6 Easy Hacks To Tackle The Himalayan Winter

Since winter is around the corner, we thought we’ll discuss a few hacks to tackle the freezing weather in the mountains. Do you have any hacks that work for you?

I’m talking about hacks apart from basic winter layering of course.

To give you a few examples, I’ll share some hacks that we use at Indiahikes. They work wonders!

1. Layer up by 4 pm. Most of us tend to put off layering up until sundown. I made this mistake on my Kedarkantha winter trek and really suffered with chills at night. It got a lot more serious than it should have.

By sundown, your body has already lost a lot of heat. The trick is to layer up by 4 pm, when your body is still warm. The idea is to trap your body’s heat much earlier so you don’t lose any of it.

Layer up by 4 pm to trap your body’s heat. Don’t wait till sundown. Picture by Vishwajeet Chavan shot on the Brahmatal trek

2. Use a neck warmer / muffler. Icy-cold wind on the back of your neck can be very irritating. It also makes you feel much colder than it actually is.

A neck-warmer is a must-have on a Himalayan winter trek. You could pick up a neck warmer like this one.

So something to protect your neck is an absolute must. Ask anyone from a cold region and they’ll tell you a scarf / muffler is one of your must-haves in winter. Something like this will do the job.

3. Keep a bottle of warm water in your sleeping bag. This hack perhaps tops the list for me. On a winter trek, I cannot imagine sleeping without a bottle of warm water in my sleeping bag. Just hug it to your chest or keep it in between your thighs and go to sleep. It will keep you warm all night.

The best part of it? By morning, the water comes down to room temperature and voila! You have nice comforting water to drink! Btw, do this only if you have a leak-proof water bottle.

4. Carry a thermos. I think this should be a universal winter practice amongst trekkers. A flask can really save the day. This works especially when you’re trekking with an organisation like Indiahikes, where you get warm ginger water in the morning. Just keep this in your flask and sip on it all day.

The bonus is that you’ll drink water more often, and keep yourself well-hydrated.

6. Eat a good meal. In winter, you don’t feel like eating much. But don’t forgo any meal, especially dinner. A good meal keeps your digestive system working, thereby keeping your body warm. Every time I have eaten very little, I have struggled with the cold. So I make it a point to eat at least two rotis. It’s surprising how such a small action helps so much.

Having said that, don’t overload yourself with food. You want to conserve your body’s energy for the next day’s trek too!

5. Double up on sleeping bags. Usually on our winter treks, we give two sleeping bags + a fleece liner to keep trekkers cosy. This is a great hack even if you’re trekking independently. Combine a light sleeping bag with a heavy expedition sleeping bag. On winter nights when the temperature drops to around -10°C, this doubling up is what will make a difference.

Doubling up on sleeping bags in winter will make the biggest difference on a snowy winter trek. Picture by Jai Pandya shot on the Kedarkantha trek.

So these are the kind of hacks I’m talking about.

Do you know any more that you have used? Can you share them? It will help anyone setting off on a winter trek.

Just drop your thoughts in the comments below.

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Swathi

Swathi

Swathi Chatrapathy is a journalist from Bangalore. She heads the content team at Indiahikes and runs a video show called Trek With Swathi. Writing, reading and trekking are up there on her list of favourite things!

36 thoughts on “6 Easy Hacks To Tackle The Himalayan Winter

  1. 1. Try to Keep your sock ( and shoes) dry. Also, remove wet socks as soon as possible.
    2. Always keep one pair of Socks to wear when you sleep.
    3. If wet, keep some newspaper during the night they suck the water faster.
    4. The best thing you can do in the morning is get up early and head to the cooking tent and you can catch some good talk with the support team and get warm from the kitchen heat. Last time I helped them making parathas and drinking tea with the team.

  2. I have found covering of forehead with a coth or simply a warm cap highly effective in preventive myself from fever. Learnt it in roopkund trek

  3. It was one of the most useful suggestions/hacks for first time trekkers. Would definitely like to add one more hack which helped me a lot during my worst times in Chadar/Zanskar Valley Trek.

    Doubling/Tripling up on Socks – The most sensitive and cold prone part is a humans feet. As we all know, we all enter our sleeping bags without wearing our trekking shoes/gum boots and that is when we start feeling chills from our feet. My word of advise is to double it up with dry/warm socks. The first layer to be worn should be a normal cotton socks and then on top of that a military socks/mountaineering boot socks which definitely does the work of keeping your body temperature high. On a personal note I always carry 15 pairs of socks (5 military and 10 cotton) for a trek of 5-6 days.

    1. for a tighter heat insulation, you can wear a polythene bag between two layers of socks. I always carry a few with me just for this.

