Many people limit their outdoor activities in the winter to the likes of ice skating, skiing, snowshoeing and snowboarding. But, as far as hiking is concerned, a lot of people are content to pack up the boots and retire the backpacks until the snow melts. However, there is still plenty of appeal to winter hiking. For one, crowds are much more sparse, making it much easier to appreciate the environment around you and feel like you’ve truly “gotten away.” And two, there’s something magical and serene about hiking on a trail after a fresh snowfall. As long as you know how to go about being safe in the colder climate, hiking in the winter can be arguably just as enjoyable as any other season.
Looking out for your safety and the safety of those with you is always a number one priority when it comes to hiking, and even moreso in the winter time. And one of the primary ways to do that is by having proper equipment. Adapting to winter conditions while hiking requires a whole new repertoire. For one, dressing appropriately is more important than ever. Layers are key, and many advise the following: a base layer to wick moisture off your body and prevent evaporative cooling, thus keeping you dry, fleece for insulation and preservation of body heat, and an outer shell that shields you from elements such as wind, rain and (since you’ll be hiking in the winter) likely snow. Remember, this isn’t a stroll down the sidewalk. A simple winter coat may not be enough during the prolonged exposure. It may be meant as a fun excursion, but the need for protecting yourself from the elements during a winter hike is still very real. It is also recommended you familiarize yourself with crampons and how to put them on, along with the more critical supplies such as a First Aid kit, compass, trail map, hiking poles, a multitool or pocket knife, and sources of both heat and light. Emergency equipment such as heavy sleeping bags or bivy sacks are certainly not the worst idea either, should you be forced to spend an unexpected night outside. Account also for some source of hydration. Becoming dehydrated even in the cold is a surprisingly common concern. Recommend packing a thermos or portable stove to heat water.
If you are starting out in the world of winter hiking, be reasonable with your limits. Even experienced summer hikers may find winter hiking to be a whole other animal. Trudging through a snow-laden path that is several miles long is not the same as walking that same path on a clear, summer morning, so be encouraged to plan for a shorter trip to acclimate yourself. It is also important to account for the shorter period of sunlight, so starting early in the morning is advisable as well. And as always, traveling in a group is much safer than traveling alone, especially if the worst should happen while you’re out. A lack of crowds does make winter hiking more appealing, but being completely alone can still be very dangerous. Even better if someone you are with is an experienced winter hiker in their own right.
Last but certainly not least, be prepared. Not just physically with your supplies and gear. Be prepared for what is to come. Check weather conditions before setting out, gain insight on the trail itself if you are able. Because of the drastic change in weather conditions between summer and winter, there are many more factors to account for. Beyond it just being colder, the threat of avalanches and whiteout conditions are real possibilities. Fortune also does not necessarily favor the bold. If conditions worsen while you are out, do not hesitate to turn around and head back to the trail head as soon as you can. The mountain and the trails will still be there even after inclement weather. There is no need to take such risks.