Winter has come and you are not wanting to slow down on your hiking adventures. Most people normally stop when snow comes, but you are not most people. You want to face the snow and keep seeing the beautiful sites that hiking can provide.
Winter hiking can be some of the most enjoyable hiking around; there are less people on the trail, the snow changes up the sights to see, and it is a whole different ball game for walking, packing, and preventing the worst-case-scenario.
By properly planning for the trip and preventing the worst from happening during, you will be able to thoroughly enjoy winter hiking while everyone else is dreaming of the summer hikes.
Planning for the trip:
In winter camping, planning for a trip is even more important than normal hiking during the spring or summer. The risk involved with avalanche, cold, and being wet dramatically increases the chances of the worst case scenario from happening. Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning for a winter hike:
Pre-trip Planning to Hike in the Cold:
In addition to the usual hiking best practices, winter hiking brings along a whole new set of prepping such as:
Never hike alone; always bring someone who is knowledgeable with hiking in winter conditions
Understand how to read and identify avalanche areas
Study the geography and maps for the hike to know potentially dangerous areas
Packing Clothes for the Cold:
When packing for the winter, an easy guide to stick to is the 3-layer rule:
Base layer: A moisture wicking undergarment or something of the sort
Middle layer: A heavier duty jacket, vest that focuses on insulating your body warmth
Top layer: A rain jacket or soft shell jacket that is waterproof
In addition to the top layer of clothes, wear waterproof boots and/or snowshoes and pants. These will be in contact with snow the majority of the time and if you get wet through them, it will severely ruin your trip. A few other items (more optional, depending on the weather) are a face mask, hat, gloves, gaiters, and goggles.
Packing for Emergencies:
Each hiker varies in the amount of emergency gear that they pack, but the basics should include the following:
Ice axe / snow saw (Recommendation: Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe)
Beacon (Recommendation: Backcountry Access Tracker2 Avalanche Beacon)
Shovel (Recommendation: Military Folding Shovel)
Extra food (Recommendation: Any Mountain House)
The general principle for this should be that, if you are lost or stuck that you will be able to provide nourishment for yourself, so carry plenty of water, protect your body, and notify someone of your location.
During the Trip:
Trekking Through the Cold:
There are multiple ways to travel in the snow and it depends on what method you want (e.g. snowshoeing, skiing, etc.). Based on that decision, you will be able to buy the necessary equipment to travel properly. Whatever you choose, poles, crampons, and an ice axe will be essentials to making your traveling more enjoyable.
Sleeping in the Cold:
When it comes to sleeping in the cold, you must ask yourself basic questions that deal with protection from the wind and if you are safe from potential avalanches. After you have answered these questions with your safety in mind, then you can consider the type of sleeping arrangement you want (e.g. igloo, snow cave, etc.).
Preventing Illness in the Cold:
It is important to know when you are getting close to the worst-case-scenario. By knowing the symptoms of sickness or potentially, life threatening issues, you will be able to quickly prevent them and save yourself and others who are around you.
Winter camping is entirely different than summer or spring camping. With the added dangers of being cold and avalanches, your preparation for the trip will dramatically increase in importance.
By packing the setting up the right parameters prior to hiking, right clothes during the hike, and planning for emergencies, you will be able to enjoy the beautiful scenery during the winter. Furthermore, deciding how you want to travel and sleep in the snow and preventing potential illnesses that often come from being cold, you can continue to hike in whatever season life throws your way.
Winter hiking creates ample opportunities to see nature in a different light. Don’t let the fear of the unknown hold you back from more adventures. Do your research and take those adventures that most people pass on.