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Winter – Trail Riding, Winter Camping

Photo courtesy: Jim Tucker

I live in the Midwest and our weather here can be brutally hot in the summertime and can be cold as it is today, -1 F (-17 C) with a Wind Chill warning – no exposed skin, no more than 30 minutes outdoors.

Another phenomenon that occurs in the midwestern summer is the ground bee – ground nesting yellow jackets that get particularly nasty in September and October. I don’t like the risk of riding in ground bee season (I was launched off a horse a few years back) and this has led me to a desire to ride in the colder months of the year.

I had never been very successful at being warm in the cold temperatures here and I could not understand why. My weather here is not as cold as the weather where people ski and mountain climb. So what do they know that I don’t? I would like to share my research with you. Use what makes sense to you and your budget.

While I do follow equestrian sites for advice on everything horse, I also shop at sports stores that cater to backpackers, bikers and hiking enthusiasts. Also, one of my favorite film festivals is the Banff Mountain Film festival where I learned about various outdoor activities with winter brands of clothing I had never heard of or seen in a store.

The first thing I did last fall was have a chat with a hiking friend of my husband’s Mark Shekleton. Mark hikes the mountains of New Hampshire and surrounding areas. I wanted to know, how do you stay out in cold weather and stay warm?

This conversation with Mark made me even more curious. I discovered the YouTube channel UPNORTHOF60 which has videos of a Canadian couple camping in the Northwest Territories (much colder than where I live), arriving by snowmobile, and camping in a tent with a woodstove.

UPNORTHOF60 Cold weather gear video.

Here is what I came away with.

Humidity is what makes you cold. Sweat on your skin = humidity. Cotton traps moisture and keeps your skin damp and in doing so does not insulate well and you end up being cold. Cotton socks, Cotton long underwear all up for replacement. Disclaimer – some of the products that will be discussed here are expensive, however sports stores often have an equal “store brand” that is cheaper and I shop sales and end of season sales religiously.

Also, wool retains as much as 80% of its insulating properties even if wet. Have you ever gotten dumped in a river crossing? In January? Good to know.

Photo Courtesy: Kirsten Oravec

What do most people complain of? Cold hands and feet. Let’s start there.

The first thing Mark suggested was the use of a glove liner. I had never heard of a glove liner. Trip to REI, glove liners $19.95 a pair (on sale $13.00). After an initial cold weather primitive camping trip at Lazy C Trailhead on Thanksgiving weekend, I went back and bought 2 additional pairs. I cannot stress the difference the glove liners make.

Inspired by UPNORTHOF60, I went on a hunt for gloves and found this article on the REI website.

Best Gloves and Mittens of 2021.

I settled on 2 pairs of gloves:

  1. One for cold weather trail riding when the hands do not need great dexterity, but are exposed to hours of cold weather and have room for a handwarmer. I use 2 types of handwarmers. Yaktrax disposable and the Zippo refillable.
  2. One for cold weather chores when more dexterity is required and exposure to cold weather is not as long.

For cold weather trail riding, the Hestra split finger mitten provides great warmth and a measure of dexterity to do things like handling reins, cutting open a bale of hay, or handling a muck rake.

For cold weather chores, UPNORTHOF60 recommended this Goatskin Leather Work Glove. This glove works great in temperatures even down to 20 F with a pair of glove liners.

Let’s talk socks. I explained to Mark, that on my first camping trip while being physically active my feet were sweating. When I got in my sleeping bag in the horse trailer with damp socks my feet would not warm. I ended up taking the damp socks off and sleeping just fine in 10 F temps. This is when I learned from Mark about humidity and cotton.

First change your socks from cotton to merino wool. Also, use a sock liner. What? A sock liner and a glove liner? Another trip to REI and I bought some sock liners ($11.95) and some SmartWool mountaineering socks ($24.95). The use of the sock liner on a camping trip allowed me to wear the outer wool sock 2 days and kept my feet warm and dry in my boots. Mark told me he actually wears merino wool socks all year, they cool as well as they warm. The key is the wicking properties of the wool. REI also had their own store brand of mountaineering sock ($20.95 – the day I bought them on sale for $14.95) and I can’t tell any difference in wearing one pair or the other.

Change how you dress. Lightweight base layer next to skin, mid-layer wool, outer layer insulating or windproof whatever you need.

I don’t yet have any merino wool clothing yet, it is pricey but end of season sales are coming. For my next-to-skin base layer I use Cuddl Duds soft knit and for my mid-weight layer Under Armor cold base or Cuddl Duds Far-InfraRed Enhance. Now, while these items are not merino wool, they have performed exceptionally well in the temperatures here. Yesterday, I did a short hike in 8 F weather and today feeding in below 0 F weather, I was toasty and warm.

In cold weather, I ride in Oboz insulated boots (seen in the picture below) and I use the EasyCare trail stirrup on my saddle and my boots fit just fine.

Two other items that I carry on cold weather rides are my Firebiner Multitool Carabiner and my Firebox Stainless Steel Nano Stove G2.

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