  4. Hey,
    So i don’t know if this counts as a hack but it definitely is training. So i read somewhere that taking cold showers will in time help you become more tolerant to cold. So if you know you are going to go on a winter trek it might be worth a try. Also i’ve been trying this and i feel this helps. Here is a link if someone wants to read more on this.
    https://impossiblehq.com/cold-shower-health-benefits/

    Thanks and take care.

  5. Hey Swathi and fellow mountain lovers.

    All these points are true and worth doing every time during winter treks.

    I have got a couple of more suggestions to add to what Swathi has already mentioned.

    1) Keep a silk liner along with you. Why? 2 main reasons: (i) Silk liners are warmer than normal polyester liners. (ii) It will keep you more hygienic.

    2) Always Always Always… Warm yourselves by doing some jump up/ spot jogging or any other exercise. Most sleeping bags available in the market aren’t warm by themselves for the temperature usage they are suggested. All the sleeping bags have the tendency to capture your body’s warmth and provide you more warmth. So it’s very important to keep your body active and warm before you get inside a sleeping bag otherwise you’ll feel chilly inside.

    3) If you are planning to buy a sleeping bag, I would insist you to go for a mummy shaped one and with synthetic fiber filling instead of a regular rectangular shape and polyester filling one. But it wouldn’t be as cheap as the regular ones.
    -Check/ask the suitable temperature range as most of the sleeping bags show limit temperatures.

    And lastly, try to sleep in a closed manner instead of laying straight and spreading yourself all inside the bag. This will squeeze and contract your muscles which increases body heat and thus will help you keep warm inside the sleeping bags.

    I hope these points would help all the fellow trekkers.

  6. While I was on the trek, the guides just said ‘ Cover your head and cover your feet cause that’s where the heat escapes from’ and that’s exactly what I did and it worked like magic!

  7. One thing that a lot of people have problems with is dry, cracked lips. I always apply a thick layer of lip balm on my lips before sleeping on winter treks, even if they are not cracked or dry. This prevents them from chapping and burning when you eat hot food!

  8. Thanks for the write up. And I have something to add.

    Quite often we face the problem with mosquito bites. They not only disturb our sound sleep, but also pose health hazard. Personally I can’t cover my head with the blanket, as I feel suffocated. So I carry and use a “mosquito head net” always. I use it in my regular tours/treks etc.

    And I have found that it increases the temperature in the head region because of the hot air we breath out from nose. And this being a winter season in Bangalore, it is a perfect time to use it even at home.

    Just try it out. And I am sure, you will never travel without this gear in future.

  9. This will be by first trek.
    So just out of experience of holidays in regions like leh,ladakh,uttarakhand, I feel keeping our extremities ie hands,feet & Ears covered always would help to a great extent in fighting the cold.
    Periodic stretching exercises would also help ,I guess.

  10. Hey Swathi,
    Thanks for jotting down all these points for everybody’s help. I do have couple of points to add to this (apart from already mentioned in few of the above comments) :
    1. As soon as you reach your camping area, do change your cloths.
    Usually we trek in synthetic layer (quick dry), this material makes you feel more cold than usual. For hot weather it is hotter and for cold it is cooler.
    So I always carry cotton layers for myself to wear in the evening, post trek.
    2. Carry some raw ginger and garlic, or get it from the kitchen. Believe it helps a lot in both keeping you warm and acclimitization.

  11. If there are more number of people in the tent then we can all sleep close together such that the cold air does not rise or pass through the tent floor. Also if there are less people then its good to cover up the tent floor with luggage/backpack apart from the sleeping space. This has helped in keeping the tent warm at night while sleeping.

  12. Hi Swathi,

    Above all, always apply Winter Care Lotion/Petroleum Jelly (Vesaline) particularly in feet, before going inside sleeping bag.

  13. Our brain and hence the body it controls is very smart. Evolution wasn’t so kind for millions of years before and the temporal lobe remembers the survival tactics. As mentioned above, a cold water bath closes the skin pores and sets the body to waste as less energy as possible. Regulating breathing and hence the metabolism helps. Every breath of cold air and exhaling the cold air warmed by our lungs is loss of energy. Breathing depressant like alcohol, preferably rum helps. Exercise is not a good idea since it might make you sweat and it is the heart rate going up and down again. The key is to keep the metabolism as stable as possible and try to be warm in the nice cocoon of clothes. Desperate measures can be insulation with newspapers between clothes, eating red and green chillies(with necessary hydration since it’s no fun for kidneys to flush it out, a temporary and desperate measure). Haven’t been in the himalayas but these are tried and tested when I was on the streets of alahabad with the temperatures lurking around 0.

