Winter Hiking Preparedness
Hiking in the winter can be a magical experience. The snow-covered landscapes and crisp, cold air make for a truly invigorating outdoor adventure, but it presents unique challenges, and can be risky if you're not properly prepared. Here are some tips to help you have a safe and rewarding winter hike.
Bring the Right Clothing
Dressing in layers is crucial when it comes to winter hiking. To stay warm and comfortable during winter hikes, start with a moisture-wicking base layer, followed by an insulating layer like fleece, and topped with a waterproof and windproof outer layer. Don't forget to bring a hat, gloves, and a balaclava or neck gaiter to protect your face and neck from the cold wind.
And the Right Gear
Make sure to wear sturdy, waterproof hiking boots for added warmth, protection and stability on the trail. For added stability, consider using a Protalus insole in your hiking boots . No matter the time of year, you should pack The Ten Essentials every time you hit the trail. In the winter, adequate extra clothing and a flashlight are even more important. Additionally, you may want to use trekking poles or crampons for added traction and stability on wet winter trails.
Check the Forecast & Trail Conditions
Before heading out on your winter hike, check the weather forecast for the day and recent reports on the trail conditions from a local hiking club or tool like All Trails so you know what to expect and what type of clothing and gear you'll need. If the forecast is calling for severe weather, or other hikers have reported deep snow, it may be best to cancel your hike, or find a different option. If you are hiking in the mountains, check avalanche conditions and adjust your plans accordingly.
Start Early Enough
Since the days are shorter in winter, it's important to start your hike early to ensure you have enough daylight to complete it. Always bring a headlamp or flashlight just in case (part of the 10 Essentials), and make sure your phone is fully charged in case of emergency. An easy trail in summer can be much more challenging in winter – stay mindful of timing and be aware of when you need to turn back in order to ensure you have sufficient daylight for the return hike.
Hydration and Nutrition
Your body uses more energy to keep warm in cold weather, so make sure to pack enough snacks and drinks. Even in winter, follow the rule of 1 liter of water per 2 hours of hiking. Keep nutrition bars or chewy snacks deep in your bag so they don't get too cold to bite into. And don't forget, a thermos of hot cocoa or tea waiting in the car for your return is always welcome.
Follow Your Instincts
Being prepared goes a long way to ensuring an enjoyable winter hike, but conditions on a winter trail can change rapidly. As soon as you or anyone in your groups starts to feel unsure or beyond their abilities, it's time to turn around. While reaching the summit or making it to a specific mile marker may be tempting, it's not worth risking getting lost or hurt or spending a night in the cold. Remember, it's always better to be safe and it's okay to turn back. You can always plan another hike for a different day.