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Hiking Seasons

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A Gear Rating System

hiking seasonsHiking seasons are often used as means of rating hiking gear. Some gear is season independent like knives, compasses, maps and so forth while other gear is rated for suitable use by season like tents, stoves, and sleeping bags for example. Gear lists are often compiled based on the seasons in which they will be used. See the gear lists elsewhere on this web site for examples. Even some trails are rated by seasons such as being good a two-season hike.

Hiking seasons do not necessarily match up exactly with the seasons on the calendar. Hiking seasons refer more to weather and climatic conditions than calendar dates. Summer in the Northern Hemisphere on the calendar begins on or about June 21st each year. At lower elevations summer as far as hiking is concerned may begin two or three weeks earlier, and at higher elevations it may not begin until sometime in July.

Hiking seasons are generally described as follows.

Summer (Single-Season) Refers to the warmest two or three months of the year. Gear rated for summer or single-season use is usually the lightest weight, the thinnest, the least warm, the least sturdy, etc. Typically the lowest or minimum expected temperature would be about 40 F.

Two-Season This is the year divided into roughly two equal parts or halves. Two-season gear is gear that is designed to work during the warmest half of the year or the last half of Spring, all of Summer, and the first half of Fall. Trails that are said to be a good two-season place to hike are trails that are open and readily accessible during the warmest half of the year. Typically the lowest or minimum expected temperature would be 30 F or just down to freezing, but not below.

Three-Season This is pretty much just what it sounds like. It refers to the warmest three seasons of the year: Spring, Summer, and Fall. Gear rated for three-season use is gear designed for anything but severe winter weather use. Typically the lowest or minimum expected temperature would be 20 F, or temperatures that can get below freezing, but never severely cold.

Winter Gear rated for winter use is generally the most durable and the warmest, but also the most expensive and the heaviest. Gear suitable for winter use is generally no as suitable for other times of the year because it is built for extreme conditions. Winter season is the season for the lowest or coldest temperatures of the year. It is also usually the stormiest and the windiest. In many hiking areas winter means temperatures that never get above freezing and minimum temperatures that can get to below 0 F, and wind chill factors that are even colder. Gear that is designed to handle winter conditions is sometimes referred to as four-season gear because it can handle any weather conditions hikers is likely to encounter, but not necessarily the extreme conditions sometimes encounter during winter mountaineering or winter climbing.

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