscape is dramatically contrasting, with glaciers, the high peaks of the Southern Alps, ice rivers, rainforests, hot springs, coastline, and lakes. Visit Fox Glacier, a large ice rock with a unique location right next to a rainforest, cross over a 230-foot long suspension bridge that swings over Fox River, and, if you’re in really good shape, hike up the high peaks, which offer mountain hut accommodation for those looking to do some serious trekking. Click here for more information on hiking trails.

Yatsugatake Mountain Range, Honshu Island, Japan

While Japan isn’t typically known for its snowshoeing and trekking, the country is actually very mountainous, making it a great spot for winter trekking. The Yatsugatake Mountains, a volcanic mountain range, is home to eight major mountain peaks including Akadake, which is 9,511 feet high. A range of different trails are available for all levels, including rolling hill strolls and steep rocky climbs, all along snow covered trees, deep white valleys, stratavolcanoes, lava domes, and freshly iced mountains with striking definition and patterns. For those who want to do more than just a day hike, mountain huts are available for accommodation. While Yatsugatake is located on the island of Honshu, it is less than 3 hours from Tokyo.