  14. I top up with a teaspoon of honey twice a day along with almond or dried dates to keep myself warm….happy to share..:)

  15. Well
    This is applicable in any season at higher altitudes. You sweat a lot in any season and at high altitudes also.
    So first thing you should do after reaching your camp for the day is change.dry your body and change into dry soft cloths and then layer up according to weather. This is great help and helps you if you are caught in heavy showers.

  16. Two things that really worked for me when I went For my Chadar trek this January, when the temperature dropped to minus 25 and below are
    1) I used a hot water bag for sleeping. Put the hot water bag in ur sleeping bag half an hour before u get in.

    2) I used eucalyptus oil. Massage ur feet wid eucalyptus oil and put on two socks and then get in your sleeping bag. It will keep you warm and you will get sound sleep.

    I normally carry atleast 6pairs of normal and woollen socks. That’s the most essential thing.

  17. 2 quick hacks for comfortable sleep –
    1. wear a polythene /plastic bag between two layer of socks when sleeping. works as a effective heat insulation.

    2. you can stuff your sleeping bag around you with all your clothes from backpack. It fills up lot of empty space and hence reduces cold air inside. Make sure you find them all and are able to pack them quickly the next morning thought 😀

  18. Hi Swathi

    This has nothing to do with layering clothes or warm water but a little jar of petroleum jelly. We all know that it’s used to prevent chapped lips and dry skin. A lesser-known fact about petroleum jelly is that it provides heat insulation. It is used by sportsmen in colder regions to prevent chilling of their faces. Even swimmers have been using it to keep them warm in cold water. The magic lies in the property of petroleum jelly that reduces moisture loss and thus provides heat insulation. And anyway petroleum jelly has been recommended as a moisturiser by Indiahikes, so why not apply a thicker layer of petroleum jelly on your face, hands and feet before hitting the sleeping bag.

  19. Hi everyone!

    The suggestions listed in the comments section are great resource. Will save it for future reference.

    This may seem weird, and obviously doesn’t work for everyone, but i feel more comfortable with a somewhat thick beard in winters vis-a-vis a clean shaven face.

  20. Control fluid intake after tea, pre dinner soup included. Just sip enough water so as to not feel effects of dehydration like giddiness etc.

    Leaving the sleeping bag and tent at the middle of the night to take a pee is both scary and mighty inconvenient to yourself and your tent mates.

    But make it a point to down a bottle of water first thing in the morning to prevent dehydration and cramps from setting in during the trek.

    For that I sleep with the water bottle in the sleeping back so that it’s not frozen solid in the morning.

  21. Camerados & Lovers of Heaven { The Himalayas }
    Grateful for the handy insights shared.
    To add to this heartfelt wisdom, I would just state one which helped me beat the cold in Indrahar La { 4452 mts. approx , On 9th November, 2K17 } @t about -5 degrees !
    TENT INSULATION

    It was just two of us on this winter trek ! We weren’t expecting hail showers, though the WILDERNESS gets the best astonishing gifts, The showers of blessings { The Hail showers }.
    We made sure that our tent was efficaciously insulated.
    Despite no rain cover available, We came up with a Jack { The Great Indian Jugaad }, We spread the rain ponchoes over the tent. This was a great reliever of our panic & misery, Rest we had all the insulating gear
    The terylene rug, which is the most insulating of all the other variants.
    The heavy voltage lights. This acted as a great life saver. Besides a Bibliophile adventurer can conveniently read a book in the light as well.
    2.) To pump up protein & carbs
    DRY FRUITS !
    The most essential hack is to be well equipped with life saving substances; The food that keeps us warm ! For the alcoholics it can be alcohol, which ain’t advisable as being High altitude trekkers We must refrain from all sorts of health deteriorating practices. Though the Teetotalers can greatly rely on dry fruits like raisins, almonds, cashews & numerous others, Even Ginger & Garlic is a must have.
    Rest To Have FIRE in OUR HEARTS is the most essential commodity.
    HAPPY EXPLORING ALL
    MUCH LOVE TO INDIA HIKES

  22. I spent many years sleeping outside using the bare minimum to keep warm. This helped to build up a tolerance to the cold. Some stretching exercises in the morning and evening can help. I wear just enough to keep out the cold when walking as I tend to run very hot. I save my warm clothes for the evening. I find that I rarely feel cold then. Resilience is the key. If you go to clothes at the first sign of cold then you will get colder and colder.

  23. In worse climatic condition, particularly after rainfall one may drink a glassful of warm water with honey and keep a duckback hot water bag over belly deep under pullover.
    Otherwise 2 mins of spot jumping will fix all discomforts. Warm wishes.

