It’s been a mild winter so far. No below zero days and not much snow. But some some of the fluffy stuff arrived just in time for last Saturday’s winter activities at Hills Creek State Park. Twenty-five hardy souls (some of them youngsters willing to learn) showed up to participate in cross country skiing and snow shoeing. The majority was interested in getting instruction on cross country skiing, expertly provided by DCNR’s Environmental Naturalist Tim Morey.

With my personal snow shoes I was able to trudge out onto the lake and visit with a few hard water fishermen who were not having a great deal of success catching fish, although they all agreed they were having a good time just being out on a nice day. An interesting fact surfaced as I talked with about ten fishermen: all of them were from counties south of us; none were local yocals. Fact is, there’s no safe ice below Tioga County and Hills Creek Lake is one that freezes over early, so it attracts fishermen from the warmer climes.

Not many hikers get out in wintertime when conditions are cold and blustery (although it doesn’t bother me too much), so now’s a good time to begin preparing for that warm weather long distance backpacking adventure.

A major consideration is the weight of your loaded backpack (ounces count). Lighter is better of course, but you want to be sure to include all the items you’ll need. I’ve heard of overnight hikers who’ve forgotten the tent and sleeping bag, but never the food.

Food may be the heaviest item you’ll carry, so be careful here; the advice is not to shop when you’re hungry. Some of the light weight freeze dried foods now available are actually quite tasty and loaded with the calories you’ll need.

Here are some other tips for reducing weight, some of which I’ve picked up from experience and some from reading.

1) If you’ll be hiking with friends, share items like toothpaste, compass, GPS unit, extra first-aid kit, camera. I’m sure you can think of other things.

2) Include items that will do double duty. Did you ever consider wearing socks on your hands instead of gloves. In place of a fork and spoon how about a plastic spork which is a single unit. I’ve heard that toothpaste (white, of course) can be used as sunscreen. A light-weight tarp can have many uses, including substituting for a tent. Your hiking staffs make great poles for rigging that tent.

3) Extra clothes are actually quite heavy. If you’ll be out for just a few days, take only the clothes you’re wearing. You can clean ‘em up when you get home.

4) Use small plastic containers, even eye-drop bottles, for such things as liquid soap, margarine, condiments, etc. Pack only as much as you’ll need for the trip.

Here’s a neat trick I recently learned. If you wear a watch (not digital) and happen to be lo--los — (we never use the actual word “lost”) temporarily misplaced without a compass, point the hour hand at the sun. Halfway between the hour hand and the 12 will be south. Also, at night, if there’s a moon, the bottom point of the crescent will always point toward south.

You will be well prepared if your backpack includes these five essentials: food, shelter (including rain gear), sleeping bag, fire starter, and water.

Happy trails

Daryl Warren has been a serious hiker for many years.