Today I’m sharing with you some brilliant tips that our Trek Leaders shared with me. These tips will help you stay warm on the coldest winter treks in the Himalayas.
Our Trek Leaders spend the better part of the year in the cold mountains. They know the best ways to tackle the chilly weather and stay warm. Whether it is to do with layering, keeping warm in a sleeping bag or tips to use while trekking. Some of the tips that they gave me were very surprising, but infinitely practical. On that note, I’m curating some of the best points they mentioned.
1. Layer up wisely from head to toe
This seems like a no-brainer. But our Trek Leader Madhusudan Reddy puts down the exact gear you need for a winter trek. He would know, considering he was associated with Decathlon for a year before he joined us.
Here is the list he recommends. He has also put down alternatives for what he has listed.
If you need further explanations of this gear, head over to this page, where we have a guide to layering in winter.
As a thumb rule, wear a minimum of 5 layers on a winter trek. What we’ve mentioned here are the layers we recommend. You could mix and match, you could also carry another extra layer if you’re more prone to feeling cold.
With these basics in place, let’s move on to other great tips.
2. Layer up when you’re still warm
Our Trek Leader Geet Tryambake advises you to wear your winter layers when your body is still warm. This includes your gloves, woollen socks and woollen cap.
“All the layers you wear keep you warm because they trap your own body heat. In order to trap that warmth, it’s important to layer up when your body still retains that warmth,” he explains.
Ideally, you should be layering up just before sundown. Or if it is a cloudy day, then I’d say at around 4 pm when the chilly winds set it. Your woollen cap should always be on your head after your day’s trek, especially in winter.
If you’re already cold, warm up before you sleep. Try jumping jacks, or this wonderful hypothermia dance. Even rubbing your hands before putting on your gloves is better than putting cold hands into gloves.
3. Don’t wear a padded jacket inside your sleeping bag
Trek Leader Yash Choudhury says that if you’re going to wear a padded jacket in your sleeping bag, your sleeping bag is rendered ineffective.
“A sleeping bag circulates your own body heat within the bag to keep you warm. It acts as a barrier between your body and the cold air outside the sleeping bag. In that sense, it warms up the sleeping bag with your own body heat.
“However, padded jackets are insulators. They trap your body heat within the jacket. So they don’t allow any heat to escape out of your body and into the sleeping bag,” says Yash.
So what layers should you wear in a sleeping bag?
“Ideally, sleep in a pair of thermals, your t-shirt, a fleece jacket, woollen socks and a woollen cap. For your lowers, wear your thermals and your trekking pants. Fleece is a breathable material, so is woollen. They are materials that allow heat to escape,” says Yash.
If you need a hack, think of all soft materials as good materials to use in a sleeping bag — woollen, fleece, etc. If the material is rigid and shiny — down jackets, padded jackets, wind-proof jackets — they block your body heat from circulating in the sleeping bag.
4. Make your sleeping bag as compact as possible around you
Going by the same logic as above, Devang Thapliyal says, “Your body should be in contact with the sleeping bag as much as possible. This is so that the sleeping bag can absorb heat from your body effectively.”
You might have seen that sleeping bags usually taper down towards your legs. The idea is to cut down ambient space as much as possible. The more air there is in the sleeping bag, the more space there is for cold air to enter the bag.
“So if the sleeping bag is too big for you, fold it from the bottom to suit your height, tuck it in below you on the sides. You could also sink all the way inside the sleeping bag such that your feet touch the bottom, and fold the sleeping bag from above and make a pillow,” recommends Devang.
Well, there are different ways in which you can fold a sleeping bag to make it hug your body. You could try different ways and do what suits you best. But the idea is to keep it as compact as possible.
5. Never go to sleep on an empty stomach
“When you’re sleeping, the only way your body maintains its core temperature is through metabolism. This metabolism creates heat within your body, which in turn heats your sleeping bag. So never skip your dinner, no matter what,” says Tanmay Bain.
Include calorie-dense foods rich in fats and proteins in your dinner. Nuts, dry fruits, dairy — these take longer to metabolize and provide energy for a longer duration, keeping you warm through the night.
6. Don’t hold your pee at night
This is a wonderful tip from our Trek Leader Gurkirat Singh. Going to sleep with a full bladder can give you a restless night. It could wake you up and get you to step out of your sleeping bag and tent. So all the warmth you built up overnight gets lost.
“Take that hard call of leaving your warm cozy sleeping bag in the middle of the night. An empty bladder will give you a better, restful sleep. Ideally, urinate half an hour before sleeping and immediately before sleeping,” says Gurkirat.
Gurkirat has also written an article on how to ensure you have a good night’s sleep on a winter trek. Take a look at it here.
7. Keep a leak-proof hot water bottle in your sleeping bag
If you have trouble generating body heat (possible for skinny people like me), then use this hack by Trek Leader Akshay.
“Many trekkers keep a hot water bottle in their sleeping bag and it works wonderfully. Keep it in areas that are usually warm, that’s near your chest, or in between your legs,” says Akshay. “This heat will circulate inside the sleeping bag and keep you warm,” he adds.
Just make sure you don’t have a leaky bottle, because that could make things wet in your sleeping bag and reverse your plan completely.
If you’re trekking on your own
- Carry a good 4-season tent
- Ensure you have a ground mat inside your tent. You should never sleep directly on the cold ground, especially in winter.
- Use a good sleeping bag that can withstand temperatures up to -10 degree Celsius.
- Carry a fleece liner for your sleeping bag. Or double up on sleeping bags. We’ve used this technique even on the Chadar trek (where temperatures drop to -22 degree Celsius) and it has worked beautifully!
So those are a few tips from our Trek Leaders. They have so many more tips, which they will share with you when you trek with them.
If you have tips of your own, then drop in a comment on this article.
Similarly, if you have any questions, again, drop in a comment. I’ll try and get our Trek Leaders to respond if they’re in network area.
That’s all from me today! Have a happy winter trek! 🙂