Roleplaying Resources

Adventuring in Cold Weather

This list was originally written by an unknown poster in It was recompiled and reorganized by me, but I take no credit for the ideas herein.

Adventurers in winter do 8-10 miles/day. Half that without trails.

Snowshoes or skis are critical in deep snow, especially in fir forests where the snow stays looser and fluffier immediately under and around smaller fir trees. Sometimes (in spring), snow might melt in the afternoon and then refreeze, making a frozen crust, but not in places that are in shadow most of the day.

Ice Axe - looks like a minature pickaxe with a spike on the end of the handle as well. Save your life many times in snowy mountains.

Crampons - metal spikes that attach to the bottom of the feet to dig into ice and provide additional traction on icy ground. People have been using some form of crampons for a long time. They don't necessarily look like what we use today, but serve the same purpose.

Rope - at least 50 feet per person. Probably more like 150 would be better.

Snow wands - Thin sticks, made of split bamboo or something similar, with bright colored scraps of cloth tied to them. Posted along the route during particularly dicey sections of travel. If you need to retreat you can find your way along the same path you took up.

Pitons or ice screws - An ice screw is a hollow steel or titanium tube, coarsely screw-threaded on the outside, usually with some form of teeth on the rim of the leading end of the tube. The other end will have some type of loop on it to clip into it with. An ice screw is typically hammered into hard ice and screwed out. If the ice is brittle, the screw can be screwed in to prevent ice fragmentation and cavitation. Titanium screws don't get the ice core stuck in them as often.

Pitons are less desireable for ice anchors since driving them in can fracture the ice they are trying to anchor in. Pitons are best anchored in rock cracks. In a modern setting Ice screws and camming devices are much, much more stable and reliable.

A snowsaw or a lightweight pruning type saw. This can and will be used for cutting snowblocks to make igloos and other snow shelters. A long knife can be used for the same purpose, but the blocks will be thinner and more suitable for a 'covered trench' snow shelter than a proper igloo.

Heat: You can't carry enough wood to cook and melt water for more than a day or two. Animal fats and alchohol work too. Wood burning is more useful if 10-15 people travel together and use a big, communal tent with a central stove which takes more than just one kettle. Low-tech clothes get wet with perspiration really easily and being able to dry them can be a lifesaver.

Tents: Not a good option in cold weather until 1975.

Sleeping bags: Weigh a lot (several times 4lb?), and get heavier as condensation freezes in the insulation. Down looses all insulating value when wet so extensive measures need to be taken to avoid this.

Food: You have neither the time or energy to hunt while travelling in the winter, at least when you have a mission, so you need to carry food with you. Need double food in arctic conditions below 15k feet, especially fats. Hot drinks are good. Alchohol lowers blood temp. Need a gallon of water a day.

Warm clothes: Wool is good. Animal furs are good but heavy. Mittens are better than gloves. Hats are important. Eskimos made goggles by cutting narrow slits in slabs of bone. Boots are important – fur-lined mukluks (soft and little anke support), sturdy leather boots with multiple layers of wool socks.

Height: Above 10K feet, some people have trouble. Most have problems above 14K, and body starts to die above 20K: won't heal, processes food poorly, brain begins to have severe cognitive problems. At 29K, you have the cognitive ability of an 8 year old due to lack of oxygen.

Backpacks: Wooden framepacks prior to 1950, or unframed rucksacks, which are lighter but are murder on the shoulders and back. Framepacks carry a lot, but are heavy.

Sleds: A pull sled, attached to the waist by rope through two 5-6 foot long sticks or tubes can dramatically increase the load carrying capacity of a single man in winter conditions. 100+ pounds of gear on the back would be debilitating, but 100-150 pounds can be readily carried on a pull-sled without stopping the man in his tracks. Great care must be taken while descending though.


A typical load out for a 5 day winter trip in the mountains will weigh in well over 70 pounds with food and tools and such. That's with modern lightweight gear. Adventurers in a medieval setting better have some magical aid because their gear will probably weigh 5-10 times what modern gear does to achieve a similar level of safety. This is why real world people didn't leave their villages during the winter except for short trips. Armies didn't march during the Winter, no one did much of anything.

A lot of this stuff is true mainly in mountains. In woodlands, people have travelled and even waged wars without the weather being the worst enemy. IIRC, in Siberia in the 19th century travel in the winter was considered easier than in the summer, since wetlands and rivers were frozen solid. Even earlier, the Swedish army invaded Denmark over the frozen straits that lead to the Baltic Sea.