NOBO Season is not Spring in GA
There are many phrases that people use to capture the start of their NOBO hike. We often hear “Spring on Springer” and “Hiking with Spring” as the crowd of anxious hikers start arriving. At the Hostel we are guilty as well, often calling this time of year the Spring hiker season. While these phrases are a great way of idealizing your hike, the reality is that the majority of hikers start in Winter.
I know everyone from Maine or Wisconsin are rolling their eyes about the thought of winter in Georgia, but a lack of respect for temps in the teen and even single digits when the humidity is upward of 60+% causes many hikes to end before leaving the state. Also keep in mind that most years NOBO hikers will see temps below freezing until late April.
Respecting the temperature here in Georgia will allow you to better prepare. Here are a few ideas on what to do before you arrive for your hike, and also some ideas on how to better enjoy the cold temps while on the trail
- Have a GREAT sleeping bag. Of all the gear you have, I believe this is one of the most important to get right. If you ever have an emergency or find your self underprepared for the weather, your sleeping bag is your fail safe. A proper bag will keep you warm while you wait out the situation. I would never start the trail in March or April without a minimum of a 20 degree bag (comfort rating) and a silk liner. Zero degree bags are nice, and anything rated below zero is most likely overkill. Do a few jumping jacks before you get in your bag to generate some extra heat and you’ll be toasty warm faster! Sleep on the ground versus on an elevated surface (think, shelter floor or tent platform) for more insulation.
- Know how to keep things dry. Everyone has heard “cotton kills.” While that is true, it is being wet that actually kills. You have to be able to keep your sleeping bag and extra clothes dry under any circumstance. Whether it is from pouring rain to falling in a creek, or sweating too much from inappropriate layering, being able to get dry and warm will save your life.
- Pack your pack in a way to have fast and easy access to your jacket and rain pants. Few of us will be wearing more than hiking pants and a long sleeve shirt while hiking with our packs over the mountains. Being able to rapidly get on an outer layer will help conserve heat when taking breaks and keep hypothermia from creeping up at camp.
- Carry a Nalgene-type bottle. I hate Nalgenes for backpacking and only carry one when hiking in temps below 40. The reason? Very simple: “Hot Water Bottle.” Nalgenes can have near boiling water put in them with no ill effects (that I am aware of). If you boil water, fill your bottle up, and put it in you sleeping bag, you will have hours of heat that will make up for a lot of poor winter hiking choices. I do not recommend other bottles. Other bottles can warp or deform and ultimately leak.
- The Hot Bottle goes into the next important item. Sleep with at least a liter of water in your sleeping bag. Even in the high 20’s water will be frozen solid by morning. This can cause two issues: no water for breakfast and no way to get more water if all your containers are blocks of ice. Also, it will have to get well above freezing before those bladders or bottles begin to melt. Hiking all day with no water can become “unfun.”
- Filters Freeze!! Most filters are no longer functional if they freeze (even after they thaw). You must keep them from freezing. At night, they should go into your sleeping bag and during the day, you should put them in a ziplock bag and wrap in clothing in the center of your pack. For everyone who just decided to carry chemicals instead, some of the chemicals treatments will not work on water below 40 degrees and those that do may take up to 4 hrs to be effective in water below 50 degrees. READ YOUR LABELS!
- Lastly, if you use a bladder system that requires you to drink through a hose, be sure to always blow the water back into your bag after drinking. Even with the hose insulators, the hoses can freeze in minutes when the temps get into the low 20’s.
There are many other things that one should know and will learn hiking in the “Spring Hiker” season. Hopefully this will make the learning curve a little less steep.