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6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Winter Hiking Adventure

Winter hiking poses some unique challenges but is also arguably one of the most beautiful and exhilarating times to get out and enjoy the outdoors. While hiking in winter weather does increase your level of risk, this article will help you mitigate that risk so a little winter flurry doesn’t put a stop to your outdoor adventures. 

winter hiking survival tips outdoor adventure

1. Check the Weather

Understand exactly what you are getting yourself into before you head out for the day. Winter hiking can be dangerous. Excessive wind chills and damp weather can rapidly rob your body of heat and put you at an increased risk for hypothermia and frostbite.  In mountain regions also check local avalanche reports. Heavy snowfall and blizzard conditions put you at risk of being caught in a “white-out,” making navigation difficult or even impossible. 

Consider bringing a transistor radio to keep updated on current weather conditions if you’ll be camping and hiking over a series of days. You will then be able to make adjustments in choosing and setting up your campsites safely. 

Finally, keep in mind that weather conditions will change as you hike. If you are hiking up or down different elevation levels the temperature will change. Different types of terrain may create wind tunnels. Mountain regions can have dramatic weather condition changes based on the landscape. Familiarize yourself with the region you plan to hike so that you aren’t taken by surprise by the weather. 

mountain weather winter hiking preparation prepare

2. Think Like an Onion - Layer Up!

Hiking in winter weather can be much more strenuous than hiking in more ambient temperatures. Your body will also warm up while hiking and then quickly cool down when you take a break for water and snacks. Think like an onion when choosing your winter hiking outfit, dress with lots of layers!

When choosing what to wear keep in mind that your clothes must:

  • Wick moisture, including your sweat, away from your skin to keep you dry and warm. 
  • Protect you from any weather you may encounter. Waterproof for moisture, insulating for high winds.
  • Comfortable and easy to remove and replace layers as your body warms up and cools down throughout your hike. 

Be sure to keep your ears warm with a hat and your hands warm with gloves. You can also bring along some hand warmers and toe warmers to keep your hands and feet warm. Remember, extremities like ears, nose, hands, and toes are the most susceptible to frostbite so be extra mindful of keeping those areas warm. Thick insulated wool socks will keep your feet warm and have natural wicking properties. 

For any areas that you don’t have covered up, cover with sunscreen! Snow and ice will reflect UV rays onto your face and increase your risk of sunburn. You can also consider wearing sunglasses or snow goggles. 

3. Grab Specialized Winter Hiking Gear

Deep snow and ice can call for some specialized hiking equipment such as winter hiking boots, snowshoes, microspikes, or crampons. Each piece of equipment is optimized for a different type of hiking trail and different weather conditions. 

Hiking gaiters can also keep snow and ice from slipping into your shoes and melting. 

Winter Hiking Boot Considerations: 

  • Temperature rating for insulation (-40 F is preferred)
  • Good traction
  • Reinforced toe cap
  • Compatibility with snowshoe, microspike, or crampon bindings depending on what you expect to use

Snowshoe Considerations: 

  • Best for deep powdered snow
  • Snowshoes vary based on the width of the snowshoe. The more surface area the shoe has the better it will “float” above the snow. 
  • Snowshoes have built-in crampons, but the number and size of the crampons will vary based on the shoe. 
  • Be sure the attachment method is compatible with the hiking shoe you will be wearing. 

Microspike Considerations: 

  • Teeth-like spikes dig into the snow and ice to give you increased traction on icy surfaces. 
  • Greet for added traction on both smooth surfaces and uneven trails. 
  • Be sure the attachment method is compatible with the hiking shoe you will be wearing. 

Crampon Considerations: 

  • Used almost exclusively for mountaineering.
  • Very aggressive spike system meant to help you surmount steep icy vertical cliffs.
  • Be sure the attachment method is compatible with the hiking shoe you will be wearing. 

Most of this equipment takes some getting used to so be sure to practice in a safe environment before taking off on a long hike. You may exhaust yourself and put yourself in danger if you aren’t familiar with the equipment you are using. Having an experienced friend along can help you understand when it may be best to use specialized equipment and when you can take it off to conserve energy. 

winter hiking gear shoes equipment

4. Understand When and How to Safely Take Shelter

Despite our best efforts, emergencies can often develop unexpectedly. If you find yourself caught in a white-out despite no forecast of this weather condition, understand how to shelter in place until weather conditions improve and you can safely navigate again. This may even mean sheltering in place for the night. Understand how to build an emergency shelter and conserve body heat in extreme situations.

5. What to Bring - Emergency Supplies

Quick Checklist

  1. Snacks. Winter-time hiking results in your body expending twice as much energy in both physical exertion as well as in maintaining body temperature. Eat plenty of complex carbs, protein, sugar, and salt to give your body the fuel it needs to safely complete your hike. Eat plenty of high-calorie snacks throughout your hike. 
  2. Hydrate. The rule of thumb, drink a minimum of one liter of water for every two miles hiked.  
  3. First aid kit. Consider taking a closer look at your normal emergency first aid kit and add supplies specific to a winter-time kit. Consider adding mylar emergency ponchos, hand and feet warmers, or other equipment to help regulate body temperature. You should consider bringing sunscreen and aloe vera to protect your skin. Petroleum jelly also works as a great barrier for wind and chapped skin. 

6. Bring Along a Fellow Winter Hiking Enthusiast

Consider hiking with a friend. Having an experienced friend along with you on your hike can help mitigate the risk of extreme weather hiking. You can watch out for any danger signs of hypothermia or assist in the case of a minor injury such as a slip on the ice. 

If you prefer to take solo hikes be sure to tell a loved one which area you plan on hiking and give them a reasonable check-in time. 

winter hiking with friends safety

Conclusion

Winter hiking is not as easy as hiking during the other three seasons and poses significant risks. However, each of these risks can be managed. Stay safe, stay prepared, and enjoy the winter season. 

What are some tips you use to make winter hiking better? Please share your thoughts in the comment section down below or tag us @Prepared4X on Instagram or Facebook. We look forward to hearing from you. 

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