November comes and goes as the cold weather moves in. You finish your last trip of the fall season and begin unpacking your gear. You sullenly look at your wall calendar. How long until spring?
If you aren’t a skier (or snowshoer, or ice climber), winter can symbolize the end of your outdoor season. The frigid conditions, pricey gear, and technical knowledge are huge barrier of entry, or at least they used to be.
Three-season. It’s a term the outdoor industry uses to describe a vast array of products. The phrase promises versatility and adventure for the majority of the year. My primary sleeping bag and tent are both described as three-season. They have accompanied me on countless trips throughout the spring, summer, and fall. However, there is one problem.
There are four seasons in a year.
Every fall, as temperatures drop, my mind begins to scramble. I panic and think, “I have to get out as much as possible, before winter hits.”
Winter is a tough season in the outdoors. Venturing up in the hills can pose avalanche danger and navigation can be difficult, if not impossible, during a whiteout. Your body burns more calories working to stay warm and simple tasks like setting up camp or getting water are more involved.
Plus, its freezing, which I’m pretty sure is a -2 on the fun scale.
Could these reasons be enough to take a couple months off? Is this annual panic warranted? I don’t think so.
The days of bunkering down for the winter are behind us.
It’s time to take advantage of the fourth season.
If you want to start adventuring through the winter months, you have to know what you are up against.
Will you be in avalanche country? Will you need to build a snow shelter?
Finding the conditions of your backyard will tell you exactly what to expect and the skills you will need. After this initial assessment, we recommend finding classes or demos to match these conditions. Outdoor education classes are becoming more available and more affordable every year. Taking a course on crevasse rescue might not be something you ever have to use, but it will make you more confident when you venture out into the hills.
Even better than finding a class is finding a mentor. Visit your local gear store or outdoor recreation club and look for the grizzled guy with the beard or the woman with that confident “I’m an expert” look in her eyes. Strike up a conversation and if they end up being a wealth of knowledge and experience, ask if they want to venture out sometime. They had someone teach them along the way and should be happy to pass their knowledge on. Mentors will pass tips and tricks that they have learned over the years that might not be a part of a course curriculum. They will also spend several trips with you, reviewing old lessons while teaching new ones. On the other hand, instructors will cover certain topics in-depth and will leave you with a clear scope of knowledge. As a beginner, soak up as much information as you can, but make sure you do not do anything that seems unsafe, above your skill level, or that makes you uncomfortable.
The right know-how won’t do you any good if you don’t have the right gear. A mentor, class instructor, or a knowledgeable gear-store employee can help equip you for a winter spent outside.
The good news is that a lot of your “three-season” equipment can carry over to the fourth season.
In lieu of buying a winter specific bag, try pairing your bag with a technical blanket or quilt. The Corus HD Quilt is a Therm-a-Rest’er favorite since it’s ultralight and uses Nikwax Hydrophobic Down™ to keep you warm and dry. Sleeping bag liners are another great way to add a little extra warmth to your bag.
If you do not have to worry about heavy snowfall, then your three-season tent with a footprint and rainfly will do the trick. Four-season tents are built to deal with snow buildup, ice, hail, and high wind. If these factors are not going to be an issue, your three-season tent will work just fine.
While it may be a frigid winter where you live, it’s prime conditions elsewhere. Head to warmer areas around the country and experience a completely new landscape. You can find cheap flights thanks to “holiday dead zones”, unpopular travel periods around the winter holidays.
Who knows? You might just find your new favorite mountain biking spot or running trail.
If the knowledge and gear are still out of reach, consider getting a little creative during your fourth season. Find the trails that do not get snow covered. Research crags that get all day sun for a pleasant day of climbing. Keep a close eye on the weather to find those windows of opportunity. There are plenty of options in your own backyard if you know where to look.
Your last ditch effort to make use of the fourth season is a not-so-secret approach used by generations of explorers and adventures when met with adverse conditions. The one and only step to this process is to just get psyched.
Just because its thirty degrees does not mean you have to leave the bike and take the bus. Just because your feet might get a little wet from snow doesn’t mean you can’t do your usual trail run at the local park. The dark and cold do not have to be reasons to turn away from our daily routine, so long as we are not compromising safety.
The spring and summer days are getting closer with each passing day, but in the meantime let’s keep the adventure going. After all, there are four seasons.
See you out there!