Now that we are headed full speed into the winter months, we thought it would be good to send out the next installment of our hiking tips guide, Winter Safety Tips.
Many people love to hike during the winter months because the temperatures are cooler and less of those pesky bugs like ticks and mosquitoes. But along with the good fortunes, comes the not so good ones. During the winter months, we have things like snow and ice that we must watch for, especially in those higher elevations. There is less hours of daylight to hike so it is easier to get trapped in the dark if you don’t time your hike correctly. So here are a few things we put together to help out during the winter months:
Clothing – One of the most important things to think about during winter hiking is what you are wearing. Unlike summer hiking, the weather during winter hikes can be much more severe. Let’s start with the feet. You want to keep your feet and toes warm since after all, they are carrying you the whole hike. Some thick insulated thermal socks are best and cover them with some waterproof insulated boots. We always recommend waterproof boots during the winter because you never know when you may run into snow while hiking and snow quickly turns into water when walking through it. For pants, we recommend hard shell pants that are waterproof and windproof with full length zippers along the sides. Try to find a wool or synthetic base layer, something like long sleeve jersey and long underwear (thermal). We recommend staying away from cotton as it absorbs sweat and water and will make your body chill. A puffy insulated hooded winter jacket is great to have. This will help to keep in the body heat you generate and keep the wind away from you. If you don’t have a hooded coat, make sure to cover your head and ears. You will also want to have a warm pair of gloves to wear and keep your hands and fingers out of the cold.
The 10 essentials – Always remember to carry the 10 essentials with you no matter what season you are hiking in. We have covered these in past editions, but these have since been updated from the “Classic 10 Essentials” to the “Ten Essential Systems”. Here they are: Navigation (map and compass), sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen), insulation (extra clothing), illumination (headlamp and flashlight), first-aid supplies, fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles), repair kit and tools, nutrition (extra food), hydration (extra water) and know where an emergency shelter is or pack one to take (tent, tarp something to cover with). These items will help to keep you safe in the event of something happening while you are in the woods.
Weather – Winter hiking is just like any other season with Mother Nature. She can change her mind at any moment without notice. During the winter months, rain will be much, much colder and if you are in elevation, will turn to snow and ice. Many people think that hiking in a snowfall is better than when it is raining because its not just waterdrops falling getting you wet. What many forget is that when the snow hits your clothing and the heat you are generating from hiking, it will melt on you. You will still get wet snow hiking. If the snow is accumulating on the ground, it can cause issues for you hiking as you can’t see the trail. When this happens, you could wander off the trail, step on larger rocks and twist your ankle, even walk through water and soak your boots and feet. It is always good to use snow approved hiking boots and hiking poles when hiking in the snow. If you encounter an area where the ice has covered your path, it is always better to find a safe passage around or turn around. Ice isn’t your friend while hiking and can cause serious injury. If you are hiking near or along rocky walls that has ice hanging from them, move away and do not walk under them. Sometimes these massive ice-cycles can grow to 20+ pounds and when they fall, it is like a 20-pound spear coming straight down toward you. So always make sure you check the current weather conditions around your trail and future forecast if you plan to take a few hours.
Bring a friend – We always recommend taking a friend along and not hiking alone no matter the season, but during the winter months, we especially stress not hiking alone. Winter hiking takes so much more energy due to the additional layers of clothing, more supplies, walking through the snow, and because of this, you need someone there to help you. You should also always let someone that isn’t going on the hike know where you are hiking at. This is in case there is an emergency, someone knows where you are and where to look. Too many times hikers run into situations where they are injured or lost and can’t make their way back out of the mountains and no one knows where they were hiking to look for them.
So, get out there and enjoy the trails in this cooler weather and take in some of nature’s beautiful landscapes during the winter months. Make sure to take along a camera because you will see some breathtaking photo opportunities. Safe hiking and see you on the trails!