By ZACH LAWRENCE
In the winter, there are several pieces of footwear that will be necessary depending on the activity you are interested in as well as the conditions of the trail you want to explore. What you put on your feet will be dependent on variables such as snow depth, ice, and the difficulty of your planned excursion.
It’s important to note that these gear items are an investment, but they are essential to staying safe in the backcountry during the winter. Don’t attempt to venture onto the trail in the winter without these items, because you will be putting yourself and others at unnecessary risk. There are many places throughout the Adirondacks where you can rent the necessary gear.
Using the right footwear for the activity you are engaging in is required during certain conditions. When the snow depth is 8 inches or more, snowshoes or skis are required in the High Peaks Wilderness. This is for your safety and to keep the trails usable for others throughout the winter. “There will be less impact to our resources if people are prepared,” Adirondack Mountain Club Outreach Coordinator Tom Manitta said.
What You’ll Need
For all trail exploration during the winter besides skiing, you’ll need a good pair of winter hiking or mountaineering boots. For skiing, you’ll need the right boots for your type of skis and bindings.
Forest ranger Robbi Mecus said that the majority of hikers she sees during the winter are in summer boots. In subfreezing temperatures and wet, snowy conditions, these boots won’t keep you adequately warm and dry. Adirondack hiker Laurel Rosenthal, a doctor, said: “Insulated boots are a must.”
Mecus said she uses a lightweight winter mountaineering boot since they are insulated, good against water and stiff.
You’ll need some added traction for your boots when the snow depth is less than 8 inches and when conditions are especially icy. This comes in the form of products like microspikes and crampons. Rosenthal encourages hikers to have a top Velcro strap on their microspikes. Mecus said that nothing but an aggressive crampon will cut it a lot of the time though, especially on steep descents. Adding to that, Rosenthal urges folks to go with steel crampons for the Adirondacks since this rocky region will rip up aluminum options.
When traveling through mountainous terrain, Rosenthal, said you’ll want snowshoes that can handle steep hills and ice that may be under the snow. This means that you’ll want to look for a pair with good, sharp crampons built in. Rosenthal also said hikers need to have packs with snowshoe straps since you’ll be switching between snowshoes and boots with traction a lot of the time.
Some More Considerations
Butt-sliding, known to some as glissading, is an efficient and fun way of getting down some slippery descents, but it can be very dangerous. Mecus warns against folks doing this with their traction on since it can catch in the ice or on a rock and cause a serious injury very quickly and without warning.
Make sure you’re comfortable with your new gear by testing it out on an easier hike. “Don’t use your gear for the first time on a hard excursion,” ADK volunteer trail crew leader Nora Sackett said.
Having some traction in your hands could prove quite helpful or even necessary if conditions are especially icy. Bringing along ice axes is recommended, although a less intense option such as whippet ski poles, as recommended by Rosenthal, might do the trick.
As always, bring along plenty of dry and warm socks. No matter how good your boots are, your feet will still get wet from sweat.