Outside Idyllwild: Winter hiking gear? Yes, you need it …

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After the last couple of storms, it is time to break out your winter hiking gear. Even though we had only rain in Idyllwild on Saturday, you can see a fresh, glistening blanket of winter snow on the peaks surrounding us.

That means any trail that heads into the high country will be covered in snow. Trails that have been walked on will have slippery compacted snow and ice to negotiate.

Last Wednesday, Les Walker and I drove to South Ridge Trail. We were the first vehicle to make it up to the top of the road where there was 3 to 4 inches of snow, which would mean much more snow on the trail as you head toward Tahquitz Peak.

I mention this because if there is snow on the southerly facing South Ridge Trail, than there will be snow on all the trails above Idyllwild. Snow means you need to take precautions to avoid slips, falls and hypothermia.

Last week, I mentioned MicroSpikes and YakTrax for your boots or shoes and in the current conditions they would both work well. As winter progresses you may need to upgrade to full glacier-style crampons with sharp steel points that are designed to walk on ice.

You will want to have heavier waterproof boots and a good pair of moisture-wicking hiking socks. I do have a friend who wears shorts in the winter when he is out patrolling for the U.S. Forest Service as a volunteer, but I don’t recommend it. If you easily overheat when hiking, you can always wear zip-off, convertible style pants. But I would not recommend having only shorts.

Two of the 10 essentials for the winter (actually, a must year-round) are waterproof tops and bottoms and an emergency blanket in case you are injured and have to wait for help to arrive. I would also recommend a pack cover to waterproof your gear.

I also recommend trekking poles for the current conditions. As winter progresses, you may need to switch to an ice axe. Ice axes come in different lengths and the way to measure your size is to stand up straight and hold the ice axe by the head with the handle along your leg. The bottom of the axe should just touch the top of your boot. Ice axes usually run from 55 to 75 centimeters. For most men and women, 60-65 centimeter-long axes will do.

When the snow gets deeper, you will need waterproof gaiters and crampons or snowshoes for deep, soft snow. Once you start to sink in above your knees, snowshoes become essential for traveling in the high country — particularly if you are headed to San Jacinto Peak or any of the higher peaks.

One other item that can come in handy for winter hiking is a chemical warmer. Warmers for your shoes and ones for your pockets to keep your hands warm are available. When you are walking long distances over snow-covered trails, a set of foot warmers can make all the difference, especially when you don’t want to spring for expensive, insulated mountaineering boots.

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