  24. . I bring at least a litre of drinking water to bed. You are probably dehydrated and your body wants to recover at night.
    . Men with frequent urination issue: carry a collapsible wide-mouth flask to use as a bed-pan in the tent, to be emptied in the morning, rather than losing sleep and heat from going outside.
    . Prepare before bed as much as possible for morning tea/coffee. I like to have my tea bags waiting in a cup in the tent, and just reach out of the tent and light my JetBoil (water already in it if above freezing) to heat the first pint of water without getting out of the sleeping bag. Makes getting out of the bag (later) less intimidating.
    . Lower the unconcious threshold to adjusting layers. So, no pull-over sweaters or rain-gear. Though they weigh less and look nicer without zippers, they introduce reluctance to layering adjustments, which contribute to sweating or loss of valuable heat.
    . Don’t wear sweaty clothes in the sleeping bag. Carry a full set of lightweight polypropelene long-underware, shirt, balaklava, and socks as the only clothes worn in the sleeping bag, and only wear this set for sleeping, so they stay dry. I use a size larger than normal for these, because tight clothes at night (especially socks) can lead to frostbite.
    . Realize that when it is very cold outside, water vapor will always condense on the inside of waterproof fabric, including “breathable” fabric like GoreTex or Entrant (or even non-waterproof materials; test it yourself). So don’t wear waterproof outer layer until necessary, to minimize sweat condensing ing into inner layers.
    . I wear at least ankle-length gaiters all day (except in camp). I prefer non-waterproof ankle gaiters unless I anticipate snow, mud or wet bushes making longer gaiters or rain-pants necessary.
    . Keep a backup headlamp where you can always find it. Night can sneak up on you in the winter.
    . Don’t carry any cotton OR WOOL. Wool weighs much more than fleece, wet or dry, and fleece dries much faster.
    . Bring a mosquito head net if it is warm enough for them. Weighs nothing and transforms a buggy day to tolerable. I carry a spare.
    . Be careful of dried fruits or meats, dring more water to compensate. We had to call a helicopter for one climber who had severe stomach cramping and it wwas later determined he became too dehydrated from dried food.

  25. Hi Swathi

    You have covered most but here are some of the hacks I learnt on the trek to Everest Base Camp

    1. It’s important to keep your ears,nose,feet and fingers warm.There are the first to sense cold
    2. Spray some pain relief spray like Relispray or Moov on the soles of your feet at night and then wear your socks .This will make your feet warm and you can sleep comfortably
    3. Minimum 3 ppl in a tent so it’ll stay warm and you can sleep well
    4.If you have to touch cold water and then your hands start feeling numb , try rubbing them together rigorously and keep them close to your body ( in your pockets or snuck them under your armpits!…it works)

    Hope these work for you as well

  26. I never get too cold but still this is what I do

    1. I always have a bandana on my head
    2. I wear a different set of clothes before I sleep so that any moisture caught is not freezing me (I keep the clothes in sleeping bag so they are warm)
    3. I drink tons of water but as it makes me pee, I keep a pee bottle, as yucky as it sounds it saves trips at night.

    1. I also bring my own sleeping bag which is a tad warmer, so that way I dont have to wrestle with two sleeping bags and one liner.

  27. Spontanously l think about putting the shoes in a bag down in your sleeping bag over night, that should prevent your shoes from being frozen in the morning. If you sweat a lot, you should try-if possible- to change the layer closest to your body into a dry shirt (but first bring the sweating part of the trail behind you). Good glasses will protect the eyes also against an upcoming snowstorm, gaiters will keep snow out of the shoes. As a norwegian who had a childhood in about -20-25ºC, my lesson was to learn to trust in woolen material. I refer to the special woolen material made for sport, that ist also light and let the moist get through. Keep your head warm, if not you might get cold feet.

  28. Hi Swathi
    Thanks for useful tips. Just to correct your point no 3, never try to drink water from your latex hot water bottle, it can be very bitter

  29. Yogic Techniques:
    1. Kapalbhati- increases heat in body. Cleanses frontal sinuses.
    2. Pranayam- generates heat along with many other respiratory benefits.
    All yogic techniques need to be learnt few months before trek under supervision from a qualified yoga teacher.

  30. Wow… All these each ponits was overlooked by TTH, and 8 out of 14 trekkers got AMS, HAPE at the Base Camp of Stock Kangri in August 2017.
    Thanks Indiahikes to share those precious tips.
    Please start Stok Kangri Trek again.

  31. Hey Swathi,

    Thanks a lot for sharing this information.

    I live in Mumbai and the weather in the mountains is something which is very very different from here.
    I used to perform this excercise called the “Whimoff”breahting method.
    Here is the link for better understanding

    This not only helped me keep my body warm during my Rupin Pass trek but also helped me increase the level of oxygen in the body.

    Hope that helps 🙂

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