Packing your rucksack: for the winter warriors

Posted by Peter Burnside on 18/12/2015
A well prepared team nears the summit. Photo: Shutterstock. Copyright: Mikadun.

Heading to the snowy hills this winter? Make sure you don’t leave anything crucial behind by reading our latest winter guide below.

Beautiful winter landscapes are settings that feature on many postcards, paintings, and desktop backgrounds. But people often forget that getting to these picture perfect locations requires getting outside in the cold, and can involve long snowy hikes. Being properly prepared requires prior planning, especially in terms of what to bring with you.
 
We’ve already covered what you should be wearing in our guide – Would you look at those layers – so this article will be looking at the rest of the equipment you should be bringing. 

Rucksack 

It really depends on what you expect to be doing. Your choice will take into account how long you expect to be out and what activities you’re heading out for. An extra consideration to take could be how easy it is to use if you’re wearing thick gloves, something that could save faff if you’re off climbing.
 
How you pack your rucksack can help save you bags of time. There’s a bit of a knack for this, which is why we’ll leave the explanation up to Instructor Paul Platt, who is also the Chair of the Association of Mountaineering Instructors.

WATCH What's different in winter on BMC TV

Emergency kit

Before we get into the technical specialist winter equipment, let's take care of the important stuff: the emergency kit. Packing an emergency kit is essential in summer or winter, but you can still tailor your kit to the season.
 
The days in winter are  extremely short around the solstice, so the risk of benightment is greater. Since night comes on much faster, it’s prudent to pack more than one torch or head torch and spare batteries for both, so you'll still be able to navigate off that ridge in the dark.
 
If you’re only out for the day and haven’t got a tent, consider taking a group shelter instead of a single-man bivvy bag; this way you can share body warmth.
 
Double up on the spare socks, long johns, and thermal tops. Also add in at least one extra pair of gloves and something to protect your face – such as a buff, balaclava, or even goggles. 
 
BMC ambassador and legendary hill walker Chris Townsend goes through what he brings in his emergency kit in the video below.

WATCH What's in Chris Townsend's emergency kit on BMC TV

Specialist winter equipment

A slip in winter can result in you hurtling down a slope very quickly, possibly with disastrous consequences. To help prevent slips and trips when walking on snow and ice, turn to ice axes and crampons to provide that extra stability to keep you on a firm footing.
 
Ice axes and crampons
 
There are many different types of ice tools and choosing the right ones can be tricky. Fortunately, we can turn to expert guidance from our instructors on BMC TV to help you match the right pick with your desired activity and your level of expertise.

WATCH How to choose an ice axe on BMC TV

Don’t forget, learning how to use an ice axe is imperative to keeping yourself safe when on wintery terrain. Check out our instructional video for tips on perfecting your self arrest skill.

WATCH How to perform an ice axe arrest on BMC TV

There are also different varieties of crampons for walking and climbing, but the key thing is to remember that crampons should be matched to your boot; so choose them together or take your boots along when you head out to buy crampons.

WATCH Choosing winter boots and crampons on BMC TV

Our guide from BMC technical officer Dan Middleton will also help clear up any further questions you have about crampons.
 
Then watch our handy instructional videos to find out how to put crampons on and take your first steps. 

WATCH Putting on crampons on BMC TV

WATCH Walking in crampons on BMC TV

 
If you’re new to crampons, Paul recommends you consider taking a helmet as an extra precaution; slipping and hitting your head on the frozen ground is never fun, but a helmet will also help save your bloomer from turning into flatbread. 

Other essentials

We’re packing up here, but there are a last few items that you might not want to forget. 
 
Spare compass and map are vital to ensuring you can make it back home. You can’t predict when unfortunate events happen, but you can plan to be prepared for them.
 
A shovel can help level areas for rests and dig out shelters for protection if the weather becomes a bit too much to handle. 
 
Lastly, a thermos with a hot drink just adds that extra bit of comfort when you’re out in snow and ice. It’ll take the edge off the chill more than a hip flask.

JOIN TODAY: 5 reasons hill walkers should join the BMC

SUPPORT OUR CAMPAIGNS: Check out the latest BMC campaigns

WINTER SKILLS: BMC resources for the knowledge you need

  • BMC TV's winter skills channel: Need some more help before your first snowy adventure? Check out our winter skills channel to polish off your knowledge and get fully prepared.
  • Essential winter know-howWhether you're a seasoned winter warrior or just taking your first icy steps, we've got a mountain of essential skills & equipment advice right here on the BMC website.
  • BMC Winter LecturesAre you a would-be winter warrior? Don't miss the BMC winter skills lectures across the country this November: the ideal way to get set for the season. See venues and dates here. 
  • Winter Essentials DVDThis DVD follows a group of winter mountaineers on a typical day out in the Scottish mountains, and shows the essential skills and techniques.

COURSES: Learn from professionals

  • BMC Winter Skills in Wales: Want to take your skills to the next level and get out into the mountains in winter - at a discount? Our subsidised courses at Plas y Brenin in Wales are for you. 
  • Glenmore Lodge: Learn winter skills in one of the UK's most demanding winter environments, the Cairngorms. 

Watch more in this series of winter skills films on the BMC TV walking skills channel

CHECK: Current conditions and weather forecasts

Mountain Weather Information Service

Met Office mountain area forecasts      

Lake District Weatherline – daily readings from Helvellyn summit

Scottish Avalanche Information Service – daily forecasts of avalanche, snow, and mountain conditions

WATCH ON BMC TV: If They Only Knew: A film about the joys of the winter mountains

Cairngorms in Winter: Moine Mhor

BMC Winter Essentials DVD trailer

The BMC's Winter Essentials DVD shows the essential skills and techniques for winter mountaineering. Order it in the BMC shop.

 



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