Hiking in the winter can be a beautiful experience. Walking on top a blanket of snow, seeing the animal tracks ahead of you, and viewing frozen rivers and waterfalls all present memorable experiences.
Winter hiking also presents its own set of challenges. Before you head out on the Trail, be sure to think ahead and prepare for unexpected conditions. We’ve rounded up some tips and other helpful articles to help you stay safe on the Trail.
1. Never go out alone and make sure someone knows where you are going
Let a family member or friend know when you’ll be out on the Trail and when you expect to return. Also give them your planned route.
2. Beware of reduced visibility
Visibility can be reduced during winter due to shorter daylight hours as well as blowing snow. Be sure to take a light, such as a headlamp. Always carry a map and navigation tools. Not only is the Trail often covered in snow, blazes might be covered too.
3. Carry the Ten Essentials
The 10 essentials are a must for every season. Remember that hiking through snow and ice can take considerably longer than usual and plan accordingly.
4. Wear proper footwear
Be sure to wear proper waterproof footwear with good tread. Wear snowshoes if the snow is deep. Invest in some extra traction devices for your feet when the trails are icy such as Yaktrax or Stabil Icers. Remember that even if it’s not icy at home, a heavily used area of trail can get packed down and be icy. (Bonus, sign up for the Hike 100 Challenge before January 31 and you’ll be entered in a drawing that includes a set of Stabil Icers!) Use trekking poles with carbide tips to enhance your stability on icy trails. Or consider waiting until the ice clears to hike.
5. Beware of hypothermia
The best remedy is dressing in layers and having extra dry, warm clothes in your backpack. Sweating from exertion and getting wet is a danger in cold temps. Matt Davis, our Regional Trail Coordinator in Minnesota and North Dakota says, “For me, it’s better to hike cold (wearing less clothes than are needed to stay warm) but then quickly putting warm stuff on when I stop. It’s also a good idea to carry a space blanket, extra food, and a thermos of warm beverage (e.g. hot cocoa or cider).” View the National Park Service’s Safety Tailgate Series information on hypothermia.
6. Stay hydrated
When you’re cold, it’s tempting to not drink as much, or only drink coffee and hot chocolate. But you’re still sweating under all those layers, and your body still needs water and electrolytes. Be sure to take sips of water when you stop, and still follow these hydration tips. Prevent your water from freezing by carrying it close to your body (maybe inside your coat), mixing it with a bit of sports drink, or putting your bottle inside a wool sock. Insulated bottles also help prevent freezing, and wide mouth bottles work better than narrow mouths.
Check out these links filled with great resources and tips for winter hiking and camping:
Check out our own Ian Young’s Winter Warmer Series–What’s in my Daypack? video:
And a fun video from New York-New Jersey Trail Conference and Unboring Exploring!
Winter Hiking Tips with the “Unprepared Hiker.”