Just because it’s winter, doesn’t mean that hiking season is over! Spending time outdoors have been found to have incredible positive effects on both our bodies and minds, so why should we give that up in winter?
Walking on top of a blanket of snow, viewing frozen rivers and waterfalls, spotting wildlife foot print trails can actually be a memorable experience.
In colder temperatures though you need to take some extra precaution measures and be prepared for the harsh weather conditions.
But don’t you worry! With the right gear and information, you can keep hiking through snow and ice.
Here are my 12 top tips based on personal experience.
- First and foremost never hike alone in winter. Not only is it more fun to share the adventure with others, but it’s also safer to be with a group. If your friend is an expert/passionate hikers even better – as they can give you some tips and most probably will have a pair of extra gloves, sunglasses, emergency tools that you can borrow! Also leave the trip or itinerary to a a friend who is staying at home with the time you are supposed to come back by.
- Check the weather forecast, wind speed and avalanches report. Don’t hesitate to postpone your trip if the condition don’t look favourable “The mountains have been here for a long time, and they’ll be here for a long time still.”
- Leave early. Daylight hours are shorter in winter and visibility can be compromised by snow blowing in your face. Be aware and prepare of this and choose your itinerary accordingly.
- Start small. If you are used to do a 12 K walk or more in the summer easily, it might not be the case in winter. Pick a shorter distance that what you are used to and start with a place that you are familiar with.
- Dress in layers and pick breathable insulated synthetic material or wool over cotton, which absorbs moisture. Also beware of hypothermia: sweating is dangerous in cold temperature so better to start feeling slightly cold and then eventually add layers later on if it gets worse. Be prepared to carry extra dry clothes in your backpack, especially knee-high socks! Hat and gloves are mandatory.
- Wear proper water proof footwear. I personally love my Merrell boots with Goretex fabric and anti-slip vibrum soles. Invest in some snow shoes if you know you are gonna walk in deep snow and crampons for when the trail is icy. Also learn how to use them and wear them properly ahead of your walk. It’s not as obvious as it might seem and you could strain your ankles.
- Use trekking poles for balance. They’ll help – especially on the way down – to lower the impact on your knees.
- Carry safety gear, such as a trail map (don’t rely on technology to work), a compass, a multitool, hand warmers, a foil emergency blanket, a headlamp, a probe and a portable shovel.
- Eat and drink frequently. Dehydration is very common as well as dangerous during winter hikes. It can be a good idea to enhance hydration by dissolving electrolytes in your water or eating food rich in Sodium and Potassium such as bananas, citrus fruits, lemonade, orange juice, tomato juice. It can be a good idea to also carry a thermos with herbal teas or cocoa. Avoid caffeine and alcohol because they enhance dehydration. You can assess you level of hydration by looking at the colour of your urine (is it dark or pale yellow?), heart rate level 9 a higher frequency normally indicates you aren’t drinking enough), excessive fatigue, dizziness.
- Protect yourself from the sun. Consider that the white blanket of the snow reflects the UV rays of the sun, so even if you’re not in direct sunlight remember to top up your SPF and to wear wrap around sun glasses.
- Be prepared to turn around if you run into conditions that look dangerous. Reaching the summit of a peak is just half of the journey. You must have time and energy left to descend. Focus on the entire trip, not only on the ascent.
- Treat yourself to a good meal! Snowshoeing can burn up to 1,000 kcal per hour, so indulge and refuel in some hearty warm meal once you make it back down.