Survival Guru

Friday, February 06, 2009

Q: What gear should I carry on a yurt-to-yurt snowshoe trip?

I'm going on a yurt-to-yurt ski/snowshoe trip in the Porcupine Mountains of Northern Michigan in March. What do I need to take with me? Jeanne Bergstrom Rockford, Illinois

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A:

Having grown up in Michigan, I have many fond memories of the rugged Porcupine Mountains.

There are two categories of gear to consider. One is the vital survival gear that you carry on your person and the second is the specialized gear specific to cold weather ventures.

Since the greatest concern in winter travel and survival is hypothermia and frostbite, I would recommend carrying the following items in your jacket and pants pockets at all times. This stuff is your first line of defense if you become stranded.

For survival:

Three firestarters
Good tinder such as cottonballs soaked with Vaseline
Signal mirror
Pocketknife (like a Swiss-Army or Leatherman Wave)
Heat-Sheet reflective blanket
Small bag of trailmix with chocolate mixed in

Chocolate is essential, in my experience, on the winter trail as it provides quick energy and that's what you will be expending a lot of in cold weather.

Remember, in the North Woods, Fire=Life. You must be able to build it on command in the winter wilderness, so always carry those firestarting devices and tinder.

Regarding the specialized gear, I prefer a combination of wool and fleece garments. Wool army surplus pants, wool sweater over a polypro wicking layer, etc…. You want to avoid 100% cotton as a primary layer so leave the Levi's and sweatshirts at home. Clothing is your first shelter so dress appropriately.

Three to five upper body layers and one to two lower body layers will be good and allow you to add or subtract layers depending on your activity level.

The last two items concern hand and footwear. When I'm on snowshoes, I love my Steger Mukluks. This footwear is modeled after the traditional mukluks used by native cultures of the North. I've punished mine for over 16 winters now (yeah, we get a lot of snow in northern Arizona) and they've become a trusted friend. They are lightweight, super warm, and designed to be worn when the temperature dips below 20 degrees F. For anything warmer or for the slushy snow, I break out my Sorel pacboots. The pacboots, however, are heavy to wear on snowshoes.

Lastly, get some heavyweight mittens. Gloves won't cut it when the temperature plummets below zero. My mittens are heavy wool. I cover them with a nylon overmitt made by OR. I keep some fingerless wool gloves for working around the cabin or camp, but mittens are critical to life on the trail. That's why the Inuit always secured their mittens with leather straps to their parkas.

I've used the above gear and accouterments to –30 degrees F on extended winter survival trips, and it has been a reliable system for all of my cold weather outings.

The other thing I would add, short of having a quality sleeping bag, is to carry a lightweight thermos in my pack containing a yummy, anti-hypothermia brew of hot cocoa, a stick of cheese, and a tablespoon of butter. This will serve as wood for your internal furnace. How long before Starbucks starts brewing this stuff?

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