Originally posted Thursday, January 17, 2008
|A repost of this article for the upcoming cold weather die-hard . . . wish I was amongst you|
|36 degs F. and comfortable|
Perhaps I should call it “nude backpacking” as opposed to nude hiking or free-hiking. During the warmer months on shorter day routes I prefer to hike with the least amount of covering possible (a hat, hiking shoes and a fanny pack slung over my shoulder . . . sometimes absolutely nothing at all.) I’ve been known to take all my clothes off, stack them neatly and wander off completely naked as the day I was born. One writer describes that type of exercise as an epiphany for the now, newly converted nudist. You will never want to hike in any other form . . . except when the weather requires it.
In winter (or any weather that is likely to turn inclement) you’d be foolish to hike without the essentials to insure your survival should things go wrong. One reader commented on the size of my backpack, asking how much it weighed. Well, it does look big on my back but if you pack judiciously a ‘survival’ pack could weigh in about 15-25 lbs which is easily carried in a well-balanced backpack. For me, the most cold-sensitive portion of my anatomy is my back . . . a cold chill down the spine can instantly send me into shivers. Since the pack sits slung over my back I tend to stay warm in that area.
“Clothing” for when you need to warm up
Look at what it takes to keep you warm, dry and comfortable while standing in the snow next to your car at the trail-head and that is what you need to carry with you in your backpack. I pack (after I undress, no need to duplicate):
- Thermal, wicking undergarments (remember, no cotton; it gets wet or soaked from perspiration and you freeze),
- Two extra pairs of wool socks and an extra pair of wicking undersocks,
- Wool Sweater (tight-weave, thick fiber has the best insulating properties and insulates even when wet),
- Snow pants (insulated, the type you’d wear skiing or snowboarding),
- Your windproof, water-resistant outer-shell parka,
- A second pair of snow gloves or mittens,
- A small towel to dry yourself off with should you get wet.
Food is an essential even if you are only going on a four-hour day hike. What would happen if you got lost or were forced to weather out a sudden snowstorm. I carry the following supplies in a separate ditty bag in the backpack:
- 9- Top Ramen (easy to prepare comfort food to warm your soul, body and spirit),
- 3 foil-sealed packages of tuna (for protein), one of the cellopaks of saltine crackers from the 4-pack boxes, an assortment of individual-serve mayo, relish and salt and pepper packs shamelessly stolen from BurgerKing,
- 9 hot chocolate singles, baggies of instant coffee, creamer and sugar, a few plastic spoons and forks,
- 4-5 large bars of chocolate; full of slow burning fats and sugar energy . . . the hikers friend and an essential when you are burning large amounts of calories to maintain your body temperature,
- My whisper stove and a few canisters of butane (above 5,000 I would carry a multi-fuel stove as butane doesn’t work very well at altitude),
- My trusty GI-mess kit,
- The fire kit: A good supply of waterproof, strike-anywhere matches (make your own, coat matches in paraffin and store in a waterproof container. Add a striker surface (emery board, small piece of sandpaper). Add a 30-hour candle or two, a magnesium striker and tube of fire-starter paste and you should be able to light a fire in pretty much any situation.
I always practice bear-protocol, even when any sensible bear should be hibernating in winter. The food bag has a 50 ft length of strong nylon cord inside that can be used to raise it up out of bear reach. The cord would come in handy for a lot of other uses, as well.
Paraphernalia in the Outer Pouches
In the outer pouches of my pack I carry the paraphernalia of modern society. The most important one a First Aid Kit. The first aid kit doesn’t have to be elaborate but should have a few hiker’s-essential supplies like moleskin for blisters, band-aids, ointments, gauze pads, some safety pins, etc. to cover the typical scrapes and bruises all hikers get. I carry the old style styptic pencil that shaver’s use to use to stop minor scratches from bleeding. A small roll of duct tape in the pack along with a couple of emergency mylar space blankets cover many other potential repair and emergency situations.
I carry my cell phone, my camera and my GPS unit when I hike. When I hike with friends I also like to hike with a set of FRS radios to stay in contact. I also carry one of those neon headlamps for nighttime use. All of these require batteries. You should have a set of backup batteries for all items and you should try to keep these batteries protected from the cold. Cold drains a battery in half the normal time.
