Think that winter is the wrong time to break out the backpacks and hit the hiking trails? John Lambdin might advise you to think again.
In fact, if you go to his Winter Family Hike workshop in Rosedale Park later this month, he will do more than advise it: he’ll take you on a hike himself, and see if he can convince you.
The kid-friendly workshop is scheduled for Sunday Jan. 19 from 1 to 3 p.m. — weather permitting, of course. Signup is free and can be done online.
Editor’s note: the link above indicates that the Jan. 19 winter hiking workshop is full and not accepting new registrations. However, anyone who is interested can still sign up to be notified by email if spaces open up before Sunday.
Lambdin is a social studies teacher at the Burlington County Institute of Technology high school in Medford. But on weekends, you might find the Ewing resident at REI in Mercer Mall, the outdoor recreation store where he also works. REI offers the Winter Family Hike workshop in conjunction with the Mercer County Park Commission.
Or you might just run across him in the park. Even in wintry weather. “I’ve been involved in outdoors practically my entire life,” says the North Jersey native. “I was a Boy Scout, and I carried that into adulthood, doing backpacking and hiking. It’s just something that I love.”
The first thing Lambdin likes to go over with inexperienced winter hikers is the gear that they are going to wear. He is a big proponent of layers.
“When I’m working in the store and helping somebody get outfitted, I tell people: you’re the source of heat. You’ve got to slow down the heat transfer out. If it’s just one layer that the heat has to get through, it can be easier for that heat to find its way out. But if you’re wearing layers, it slows that down.”
He adds that when hikers wear too few layers and start to overheat, they can only remove so many layers before they run out. “When you’re wearing layers, it’s easy to shed one layer,” he says.
In cold weather, the most important parts of the body to keep warm are the head and torso, where the organs are. But the places you’ll feel the cold most acutely are the hands and feet. Lambdin says some people think that means doubling up on the socks. He is not a proponent of that idea, preferring instead a sock liner inside a single pair of socks inside a trusty pair of boots — insulated or not, it’s up to you.
When he’s hiking in cold weather, Lambdin always has a pair of light gloves in his pockets, and some form of a hat. He advises hikers to carry day packs, large enough to hold a day’s worth of outdoor essentials. He always has rain gear in his pack — regardless of the forecast. “I always just plan that it’s going to rain,” he says.
Hikers also have to plan for what could go wrong. “What are the things you can’t live without?” he asks. “Air, water, warmth. I go at it from that direction.”
Food is a concern, he says, but a person can live weeks without food. Other essentials include first aid, light, and navigation. Lambdin always has a good compass with him on hikes.
Of course, that’s merely a rundown of the technical preparations a person should follow for a winter hike. There is another question, which is: Why do it?
Lambdin says there’s something to be said for hiking in cooler weather. “It’s not as taxing on you, you didn’t get sweaty and overheated,” he says. “And overcoming something like bad weather makes you feel alive. You’ve got to come at this with a sense of adventure.”
Lambdin says he gets a spiritual lift from being outside, even on a day when it’s raining buckets. “There are these moments when you’re on a hard hike, you’re climbing a hill, you’re breathing heavy and your mind’s telling you to turn back. That happens to everybody. It still happens to me when I go out,” he says. “But I know that when I break through that (mental) barrier, my senses are going to elevate. I see things, I hear things, I’m feeling things a little more intensely once I get past the barrier of whatever I have to get through. Everything seems to transcend. I tell people to come at this looking for some way for nature to speak back at you.”
The Winter Family Hike will start at the Historic Hunt House in Rosedale Park. Lambdin will offering workshoppers tips on how to pick good trails, use traction on icy surfaces and keep young kids engaged and happy on a hike.
For people who are not quite ready to take on rocky or icy terrain, Lambdin recommends several gentle trails in the area, like the towpath in Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park near Washington Crossing, or many of the trails in Mercer County Park.
Baldpate Mountain also has a fairly gentle and clear path off of Pleasant Valley Road, but that area will be closed Wednesday through Saturday from December through Feb. 8. (The Lake North trails of Mercer County Park are also currently closed for deer hunting Mondays through Thursdays.)
Which leads us to one more important winter hiking tip: check the hunting schedules before you go out.
John Lambdin is married to wife, Tina, and the couple has two children who both attend The Pennington School: son Bobby, 16, and daughter Samantha, 13. Bobby is “a machine on the trail,” says his proud father. Kirby the family’s 9-year-old Irish terrier, also backpacks and hikes.