How to Survive Extreme Winter Weather | Knowledge & Wisdom

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Joe Lentini


Carl Tremblay

Joe Lentini, an independent guide in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and a team leader with Mountain Rescue Service, shares advice on how to survive extreme winter weather.

Joe Lentini’s backpack weighs just 25 pounds. But what he keeps inside it lets him survive some of the worst winter weather imaginable: temperatures plunging to minus 40*, winds that reach 100 miles per hour. Much of it he’s seen on Mount Washington, which he’s hiked in winter some 475 times. “Carrying the right gear and keeping yourself at the right temperature are so important,” Lentini says. We peeked inside his pack to find out exactly what he means.

EAT IT UP: Calories keep you warm, and staying hydrated helps prevent hypothermia. Often, though, hikers don’t eat or drink enough. Why? Because their food is frozen. Lentini keeps an insulated pouch inside his pack. In it he stocks a bottle of hot water or Gatorade, surrounded by energy bars and gels and wrapped tightly by a bottle insulator. The rest of the warmed pouch is stocked with bagels slathered in peanut butter and honey, as well as trail mix.

PUFFED UP: It’s not about looking good–it’s about staying warm. For extreme temperatures, Lentini packs a heavy expedition-weight parka, which he’ll even sometimes wear around town. “People laugh at me when I’m walking my kids to school in winter,” he says. “I look like I’m wearing a sleeping bag, but underneath I’ve got on just a T-shirt. They’ve got on all these layers, and I’m as comfortable as can be.”

THE HOLE TRUTH: A partial face covering, such as a balaclava, is a must, says Lentini, but you may have to modify it by expanding the breathing holes with a knife or hole puncher. “When you’re breathing hard, the breath that’s coming in will be greater than what’s being expelled,” he says. “That breath then goes into your goggles and ices them. And once they’re iced, they’re done.” So is your vision.

DIG IN: Lentini’s most important item: his backcountry shovel, which is made of lightweight aluminum and folds up neatly to strap outside his pack. If he needs it, he can dig a snow cave in less than 10 minutes, getting him out of the wind and into a place where the temperature may reach a balmy 30*.

ACCESSORIZE! Lentini carries an ice axe to stop an uncontrolled slide, plus an avalanche transceiver, heat packs, a sleeping bag, a bivouac, and ropes, among other emergency essentials. “I can spend the night out, if I have to,” he says. “It’s won’t be four-star, but I’ll survive.”

NO SWEAT: Perspiration is bad for insulation. Lentini’s jackets have lots of zippers, including under the armpits, to allow for ventilation. And starting out on any hike, he surprises his clients by how much he doesn’t wear. “You build up the heat,” he says. “It happens all the time: people with all their nice new gear on, sweating a half-mile into their hike.”

BACK TO BASICS: GPS is great, says Lentini, but it’s always good to have some old-school backup in the form of a map and compass. “If it whites out on you,” he adds, “that’s what you’re going to have to navigate with.”


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