In another pouch I carry my maps and charts, compass and a few other essential items.
My Bear Deterrent spray and my hunting knife seem to permanently be on the belt of my backpack. I leave them there . . . never had to use the spray.
On the back rigging I carry a small, collapsing snow shovel.
While it may seem that with snow all around there is no need to carry a lot of water, dehydration is a serious problem for cold-weather hikers . . . and even more for nude, cold-weather hikers. Very cold air is also very dry air, as moisture condenses out with dropping temperature. That dry air sucks moisture from your skin and breath very efficiently. Constant hydration is very important. So three important points:
- Carry plenty of water and be prepared to obtain more. My backpack has a three-liter hydration bladder built into it, which is normal enough for the typical day hike. A hose snakes out of the top of the pack within easy reach to draw a sip on. I also carry a Sweetwater Filter to filter water from opportune sources along the trail. Try to avoid eating snow to hydrate yourself as all you’re doing is lowering core body temperature to melt that snow. The hiker’s rule-of-thumb for sufficient hydration is that if you are urinating clear you are sufficiently hydrated.
- Your exhalations are the largest source of dehydration in cold weather. Just look at your breath and see all that moisture condensing to a fog. You should avoid breathing through your mouth in cold weather . . . your nostrils are far more efficient at retaining body heat and moisture. Cold weather often induces a stuffy nose so carry decongestants in your first aid kit.
- Your skin transpires as much water out of your body in cold dry air, as it does trying to stay cool during hot weather. You lose both water and body heat. An answer I’ve found is that if your keep your skin moisturized ahead of time you will feel a whole lot warmer and less chill-bound (a sign that your skins is transpiring moisture). Take care of your skin and it will take care of you. Moisturizing your skin also makes it somewhat water-repellent . . . melted snow flakes and rain will ball and roll off your skin quickly without wetting large areas. Remember, water conducts heat away 50 times more efficiently than air.
When I shower I liberally moisturize myself with simple ole baby oil . . . mineral oil. You can find fragrance-free baby oil if the aroma seems too childish . . . doesn’t bother me. The treatment makes my skin feel alive and aware. Prior to a hike I rub in some of the leftover suntan lotion I always seem to accumulate in squeeze tubes in my car. The lotions have an efficient moisturized content as well as the UV-protection . . . which mustn’t be forgotten, even in winter.
You’ve got your backpack set, you’ve reached a spot where you feel the desire to be free of the bulky clothes and hike naturally. Put as much attention to undressing and packing for need as you did for the rest of your supplies. Despite how careful I try to be, I have fallen through weakened snow-bridges on several occasions and appreciate being able to find dry clothing quickly in my backpack to warm up. Set your pack down where it won’t get wet or tip over and carefully undress and fold your clothes in a logical order . . . the order you’d want to retrieve them in a hurry. The last item to come off should be your top . . . gives you a chance to acclimatize yourself to the sudden cold, which is a shock to everyone. You will quickly warm as your metabolism kicks into higher gear.
