Ellen Baker | Banff, Alberta, Canada

Every Sacramento winter I’ve experienced has been tolerable. We don’t get snow, it rarely drops below 35 degrees and sometimes I feel like taking a walk in shorts and a T-shirt on an especially non-wintery day. This winter feels different. Pulling out of my driveway this morning, the thermometer read 23 degrees, and I couldn’t see my neighbors house because of all the fog. I love winter, but I hate being cold. I’m all about being cozy in a blizzard and looking like a marshmallow to stay warm. Here’s how I stay comfortable when the weather is not.

The sun begins to set and all of a sudden chilled winds at unfathomable speeds rush past my face as my nose begins to freeze. I’m setting up my tent in the Eastern Sierras, and it’s cold. I grab a borrowed puffy, my 5-year-old beanie and gloves without finger tips and start to realize why I live in Sacramento; usually, we can go through winter with jeans and a sweatshirt—no big deal. This is not a one time occurrence for me. I’ve experienced this same trip over a dozen times but have finally learned how to overcome freezing temperatures. Follow these guidelines for surviving in sub-Sacramento weather, and you’ll be a happy camper from here on out.

Submerge-Outside the 9 to 5 - ©Ellen Baker-abjpg-web

Hand warmers. If you didn’t already know that, good luck to you on all your outdoor adventures. Stick ‘em in the bottom of your sleeping bag when or before you go to sleep and you’ll be in heaven for the rest of the night … Or for the next eight hours at least. I always end up getting Grabber Warmers from REI, but I recently found out you can really get these anywhere—even at The Dollar Store.

Too cheap for hand warmers? Boil hot water in whatever nifty stove you have, be it a Jetboil, a 19-year-old MSR WhisperLite or a camper van stove because you like to go glamping. Put the hot water into your water bottle and throw that in the bottom of your sleeping bag. Works like a charm.

Bring something to cover your face. Balaclava, buff, scarf, towel, I don’t care, but cover your face. Last New Year’s Eve I was rock climbing in Red Rock, near Las Vegas and it was cold. I wanted to cry because it was so cold, but I didn’t want my tears freezing onto my face. I was offered a buff (pretty much just a hat for your face) and it changed my life. All that warm breath I was expelling now stayed right next to my face. I even had to take it off a few times because it got too warm. Buff … go get one.

Submerge-Outside the 9 to 5 - ©Ellen Baker-d-web

When in doubt, sake. Grab a bottle of sake from the store and light up that stove you used earlier. Hot sake on a snowy night will make you the happiest and most popular camper around.

Camp somewhere you can have a fire. Unless you’re a hardcore alpinist, it’s not worth it to sit in a circle with your friends around a bunch of rocks and no fire. Figure out where you’re allowed to build a fire pit and go there.

Get your snuggle on. If you have a significant other, cuddle buddy, friend or even a pet who you’re camping with, zip the two sleeping bags together and get some body heat going—this will change your world.

Submerge-Outside the 9 to 5 - ©Ellen Baker-a-web

Tire chains. On my most recent adventure, my adventure partner, Katherine and I were driving back to Sacramento from Bishop, California. It was snowy, and I drive a Prius. Everyone in front of us seemed to be taking the Mammoth Lakes exit but as a first-time snow driver and having belief in my abilities to drive well, we continued on the desolate highway. After getting about 10 feet past the exit, we quickly began to lose control and came to a stop in the middle of the road. By this point I was losing all composure, but we took the snow-plowed exit: Mammoth Lakes. We got to town, bought chains and spent about an hour figuring out how to put them on with our numb fingers. If there was one thing I learned from that trip it’s that you should always carry tire chains, or be prepared to be stranded somewhere (in the cold) for a couple days. They’re worth the investment. Just do it.

Soup. Canned soup. Crack it open, place it in the coals in your fire, sip your hot sake for five minutes and then drink your soup right out of the can. It’s warm, cozy and simple.

Coffee. This should be obvious.

There you have it. I’m frugal. I don’t like to spend $800 on a sleeping bag or the newest, sleekest puffy. I can enjoy the outdoors with some $5 booze, a best friend to snuggle with and a can of soup. Use these tips or don’t, but be prepared when leaving the Sacramento area, for you never know what kind of treacherous weather you might encounter.

Originally published in issue 204: Jan 4 – 18, 2016

    Ellen Baker

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    Rock scrambling, exploring and taking photos along the way.