There’s something so uniquely serene about nature in the wintertime. The peaceful quiet of a landscape blanketed in snow is a sight unlike any other; it’s something each nature-lover must experience at least once in their lifetime. And there’s simply no better way to do so than by going on a winter hike.
For the amateur hiker, however, the prospect of hiking in the winter can be a bit daunting. The cold, the snow, and the ice may leave you worried about your safety and your capabilities. Fear not! We’re here with our top tips for safe winter hiking, so that you can hit those beautiful, snowy trails with ease. Click on a link below to learn more or read end to end to make sure you’re fully prepared.
Great execution begins with proper planning, and cold-weather hiking is no exception. While a day-hike in the spring may spawn out of spontaneity, hiking in the winter takes a bit more preparation—especially for a beginner.
If you’re a novice at cold weather hiking, start small. When setting off on a snow-covered trail, you’ll need to move more slowly. A trail that typically takes you 5 hours could take you 7 or 8 while navigating through the snow. Furthermore, obstructions like closed trailheads or deep snow may leave you taking a longer route than usual.
Remember that there are fewer hours of sunlight in winter months. For a beginner on a snowy trail, hiking in low-light conditions is downright unsafe. While cresting the snow-covered peak of Mount Rainier may be at the top of your bucket list, your first winter hike is surely not the time to do it.
If possible, it’s a good idea to begin with a trail you’ve hiked before. It’s easy to get lost when your trail is covered in snow, so use your prior experience on the trail will help guide you.
Get Your Gear
With winter hiking comes an inevitably higher risk of danger. A beautiful blanket of snow can be deceptive; it may be hiding a treacherous fall.
While that may intimidate you, don’t let it scare you away. With the proper survival gear, a potentially deadly situation can become just a minor inconvenience. Basic survival gear is essential when hiking in the winter. Having the right gear could truly mean the difference between life and death.
Building your own survival kit is do-able, but requires a lot of time, research, and knowledge that beginning winter hikers may not have. That’s why we’ve done the hard work for you.
We’ve worked with first responders, survival experts, mountain guides, and more to develop the Seventy2 Survival System. It offers everything you need to survive the first 72 hours of a disaster situation, clearly organized and labeled with instructions for use that any novice can follow with ease. It’s conveniently packaged in a durable, waterproof, lightweight backpack that has room left for any snacks, electronics, and other personal items you’ll want to bring on your hike.
Don’t take chances on the trail. Carrying a few extra items on your winter hike may seem like a hassle, but it truly could save your life.
Bring a Buddy
When learning a new skill, it’s always advantageous to learn from an expert. Hiking in the winter is no exception! For your first winter hiking excursion, it’s best if you don’t go at it alone.
If you know an experienced cold-weather hiker, bring them along with you! They’ll be able to show you the ropes and give you advice for safe winter hiking.
If you don’t have an expert available to you, bring a friend along anyway! Even if your hiking buddy is a novice, they’ll be an extra pair of eyes and ears while out on the trail. And in the event anything goes wrong, they’ll be there to help.
On the Day of Your Winter Hike
The time has come! Now that you’ve planned, prepped, and procured a hiking bud, it’s time to put the final steps into motion and get this hike going! Here’s what that entails:
Pack Plenty of Snacks
Your body burns more calories while hiking in the cold. People who hiked in temperatures of 15° to 23° F burned 34% more calories than those who hiked in mid-50s weather. That means you need lots of high-calorie, nutrient-rich snacks. Good options include granola, beef jerky, peanut butter, and aptly-named trail mix. To prevent foods from freezing solid, store them in your jacket pockets and allow your body heat to keep them soft and edible.
Check the Weather
Weather can change quickly during the winter months. Even though today’s forecast called for plenty of sunshine when you last checked, it’s possible things have changed. Pay special attention to daylight hours, predicted rainfall, wind speed, and avalanche reports. If it seems risky, postpone.
Dress in Layers
Layers are your friend when hiking in the winter. Temperatures can vary dramatically depending on the time of day, amount of sunlight, and elevation. By wearing lots of lightweight, insulating layers, you’ll be able to adjust your outfit as needed, keeping yourself comfortable in a variety of temperatures. Plus, lightweight layers make for easy storage, so you don’t have to haul bulky jackets around when the weather warms up.
During Your Hike
The beauty of a winter hike is truly indescribable. The snow-covered landscape is quiet and calm—it’s an experience unlike any other. While you should allow yourself to get lost (figuratively, of course) in the beauty, it’s vital to stay aware of both yourself and your surroundings.
Don’t Push It
If for any reason you find yourself questioning whether you should go on—whether due to weather conditions, trail closures, or your own abilities—turn back. Worsening weather conditions could leave your safety in jeopardy or your path home obstructed. Unexpected trail closures may leave you modifying your hike mid-trail and finding yourself lost. Pushing yourself beyond your abilities may result in exhaustion. Your first winter hike is not the place to chance any of these things. Turning around is not giving up, quitting, or failing; it’s valuing your own safety.
Know the Signs of Frostbite
Frostbite is caused by lack of blood, most commonly in your extremities. When your body gets extremely cold, your blood vessels constrict. In order to preserve your core temperature, your blood remains in your core and avoids traveling to your extremities. This causes numbness, pain, and eventually will cause your skin tissue to die.
While it’s unlikely that you’ll experience skin-tissue death from a day-long hike, it is every possible to get first-degree frostbite, known as “frostnip”. This occurs when the outer layer of your skin lacks blood. Though it typically won’t cause lasting damage, it can be extremely uncomfortable.
Throughout your winter hike, monitor your body for early signs of frostbite. These include:
White or grayish-yellow skin
Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
If you do suspect early signs of frostbite, the key is to warm your skin gradually. While it may seem like a good idea to warm up as quickly as possible, fast-warming things like heat packs and fire could do more damage. You can gradually warm using lukewarm water (you can bring this along in a thermos just in case) or additional layers of clothing. Be sure to keep the area dry.
The most important tip of all is to enjoy yourself and your hike. Don’t be intimidated by the planning and preparation; the minute you hit the trails, it will all be worth it. Happy hiking!