With my clothes packed safely away and the backpack slung over my back, this is what I’m typically wearing from top on down:
- A knit wool cap (60% of your body heat is lost through the top of your head; more for balding people like me. That is a fact . . . wear a hat!),
- Sunglasses on a retainer around my neck. Snow blindness is not fun! Get a good pair of mountain glasses,
- The pack on my back. I typically do not belt mine as the weight is easy to carry and I enjoy the extra skin exposure,
- My thermos in a water-resistant carrier bag looped over head and shoulder. I either fill mine with hot chocolate or coffee. Coffee is a no-no, as it’s a diuretic but I love my coffee,
- My digital camera attached to a very light-weight collapsing tripod slips into the side rigging of my backpack. With exposed metal surfaces, try coating with the plastic dip used for tools. Helps to prevent cold-contact discomfort when you have to handle those metal surfaces,
- Gloves. Mine are thermal Thinsulate gloves which convert to mittens easily yet give the dexterity of a warm glove. Fingers, poorly supplied with blood, are quickly affected by the cold,
- Two pairs of socks (an inner wicking pair under woolen hiking socks) keep your feet warm and dry, and resist blisters as the two pairs slide against each other rather than your feet,
- A good pair of leather hiking boots . . . pre-worked in and treated with water-repellent. The tongue should be continuous to keep out snow and moisture. Choose hooks rather than eyelets for the top to make tying easier with cold hands. The boots should also have the heel catch for use with snowshoes,
- Over the boots I wear calf-covering gaiters to keep snow off my lower legs and out of the top of my boots. The REI branded ones I bought have a reflective insulating inner surface that keep my lower legs and feet toasty warm,
- Snowshoes (mine are Denali Evo Ascents). Don’t skimp. These are what keep you up above the surface of the snow instead of post-holing to your crotch with every step. Choose snowshoes designed for your weight and the type of terrain you typically hike in (flat, alpine) . . . and for the weight of the snowshoes. Technical use of snowshoes is beyond this article. Learn to use them ahead of time . . . it’s not that hard,
- Poles. Forget expensive trekking poles unless they already have snow baskets. I use my ski poles.
Acclimatization to cold weather is a ‘learned’ response over time. The Inuit of the arctic have a markedly lower core body temperature to what we consider normal (95F to our 98.6F) and have tuned their basal metabolism and circulation to be as efficient as ours at this lower temperature. They can withstand cold temperature far more efficiently than us ‘southerners’ can.
The metabolic response to temperature changes is a complicated one. Simply stated, we, as warm-blooded beings, can only burn fuel (food) for cell energy within a narrow range of temperatures . . . the core body temperature. Our body will go to great biologic and physiological extremes to maintain that core body temperature. Understanding this metabolic response is important to knowing your limitations and the dangers hypothermia represent . . . especially to a nude hiker totally exposed to the elements. Acclimatization increases your metabolic efficiency and allows you to stay warm for longer periods of time. Remember, clothing does not warm your body . . . clothing simply reduces the loss of body heat. Any and all heat you experience (short of warming yourself by a fire or slipping into a hot spring pool) is generated by your metabolic processes burning the fuel (the food your eat) into energy. Know the signs of hypothermia and your limits:
- Your skin tightens upon exposure to cold; body hairs stand on end to more effectively trap an insulating layer of air next to the skin,
- Blood vessels initially dilate under the exposed skin surfaces, warming the skin and giving the rosy-cheeks syndrome. As more heat is lost, this process shuts down;
- Goosebumps forms and tiny, consciously-controllable shivering may commence;
- The skin becomes a pasty white . . . chalky in later stages; blood supply to shell skin areas and extremities is reduced. Shivering becomes more intense as the body fights to maintain the inner core temperature of the internal organs and the brain. You are entering Stage 1 Hypothermia;
- Arterial shunting reduces blood flow to the extremities, leading to cramping and uncoordinated use of leg and arm muscles. Shivering become continuous, tiring and intense. You are in Stage 2 Hypothermia and need to preserve the remaining body warmth before you lose the ability to act;
- Violent, uncontrollable shivering ceases as the body preserves even this expenditure of scarce energy to keep the heart, lungs and brain warm and functional. You are disoriented to the point of not even being aware of the cold, tired and wanting to sit down and sleep. You are in Stage 3 Hypothermia and in a medical emergency. Your body is losing it’s ability to produce heat and will slip rapidly into a fatal coma.
Acclimatization to Cold Weather
Acclimatization is the increasing of your body’s heat-production and retention efficiency. As you slowly expose yourself to cold weather in longer increasing periods your body responds by burning foods more efficiently. As we go into spring and summer and are no longer exposed to these colder patterns, we acclimatize in the other direction, slowing the efficiency down to maintain that ‘normal’ 98.6F core body temperature. Vitamin B6 is an excellent supplement to increase the efficiency of our metabolism and I take it regularly in the colder months of the year as I’m working my naked body to withstand and enjoy nudity in the cold. Omega-3 fatty acids are not only good for your cholesterol levels but induce a high level of cold resistance. Get them through eating cold-water fish like salmon or taking flax seed oil capsules.
