Here are some of the best ways to deal with the sub-zero degree weather in Ladakh during the Chadar trek based on my recent experience.
- Dress up in Layers
Dressing up in layers is MOST crucial to deal with the extreme cold during the Chadar trek. Wear a minimum of 4-5 layers on a Chadar trek. Don’t go for that 1 jacket which says it’s suitable for -10 or -20 degrees. Layering gives you the option to mix and match and dress as per how much warm you want to get. You can reduce a layer if you are feeling hot or add on an extra layer if you’re more prone to feeling cold. The 5 layers I recommend and with the order is 1. Thermal 2. T-Shirt 3. Fleece 4. Down jacket and 5. Wind jacket. Wear the 5th Layer depending upon chilly winds and how much prone you are to cold weather. I have noticed that Indians who live near the plains usually require all the 5 layers ( I live in Mumbai, India and I usually require all the 5 layers) whereas anyone who is accustomed to living in cold weather conditions is comfortable in just 3-4 layers. Every individual is unique and reacts differently to cold, so layer up as what suits your body and don’t compare yourself with others.
- Head Gear
It is equally important to have a proper head gear in these extreme cold conditions. Have a full fleece lined/woolen cap along with a Woolen face mask and a neck warmer. Some people suggest going for a Balaclava which covers the head, face and neck. I don’t prefer the Balaclava as it restricts your neck movement and you will start feeling uncomfortable after some time. I prefer to have a Neck warmer instead which gives you freedom of movement. Also as these are individual sets you can add or remove them as per the cold conditions. Make sure your woolen cap is always on your head covering your ears and is never to be removed.
- Layer up before Sundown
I have seen many trekkers rushing for their warm jackets when they start feeling cold after sundown. Then they continue to shiver in cold even after wearing their extra layers. Avoid this reaction. Wear your jackets when your body is still warm anticipating that cold might set in when it is nearing sundown. This includes your gloves, woolen socks and woolen cap. Wearing your layers in advance keeps your body warm because they trap your own body heat. As your body heat is trapped, even after cold sets in, your body retains that warmth and you will be comfortable.
On a Chadar trek, I’d say at around 4 pm is when the chilly winds set to start, so start adding your layers around that time.
- Prepare for your sleep
If you’re already cold before your sleep, warm up and then enter the tent. Try jumping or spot-jogging for a short while. If you are lucky to have a bonfire warm up your hands and feet near the fire. Rub your hands before putting on your gloves rather than putting cold hands into gloves. Once your are inside the tent about to enter your sleeping bag, reduce your layers else your sleeping bag will not be able to keep you warm. Never wear your wind jacket or any kind of padded jacket in your sleeping bag. A sleeping bag circulates your own body heat within the bag to keep you warm. It acts as a barrier between your body and the cold air outside the sleeping bag. In that sense, it warms up the sleeping bag with your own body heat. So if you wear your wind jacket or any kind of padded jackets they will act as insulators as they will trap your body heat within the jacket. This will not allow any heat to escape out of your body and block your body heat from circulating in the sleeping bag. Ideally, sleep in a pair of thermals, your t-shirt, a fleece jacket, woolen socks and a woolen cap. For your lowers, wear your thermals and your trekking pants.
- Eat all your meals regularly
When you eat your meals your body is able to maintain its core temperature through metabolism. This metabolism creates heat within your body which is useful to keep you warm especially in the night. Never go to sleep on an empty stomach.
Include calorie-dense foods rich in fats and proteins in your dinner. Nuts, dry fruits, dairy — these take longer to metabolize and provide energy for a longer duration, keeping you warm through the night.
- Keep a hot water bottle in your sleeping bag
If you are already cold before you enter your sleeping bag and have trouble generating body heat then use this hack which I learned from the locals. Keep a hot water bottle in your sleeping bag and it works wonderfully to add warmth in your sleeping bag. Keep it near your chest or between your legs. This heat will circulate inside the sleeping bag and keep you warm.
Make sure that the bottle is leak-proof else things might get wet in your sleeping bag and reverse your plan completely.
You may find these tips useful to protect yourself from cold not only for the Chadar trek but for any winter or high altitude snow trek.