10 TIPS FOR STAYING WARM IN HIMALAYAN WINTERS
One thing I’ve learned after our recent snowshoeing trek in the depth of Kashmir winters is that you’re always going to be some degree of cold if you choose to hike and camp in the outdoors in Himalayan winters. That doesn’t mean you can’t try to be as close to warm as possible, though.
Here are my ten commandments for trying to stay warm in Himalayan winters.
1. LAYER APPROPRIATELY HEAD TO TOE
The first step is to cover yourself appropriately from head to toe. A lot of people will wear five jackets on their upper body and pair it with a pair of jeans on their lower body. Needless to say, don’t try this while hiking in the winter. Layer your lower body as well as you do your upper body. Don’t forget your extremities - gloves for your hands, wool socks for your feet, and a warm hat for your head.
Always wear a wind blocking shell - winds in the Himalayan winter are extremely cold and can cause a drop in body temperature in as little as two minutes.
Use appropriate fabrics while hiking and while sleeping. Read this detailed guide on layering and hiking fabrics to help yourself get set up with an appropriate layering system for every season and altitude, including Himalayan winters.
2. DON’T GET COLD
This might seem a little obvious and redundant, but know that it’s easier to stay warm when you’re already warm than try to get warm once you’re already cold.
While hiking during the day, your body generates enough heat to keep you warm. Once you reach camp, add layers quickly before you get cold and have to warm yourself all over again.
Add another layer once the sun starts setting. Keep moving in the evening and take a stroll around your campsite before you go to your tent for the night.
3. DON’T SWEAT
This one is a little hard to do but excessive sweating can make you really, really cold really, really fast when the perspiration meets the windchill and starts to freeze.
Keep adding and removing layers as you start feeling warm when you move and cold when you stop. This might seem cumbersome in the moment, but it’s worth not having the sweat on your back start to freeze as you reach your campsite. Wearing a windproof shell will reduce the effect of windchill and the rate at which the perspiration cools down when you stop.
4. HYDRATION AND NUTRITION
Staying hydrated is as important in the winter and harder to do. Cold weather suppresses thirst, and when the only water available is chilled, you don’t feel like drinking a lot.
However, as hard as you try, you will sweat while hiking even in the winter and get dehydrated. Dehydration is directly correlated with hypothermia, so make sure you get your 3-4 litres of fluid intake every day.
Carry an insulated bottle and fill it with warm water or a warm beverage like tea or coffee in the morning if that makes it easier.
Have a big breakfast and a big dinner, and keep eating simple carbohydrates like chocolates and energy bars as you hike - this will help your body generate heat as it metabolises the food.
5. WEAR ALL YOUR CLOTHES INSIDE YOUR SLEEPING BAG
If you want to avoid a heated argument with your new friends on your winter hike, whether or not to wear clothes in your sleeping bag is the number one discussion to avoid. A lot of amateur hikers as well as experts claim wearing clothes while sleeping prevents the sleeping bag from doing its work - the justification sometimes being as absurd as your body heat staying trapped in your clothes and making the sleeping bag cold.
This is how it works - your body is warmer than the surrounding air, inside or outside your sleeping bag or tent. When a warm object comes in contact with a colder object, it loses heat till both the objects are at the same temperature.
The layer of air just next to your body, thus, is warmer than the air outside your tent. Every layer you wear traps some amount of this air close to your body. Your sleeping bag does the same thing. It captures warm air, that’s been warmed up because it was close to your warm body. It doesn’t ‘capture heat’, as that would be impossible to do and too much to expect from a bag of fabric and feather.
What you should be careful of, however, is not to wear so many layers that you start sweating during the night. This will make you cold again. Wear fabrics like wool and fleece that trap air and insulate you even when they get wet. But please, don’t sleep naked in your sleeping bag.
6. MAKE YOUR SLEEPING BAG WARMER
The only thing that makes your sleeping bag cold is dead spots - gaps between your body and the sleeping bag.
If your sleeping bag is too big, fill up the bottom with spare clothes.
Use a sleeping bag liner to add additional warmth to your sleeping bag. My favourite liner is the Seatosummit Thermolite - it adds 8°C worth of warmth to any sleeping bag, and the texture feels a lot better while sleeping than they synthetic fabric most sleeping bags use.
7. INSULATE FROM THE GROUND
A lot of times in winter, you’re camping on snow. Even if you’re not, the ground itself is frozen and very cold. Most of the heat you lose during the night is from the ground.
The lofty feathers or synthetic insulation in your sleeping bag is what traps heat and keeps you warm. However, with your body weight on the bottom of the sleeping bag, the insulation is compressed and unable to trap air.
The solution? Use a thicker sleeping mat, or carry an additional foam mat or air mattress to add insulation from the ground. If you don’t have anything, you can also try stuffing plant material like leaves and twigs between the tent and the sleeping mat - anything helps.
8. DON’T HOLD YOUR PEE
It’s the worst thing ever when you’re woken up at 2 am because you have to take a whiz, and it’s -10°C outside.
In that moment, take this advice - go outside.
Your body uses up a lot of energy to keep your urine warm. Once you relieve yourself, your body will not have use any of that energy on keeping urine warm.
9. HOT WATER BOTTLE IN SLEEPING BAG
This one is a very small, but very useful tip. Fill up a bottle with warm water and keep it in your sleeping bag at night.
The bottle will keep your warm for a couple of hours, and since it’s right next to your body, you’ll have non-chilled water to drink during the middle of the night or right when you wake up to that brilliant Himalayan sunrise.
10.REUSABLE HAND AND FOOT WARMERS
A lot of people use chemical hand and foot warmers like Warmees during the winters. They work, they’re not insanely expensive, and they help you with the mammoth task of keeping your extremities warm during the night.
Here’s an environment-friendly tip though : Most chemical hand warmers are single use only. Try not to fill up a landfill just to keep your hands warm. Invest in reusable hand warmers that are either chemically or battery operated. You either just recharge them before each hike, or use reusable chemical warmers that get ‘recharged’ by placing in boiling water - easy to do while trekking or camping without power sources!