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Some outdoor gear turns 'essential' in winter

As people gain experience in the outdoors, their mindset on gear needs often change, and they begin to accessorize rucksacks, climbing kits and bivouac or camping bags with items that are categorized as "useful but not essential."

On outdoors ventures, often these are things that increase personal comfort, offer greater flexibility or are simply more efficient to use than a jury-rigged field expedient.

Such items almost always inveigle themselves into the "essentials" category after being used several times and then get left behind on a subsequent trip.

Here are three useful add-ons to an array of winter gear:

1. GAITERS

Sealing the gap between pant cuff and shoe top is an important comfort function any time of the year but can be especially important in the winter during snow travel. Gaiters are designed to attach and conform to footwear on the laces and stretch up over the top of a shoe to cover pant legs.

They prevent snow, water, gravel or dirt and biting insects from getting into boots or on pant fabric and socks.

Gaiters vary in length from shorter styles to longer mid-calf or knee-length types that serve as a moisture barrier during snow shoeing or cross country skiing.

Always match gaiters to shoe or boot style to ensure an effectively snug fit. Fabric durability is a key quality in gaiters, since they're often exposed to brush, scree and crampon points.

2. HEAT PACKS

Reusable or disposable chemical warmers are important pieces of contingency gear for winter outings where prolonged exposure or a mishap requires quick heat application or rapid re-warming of victims.

Heat packs take advantage of transformations from liquid to crystal of chemical compounds, usually sodium acetate, that generate heat. Reusable packs can be recharged by boiling or heating. Smaller one-time types (hand warmers) can relieve mild chilling in extremities.

When using chemical packs to re-warm hypothermia or frostbite victims, follow medical treatment recommendations and avoid direct contact with victim's skin. Muscle strains on the trail also respond to these portable heat sources.

3. SNOW ANCHORS

If you climb and/or camp in winter, a set of snow anchors are an important asset in your climbing gear assemblage or bivouac kit that will save time and spare you multi-tasking critical gear, such as ice axes, picks or shovels.

Snow anchors vary in design from picket tubes or t-bars to spade or fluke types, but all are intended to hold fast when buried or driven into snow. They provide secure points for tent tie-downs in barren areas and, in climbing scenarios, multiple snow anchors hold belayers firmly or serve as rappel points for crevasse extractions.

Most are made of aluminum to lighten their weight, but do vary in tensile strength and holding power in various types of snow.

THOUGHTS ON MORE GEAR

Evaluate your anticipated needs. With the breadth of products available these days it is wise to shop and compare instead impulse buy.

Always consider the ever-present backpacker or traveler trade-offs between space, strength and weight versus frequency of use and versatility of a piece of gear.

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