The key is to acclimatize over time. Do not shock your system by heading out on a long nude snow hike without some period of adjustment to your system.
When exposing you body to cold weather . . . particularly when you must be able to keep yourself warm without the insulating-crutch of clothing . . . eat easily digested foods such as carbohydrates and sugars; adding smaller amounts of fat and protein to balance the digestive load. Digestion consumes up to 30% of all available energy after a large meal. That’s energy not available to keep you warm. Avoid large and heavy meals full of protein and fats immediately prior to a hiking expenditure. Carb-load the night before and keep your trail eating to small and frequent snacks.
- Sugars are the high-octane fuels and produce a quick burst of energy and a falloff just a quickly.
- Carbs are more complicated sugars (starches and such) that burn slower and over an extended period. Carbs are the basic sources of energy to fuel metabolism.
- Fats (such as chocolate) are an excellent source of stored energy that can be called on as the body needs. However, if you don’t use fats, guess where they go? Don’t go overboard on fats as a high-fat diet takes weeks to adapt to and can lead to abdominal stress; something you don’t need on the trail. However, fat reserves within the cells of our body are very important both during the acclimatization phase and when the body calls on energy reserves to bolster core temperatures and maintain glucose levels.
- Proteins are the structural components for the body. However, in need, proteins are metabolized (burned) for heat energy because they produce a large amount of heat. However, they are difficult to digest and leave many undesired byproducts when burned for fuel . . . such as salts which will lead to increased urination and dehydration.
My back is decidedly sensitive to a cold-shiver, and I suspect that’s the case with most of us. Cover your back in some manner (coat slung over the shoulders, backpack, in my case). Our nipples (in both men and woman) suffer painfully when it really gets cold. Likewise the genitalia, particularly men, will feel the painfully numbing cold eventually. Recognize what’s happening and don’t suffer needlessly. The layering principle applies to nude hikers as well . . . except we might need to put on that first layer as needed.
It is often said that women, with typically thicker subcutaneous fat layers, are better able to withstand the effects of cold weather . . . and that makes sense as adipose fat is a great insulator. You only need look to the ability of marine mammals with their thick blubber to withstand the numbingly frigid waters of the Arctic. But what I’ve noticed is that the same insulating nature of adipose has a rebound effect . . . those same layers of fat become cold reservoirs and resist warming up or letting external heat through after a hike. I noted that effect several years ago after a challenging nude snow hike that I pushed despite the winds and snow turning ugly. Once back in my car with the heat going full blast, much of my body quickly warmed up . . . except the areas where adipose fat underlay my abdomen and ‘love-handles’ (yeah, I got lazy that year and let my spare-tire get ahead of me.) Those areas of my body stayed icily-cold for the next few hours despite clothing, heat and a general rewarming of the rest of me. The fat was a great insulator but insulation works both ways! The upshot, some body fat is okay but a lot of adipose can become a liability if you push the limits of your cold exposure.
A note on frostbite . . . can’t get it unless the ambient air or wind-chill temperature is below freezing. The laws of thermodynamics plainly state that you can not reduce the temperature of an object below the ambient environment . . . except under certain, unique circumstances . . . supercooling. Supercooling happens under high wind, high humidity conditions. Don’t hike nude in such conditions . . . please. Even I’m not that stupid and will put on clothes when the wind picks up much beyond 5-10 mph. When it is below freezing your extremities (particularly toes and fingers, and since we are nude, the nipples and genitalia) are very susceptible to damaging frostbite. Watch for painful, chalky white skin progressing into a lack of pain as frostbite happens. Don’t let it get this far!
Did I forget anything? I’m sure I have.
While I enjoy endless roaming around the mountains nude in the balmier months, taking off my clothes in a wide-open and pristine snowfield and hiking free is a unique and almost spiritual experience. Also, while I consider hiking nude in the snow a personal challenge, I temper it with the realization that I have to be aware of how my body is responding. But what else is a nudist good for than being aware of his or her body interaction with the environment. We nude hikers know how sublime the experience is . . .