How to Prepare for High Snow on Treks

How to Prepare for High Snow on Treks

Category Trekking Tips, Gear Related Tips, Travel Tips, Tips To Trek Like A Pro

By Swathi Chatrapathy

2024-03-11

The past month has been fraught with snowfall. The snow is so deep that our tents are almost buried to the top. 

Take a look at this picture, for instance:

Bhojadhadi campsite on the Kedarkantha trek. Picture by Sanjay Mistry.

This is not a mountaineering expedition. It is our easy-moderate Kedarkantha trek. While some snow will melt, we expect high snow conditions to remain until mid-April.

It's beautiful, yes. 

But the reality is this: This kind of beauty needs preparation before you step into it. 

So, how do you prepare for this? 

I sat down with Ravi Ranjan, a senior member at Indiahikes, who has spent several winters in the wilderness of the Himalayas. He has some excellent tips for you to follow. Despite trekking for eight years, many of these were eye-openers for me. They are so simple to follow, yet so effective.

We’ll go from bottom to top, feet to head: the wetness-prone parts to the driest parts. 

You’ll love the tips. Take a look. 

1. Use waterproof socks 

“If only waterproof socks existed five years ago, a lot of frostbites and chilblains could have been avoided,” ruminates Ravi Ranjan, remembering the case of one of our trek leaders, who had to stop all physical activity for six months after getting a bad case of frostbite in the snow. 

We all know that trekking in the snow is fun. The not-so-fun part is when the snow gets into your shoes. In 3–4 hours of walking on snow, the water seeps in through the shoe's fabric to its inner layer, wetting your socks and, eventually, your feet. That’s when the misery starts. 

Even though modern trekking shoes are water-resistant, they do not prevent water from seeping in. Very soon, your feet get painfully cold and numb. Worse, thanks to your cold feet, your core body temperature drops even without your knowledge. When that happens, you shiver all night, cocooned in a warm sleeping bag. The next day, you are tired, unable to trek much, and your body does not cope. You wonder why. But this is the reality of trekking in snow.

This is where waterproof socks can change the way you trek in snow. They keep your feet dry. You can wear these socks and walk around in a tub of water. With these socks, you can step on wet snow without shoes (our staff do this to clear out snow at our camps). They will remain dry. Your feet won’t feel a thing.

Yet, these socks are breathable. In addition to keeping you warm, they have the same comfortable feel as standard socks and do not produce odour. 

We imported these socks last year, and trekkers have loved using them. If you’re trekking in snow, it’s a very good investment. It will last you for years.

Click on the image to view the Video

How to use them on a trek

Put on these socks the day you touch the snow line. Keep them on until you leave the snowline. Wear these socks whenever you are in the snow.

The socks will keep your feet from getting damp, dramatically changing how you trek. Even if your shoes are soaked, your feet will stay dry (and remain warmer).

Effectively, these socks remove most chances of chilblains, frost nips, or frostbites

Buy Waterproof Socks

2. Carry at least one pair of sports socks for each day

If you cannot buy waterproof socks, because, I must admit, they are quite expensive, then this is a must-do: carrying many pairs of socks.

“At the end of the day’s trek, your socks will get wet despite gaiters, water-resistant shoes, and waterproof pants. So the first thing you do when you reach the campsite is change into a dry pair of socks. You must repeat this every time you get to camp on a snow trek,” stresses Ravi. 

Why is this so important? Cold weather and moisture are a nightmare combination. Your body loses heat much quicker when wet than when you are dry, accelerating the possibility of frostbite and hypothermia. 

That’s why you need to carry more socks for a snow trek than on a regular one.

3. Carry newspaper to stuff into your shoes at night 

After a long day’s trek, shoes tend to have a good amount of moisture. This moisture usually freezes overnight inside the shoe, making it as hard as a rock in the morning. 

This is where it helps to carry newspapers, which you can stuff into your shoes at night. The newspapers absorb water, drying out your shoes as much as possible. 

While it doesn’t suck out all the moisture, it goes a long way towards keeping your shoes flexible in the mornings. 

4. Use only dry-fit layers while trekking

This goes in line with avoiding the cold and moisture-killer combination. Cotton layers tend to get wet with sweat and refuse to dry. A moisture-wicking fabric helps for both your top and bottom layers.

Use dry-fit layers or modern fabrics like merino wool, which wick moisture away when wet. 

Even then, once you reach the campsite, make it a point to change into dry clothes immediately. 

5. Use at least two layers for your lower half, even while trekking

Carrying five warm layers for the upper body is normal in Indian trekking. However, trekkers often need clarification about their bottom layers. Should I layer up? Is it required? Should I trek while wearing layers? 

In such deep snow, the answer is yes. You must carry at least two layers of pants and even wear them while trekking. 

But what kind of layers should these be? 

Use light, moisture-wicking fabric even for your lower. The top layer must be good trekking pants with some level of water resistance. The inner layer can be a pair of dry-fit tights. Avoid cotton at all costs in such snowy conditions. 

To trek wearing thermals or not to? “I once trekked wearing thermals, and it was a nightmare,” recalls Ravi, recollecting his younger days. “I got severely dehydrated and struggled throughout the day.” Thermals are heavy materials that get soaked with sweat. Avoid thermals while trekking at all costs. Keep them dry and save them for the night. 

