The Joy of Winter Hiking by Derek Dellinger
Review by Rachel Fowler
Winter is usually a dark and dreary time of the year, especially after the holidays.
Getting outside is usually something to be dreaded, but that is what author Derek Dellinger wants to change. His new book, The Joy of Winer Hiking: Inspiration and Guidance for Cold Weather Adventures, aims to do just that — make winter a time to look forward to and not just get through.
I love hiking and camping during all the other seasons of the year and have always been disappointed that it mostly stops for winter. I don’t know why I didn’t think of winter hiking as a viable option before now, but I’m glad Dellinger did and has a book of useful advice for getting started.
Dellinger is the first to ask, why winter? When there are more hospitable seasons, why would anyone choose winter to hike or camp? The answers he gives include slowing down and taking in the beauty of nature that only winter can bring. Seeing trees bare and covered in frost, seeing less tree cover as to actually expand your field of vision. Witnessing spectacular sunsets and sunrises, that are all the more magical due to the snow and feeling the crisp clean air.
With all of these, Dellinger insists that the ethereal beauty of winter can only truly be experienced by getting out into it. The author also notes that we forsake the outdoors when we need it the most, to help boost our mental health in the dark winter months.
“The benefits of nature can carry us through dark times, and perhaps even more important, can make the good times transcendent," Dellinger writes. "There are hikes that have changed my life, recharging me emotionally, physically, and spiritually, reorienting me to what really matters.” These types of hikes he says are available in winter with the right planning and gear.
But with the beauty of nature in winter also comes the very real danger of winter hiking. Dellinger stresses how important it is to be prepared and have the right knowledge before attempting any kind of hiking. The author explains very thoroughly things to think about before setting out, like accessibility of trail, snowfall, the forecast, the experience level of all party members and making sure correct gear is used.
Dellinger writes that knowing your trail well and only going places you’ve been before can be essential to safety. He also says knowing the conditions of the road to the trail and the parking lot are good too. Having an inaccessible parking lot or road to a trail will stop you before you begin.
The author emphasizes the importance of gauging the experience level of all hikers, making sure everyone is on the same level and prepared if the trail becomes dangerous. Dellinger also points out knowing when to turn back if an area becomes unsafe or conditions worsen is also a valuable lifesaving skill.
He dedicates several chapters to explaining the different types of gear and clothing that can help you in the winter environment. Dellinger starts by explaining different layering strategies, the importance of many thin layers that may need to be removed as your hike raises your body temperature. He also notes pros and cons between different clothing materials, types of backpacks and shoes to help you stay warm and dry on your adventures.
The author also goes into detail about other types of gear, like microspikes, snowshoes and ski poles and when it's appropriate to bring those. He explains anticipating the type of snow you’ll encounter will be essential in your gear choices. If snow is dry, wet, slushy or packed into hard ice due to thaw-freeze conditions, be aware and plan accordingly.
I thoroughly enjoyed Dellinger’s informative and fun guide to winter hiking. The author does a good job of balancing appreciation for the splendid beauty of winter with the extreme danger it can pose. From looking at winter as a time to learn new nature observation skills, to seeing new wildlife and renewing your spirit, he highlights the raw majesty of winter. But he also makes sure you understand how treacherous freezing conditions, deep snow and ice can be.
I’ve only just started my winter hiking experience, only going so far as a well-known park, but with The Joy of Winter Hiking as my guide, I'm excited to get out there and see what winter offers.