Seasonal depression is REAL. And unfortunately for us in West Michigan, far north of the equator, that depression is in full swing. With shorter days and less sun, it can be hard to find the energy to get outside and explore. Suddenly, Netflix becomes our only comfort in this winter wasteland.
But wait — adventuring in the winter can be so rewarding! What if, instead of bonding over our shared misery, we started to look at winter through a different lens? Winter, though it seems to last forever, is around for only a handful of months. The beauty of freshly fallen snow on the trees and a frozen lake is something you can only experience this time of year.
Jon Holmes of Bill & Paul’s Sporthaus gave us the rundown on winter activities that require little to no experience or training. And believe us, Jon Holmes is winter’s number one fan. “I absolutely love winter,” he said. “Nine months of cold beats nine months of warm in my world! My attraction to winter is that it is so much more peaceful than being outdoors in the summer. No bugs and far fewer people. If folks look, they’ll see the places they play in the summer are wonderful places in the winter too.”
Hiking, generally thought of as a summer activity, is a great way to enjoy the beauty of winter without investing heavily in equipment. “Some investment in reliable footwear and clothing is required,” Holmes said. “Reliable means they’ll keep you warm and dry regardless of the conditions. There’s no substitution for decent boots and socks.” If you’ve lived in Michigan long enough, you’ve likely invested good money in a solid pair of boots that have lasted you years.
And if you ever dreamed of walking on snow as a kid, now is the time to do it. Snowshoes are easy to use and require little investment. “Hiking the lakeshore is made considerably easier with snowshoes,” Holmes said. “Lake-effect snow accumulates in the dunes and requires flotation assistance. The crampons found on all snowshoes grip incredibly well in this icy environment.”
Snowshoes allow you to travel across snow-covered ground without sinking or struggling. Flat terrain snowshoes are best for beginners and are designed for easy walking on flat to rolling terrain. Rolling terrain snowshoes are best for hikers and backpackers and are designed for rolling to steep terrain. These snowshoes feature more aggressive crampons and beefier bindings.
Both hiking and snowshoeing require proper base layers and outdoor apparel. You likely have the right gear in your closet already. “Base layers that remove sweat from the skin, covered by a mid-layer of fleece or down all worn under a wind and waterproof shell allow you to stay warm and adjust layers based on activity,” Holmes said. “Generally, for any activity when you’re moving, avoid heavy insulated jackets as they get too warm. Don’t forget proper headgear (think Gore-Tex), gloves and solid boots.
You heard that right — camping doesn’t belong to just the summer season anymore. “Michigan is a great state for winter camping because we can use much of our summer season gear year-round. We don’t have the high winds and exposure issues found in the mountains,” Holmes said.
Our favorite perk of camping in the snow is that you can haul all of your gear on a sled instead of your back. This allows you to pack plenty of warm equipment without having to worry about the extra weight. Top tip: Pack all of your clothes in plastic storage totes as they keep everything nice and dry and are easier to pack and unpack. Hauling that sled is made even easier if you invest in a good pair of snowshoes too.
Check to make sure your current tent is a three-season version with a strong rain fly before you plan your next camping trip. It’s surprising how much heat will stay inside the tent with the rain fly/tent combination. Pro winter campers suggest packing a tarp to use as a doormat before entering your tent or as coverage when you’re cooking, in case it snows.
If you’re serious about winter camping, invest in a zero-degree bag. Otherwise, double up the bags you have. Fleece liners also help to insulate the inside of your bag and improve the temperature rating.
Lastly, don’t forget a headlamp. It gets dark early in the winter so a headlamp and small backup flashlight are a must for wandering the campground after 6 p.m.
Running and Fat Biking
Michigan is home to many running and fat bike enthusiasts. Your local sports shop is bound to have one expert who can give you the rundown on these summer activities gone rogue. As always, consider your gear when running and biking in the winter. “Face masks, balaclavas, gloves and proper mittens make any type of high-aerobic activity more comfortable,” Holmed said.
With the growth of fat biking in the winter, especially for commuting to work, the gear industry has exploded with innovative products to keep you safe and warm. Bar Mitts were created to protect your hands without loss of brake or shifter grip. A slim helmet will keep your noggin safe while providing extra warmth. Wolvhammer creates top of the line cycling boots perfect for fat bikes. “A 100-gram boot/shoe is for the more active outdoor enthusiast that don’t require a lot of warmth, but 200-gram is the sweet spot. If you’re looking at 400-gram boots, you’re likely going ice fishing,” Holmed said.
If you’re training for your next 5K or marathon through the winter, consider traction aids that slide over any shoe or boot to decrease slipping and keep you moving.
Local Sporting Stores
Bill & Paul’s Sporthaus, 1200 E. Paris Ave. SE, Grand Rapids
Great Lakes Outpost, 4174 Alpine Ave. NW, Comstock Park
Earth’s Edge, 705 S. Beacon Blvd., Grand Haven
Lee’s Adventure Sports, 311 W. Kilgore Rd., Portage