6. Wear your rain pants while sliding in snow

One of the most fun parts of snow treks is sliding on snow during your descent. However, your pants are the first to get wet. Given that you always have your rainwear with you, it’s a good idea to pull out your rain pants quickly and put them on for your slide. 

We wouldn’t recommend wearing ponchos on your slide because you could completely lose control of it, but rain pants are a good idea. 

7. Two layers of gloves are a must: first, a fitting layer and then a waterproof synthetic layer

Given that the cold affects your extremities first, it is crucial to safeguard them at all costs. This is a good practice not just to avoid cold hands but also to avoid post-trek issues like numb and painful fingers. 

Here’s where trekkers make a mistake. They know they need waterproof gloves for warmth, so they take a good pair. And that’s it. 

Yet, your hands are doing things on treks: drinking water, taking pictures on your phone, retying your shoelace, having a snack... You cannot do any of these while wearing big, bulky, waterproof gloves. 

This is why you must always have a smaller, tighter pair of gloves inside. Even when you pull off your big gloves, you have the small ones protecting your extremities from the cold. 

A small pair of fleece gloves (which cost less than Rs 300) is enough for this. They’re not sufficient on their own, but they save your body heat when you take off your big gloves. 

Buy Waterproof Gloves

8. Don’t forget sunglasses and sunscreen lotion

Trekkers tend to forget about the sun when it comes to snow treks. Yet, the sun is the most comforting and harshest experience in snow. Once the sun comes out, snow begins to reflect sunlight like a mirror, so it’s like having multiple suns shine at you. 

Here, two things are important: (a) protecting your eyes and (b) protecting your skin. 

Unknown to most, our eyes are prone to sunburns as much as our skin is. The sunburn of the eye is called photokeratitis (also called snow blindness). Too much UV exposure can damage the eye’s cornea and cause a burning, gritty sensation in the eyes and temporary blindness. 

To avoid this, carry sunglasses and wear them right from the time you see snow around you until you get out of the snow zone. 

What kind of sunglasses do you need? 

If you have a good pair of sunglasses (whether Aviators, Wayfarers, or shielded sunglasses), they will all work. The best suited to trekking are well-fitting shielded sunglasses that leave less or no gaps in your vision. 

What should you do if you wear spectacles/contact lenses? We tackle that below. 

Tips to use sunscreen lotion: 

  • Use sunscreen rated SPF 40 or more. If you can’t find SPF 40, go for SPF 30, but not lower than that.
  • Apply sunscreen to all exposed body parts 30 minutes before setting out on the trek.
  • No matter what rating of SPF your cream has, reapply every 2 hours.
  • Apply abundantly. A good layer of sunscreen is essential for its effective action, so don’t be stingy with it.
  • Buy a ‘broad spectrum’ sunscreen. Broad-spectrum sunscreens block out both UVA and UVB rays. They usually have the phrase ‘broad spectrum’ printed on their labels. 

9. Layer up as soon as you reach the camp, BEFORE you start feeling cold 

By now, trekkers know to carry five warm layers for such snowy settings. It has become a well-defined practice. 

But still, trekkers make a big mistake. They tend to wait until sundown to start putting on their layers. But this defies logic. Layers work by trapping your body heat and using that heat to keep you warm.

So layer up as soon as you reach the campsite, from head to toe. 

10. Keep one flask and one regular bottle

Many trekkers carry a flask and keep the water at a good drinking temperature. 

But here’s the magic trick. Fill the insulated bottle with hot, scalding water and mix it with regular mountain water. This gives you more hot water to sip on throughout the day, ensuring you hydrate more. 

Additionally, carry dry fruits like dates and raisins, which release a bit of juice and hydrate you more than nuts like peanuts or cashews. 

There are several other good practices that our trek leaders and trekkers follow. You’ll find them in these articles: 

This was an expert-curated article. These days, I find too many articles people write, taking things off the internet or asking AI to write articles for them. Even in well-known publications, the articles could be better-sourced. They do not come with real experience.

Which is why this article is golden. It has real-life experience from many years seeped into every sentence. 

Please share it with anyone likely to trek in the snow, even in the summer. It may be the best advice for them.

Swathi Chatrapathy

Chief Editor

About the author

Swathi Chatrapathy heads the digital content team at Indiahikes. She is also the face behind India's popular trekking video channel, Trek With Swathi. Unknown to many, Swathi also writes a weekly column at Indiahikes which has more than 100,000 followers.

A TEDx speaker and a frequent guest at other events, Swathi is a much sought after resource for her expertise in digital content.

Before joining Indiahikes, Swathi worked as a reporter and sub-editor at a daily newspaper. She holds a Masters's in Digital Journalism and continues to contribute to publications. Trekking, to her, is a sport that liberates the mind more than anything else. Through trekking, Swathi hopes to bring about a profound impact on a person's mind, body and spirit.

Related Videos

How to layer yourself for a Himalayan winter trek.

What to take on a high altitude trek.

How to pack your backpack.

How to choose the right trekking shoes.

8 winter accessories that you cannot afford to forget

11 things you must have easily accessible while trekking.