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Perspectives on Outings - Winter Outings
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by Dan Soeder, Chapter Outings Chair | 2010

Yeah, it can be cold, but winter can also be a great time for a Sierra Club outing

Winter is a wonderful time to get outdoors. Despite the fact that the landscape might appear at first to be cold and dead, a little observation soon reveals a complex and adapted ecology, with plants and animals going about their business in the snow or under the ice. Snow cover adds freshness to familiar summer landscapes, and trees laid bare of foliage allow for views that are just not possible in summer through thickets of greenery. It does everyone good to get out of a stuffy house once in awhile, especially in the winter.

However, it is important to remember that outdoor activities in cold weather require a few extra safety preparations. The two most dangerous aspects of cold are hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below 96 F, slowing metabolism and eventually resulting in unconsciousness and death. Frostbite occurs when a body part is exposed to the cold and freezes. Fortunately, both of these problems can be avoided by simply dressing properly for the weather.

Wear layers, so that you can take off or put on as conditions dictate. The minimum is three layers, with the first, or “base” layer, consisting of a comfortable, soft, wicking fabric against the skin to remove and transport moisture. Polyester or silk works best. The next layer should be insulation, consisting of a fleece or knitted garment made of polyester or wool. The outer layer should be a wind and water-resistant shell, made of nylon taffeta or polyester microfiber.

Notice that cotton is not among the recommended fabrics. Cotton absorbs water and holds it, instead of wicking it away. Wet cotton clothing in cold weather can cause rapid hypothermia, killing quickly.

To avoid frostbite, protect the extremities. Wear a warm hat and gloves (mittens are warmer). Socks should be thick, warm, and made of wool or polyester. Boots should be water-resistant, fit well but not too tightly, and rise above the ankles, with good gripping soles for traction on wet, snowy or icy trails. Overly tight boots will cut off circulation to the feet, increasing the chance of frostbite.

Winter weather can be unpredictable, and conditions may deteriorate rapidly. All participants are reminded that the leaders are responsible for the safety of everyone, and it is their call on whether or not an outing will proceed. It is wise to carry some extra food, a foil “space blanket” and a flashlight just in case. It is important to eat well and stay hydrated during winter activities.

With a little bit of precaution and preparation, outdoor activities in the winter can be even more enjoyable than those at other times of the year. Roads, parks, and trails are likely to be much less crowded, there are no bugs, and the winter sun is too feeble to cause sunburn. Enjoy the outdoors year round, and be safe.

Thank you to the members who recently became trained as Sierra Club outings leaders. We had an extraordinary turnout for the training class at SierraFest, and eight new leaders. Please support them and the chapter outings program by participating in the outings scheduled for this fall and winter.

See you outside!
Dan Soeder, Chapter Outings Chair

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