The first snowfall is a beautiful thing. Trees covered in frosty flakes, your boots walking atop the mounds, glistening white snow banks in the distance. Even though hiking in the winter can be breathtakingly beautiful it’s important to remember specific safety rules if you are going to venture out into the cold.
Never Go Hiking Alone: This safety precaution applies to all season hiking but rings especially true in the winter. Since visibility can often be low during storms or when there is wind it is even more important to have someone with you at all times. Getting lost is a real concern when hiking in the winter. Depending on the amount of snow it can get confusing and difficult to see. In addition, trails can get covered in falling or blowing snow. Having a buddy with you adds to your chances of finding your way home if things become difficult. In addition to having another hiker with you, you should also inform someone that you are going out. Leave an itinerary/hiking map if possible. It’s a smart idea to give them a time you will return. This way if you fail to return they will know they should alert officials.
Wear Proper Attire: Depending on who you ask they will give different advice on how/when to bundle up. Winters hikers disagree on whether to wear numerous layers at the start of your hike and shed them if and when you get too warm or if you should start out with only a few layers and add clothing once you get cold. Regardless of what you choose it’s essential that you have enough layers. Bring extras! Wouldn’t you rather have more than enough than not enough? Not only should you have numerous layers of clothing but you also need to think about protecting your hands, ears, head, feet, and face. Scarves, hats, gloves, earmuffs etc. are great ways to keep yourself warm. Be mindful that if hypothermia does set in it is going to be your nose, fingers, and toes that are affected first. Hypothermia is when your internal body temperature drops below normal. Ensure that you are staying at a safe body temperature by keeping your clothing warm and dry. Wet clothes, especially during the winter months, can be dangerous. Sweating can cause enough moisture that may make your chances of hypothermia increase. If you are sweating too much remove layers and replace with dry ones once you have cooled down.
Bring the Essentials: No matter what season you are out hiking you should always carry the essentials. These items may vary depending on your specific situation. The following items will help you during your outing and are necessary for a variety of scenarios. The American Hiking Society recommends 10 essentials.
- Appropriate Footwear
- Water (plan for at least half a liter of water per hour)
- First Aid Kit
- Sun Protection (sunglasses, hat sunscreen etc.)
- Rain Gear (boots, poncho,waterproof items)
- Safety Items (whistle, flashlight, fire starter etc.)
- Knife or Multi-Tool
- Shelter (tarp, tent, etc.)
Stay Hydrated: As any hiker knows, it’s important to stay hydrated. However, this can be tricky if you are hiking in the cold. You may not feel as thirsty because you are so cold. Even so, you must remain hydrated and continue to drink water. If you are dehydrated your chances of getting hypothermia are even greater. Confusion, slurred speech, and loss of coordination are all signs that hypothermia has set in.
Start Early: If you plan to go out hiking you should remember that in the winter months it gets darker a lot earlier. You will want to be sure you have a headlamp or flashlight regardless. Start your adventure earlier, since it will be light out, to be sure that you have returned home safety before it gets too dark.
Plan Ahead: It may seem like common sense but it is important to plan ahead. Check the weather before heading out. Is a storm headed in? Is there going to be a large amount of snow accumulation over the next several hours? Have you mapped out your route? All of these things can impact your outing and should be taken into account. Having a specific route may not only make it easier to decide if conditions are good for a hike but it can help others find you if needed. Checking the upcoming weather conditions is imperative. You should be aware of what you may be facing during your hike.
Now that you are up to date on the safety precautions while hiking in the winter months I encourage you to bundle up, pack your bags, and head out into the beautiful snowy terrain.