Before going on a winter hike, which may be a new adventure for some of you, it is important to be equipped with the best knowledge!
Never go alone
If it’s your first time hiking in winter, choose a hike which you are familiar with or, even better, join a group with an experienced guide!
Additionally, if it’s your first time going for a hike in winter, you will definitely want someone to guide you along the way. There is greater safety in numbers, someone will always be looking out for you. Going in a group will also mean there will be shared memories created to remember for a lifetime.
The clothes you choose to wear will make or break your day! So effectively layer up to ensure you are warm at all times. Wool or synthetics are going to be your best friends for your base layers! Fleece jackets will be the ideal mid-layers and a waterproof and breathable outer layer will protect you from bad weather. If you think you are going to need an additional layers to give you more insulation, you can get a lightweight vest to wear in between your mid- and outer layer!
Do not forget about your legs! Layering for your legs has 3 steps as well. You need a base-layers, which are essentially thermals, followed by synthetic trousers and a waterproof over trousers to protect you from the weather.
Be very wary about frostbite as it is a danger in sub-zero temperatures and will most likely affect your tips—fingers, toes, face. So covering them is extremely vital. You might want to consider getting a balaclava to keep your head, neck and ears warm during your hike.
Don't forget your feet!
How you dress your feet for hiking in the summer is completely different for the winter! Your lightweight summer hiking shoes are not going to make the cut. You need to change your hiking boots for ones with a sturdier sole and those which are designed for tougher conditions.
Do not forget about socks as well! Merino wool would be the ideal chose as it will keep your feet extremely warm. Always make sure you have sufficient room for your feet in your hiking shoes to allow your toes to have enough room to wiggle around.
A week prior to your trip, you should keep an eye on the weather trends at your destination and continuously check what the predicted weather will be for the next 48 hours. By knowing the conditions of your destination, you can properly estimate what are the types of clothes you will need to bring along and you can prepare efficiently for your hike. Always prioritize your safety!
If the predicted weather conditions doesn’t allow you to complete a hike you have been preparing for, shorten your hike and make plans to head back to safety if you are not confident to go ahead with the entire hike.
Start early & finish early
The number of sunlight hours during winter is limited so you should plan to start your hike when the sun is rising. By starting early, you can maximize the number of hours of sunlight during the day.
Especially since the sun sets in the afternoons, you need to be realistic about what you can achieve in the day as you are going to face natural barriers such as snow, ice and even the wind!
Be wary of natural hazards
During your hike, you will come into contact with snow, frozen rivers, ice and even overhangs. It is extremely important that you keep a lookout for hazards in your environments. It is recommended that you purchase hiking poles for your winter hike! This will help you clear obstacles along the way such as deadfall, and even test if there’s ice below snow to ensure you don’t end up in a dangerous position!
Snack 'n go!
During hikes, it is recommended that you bring snacks or finger food that you can eat as you go. Especially during the winter, where the days are short, you have to efficiently utilize the time you have to complete the hike! Try to bring granola bars, fruits or peanut butter that will give you the necessary energy that you need during the hike.
Bring a thermos flask
Yes! A thermos flask for a snow hiking session. You definitely will need you keep your drinks warm, or not, your drinks will easily get cold and maybe even freeze while you hike! Bring along hot tea while hiking in the cold to give you warmth while you hike. Of course, you can choose what your favorite hot drink is! Alternatively, if you don't have a thermos flask, you can opt to purchase sleeves for your bottles to keep your drink warm!
Hike with the sun
In the summer, you will do everything you can to stay out of the sun. This is not the case during snow hikes! The sun is going to provide you warmth during your hike, so you don't need to layer as much during the day. Of course, the weather can change its course anytime of the day so you should be prepared for winds and snow fall. You may hate the sun now, but it's going to be your best friend during winter hikes! :)
Have basic knowledge about hypothermia
Hypothermia occurs when you body's temperature falls to a level where normal muscular and cerebral functions are affected, and sometimes even impaired. Hypothermia can affect you ability to think and evacuate quickly to safety. Before you go winter hiking, it’s important that you know what the warning signs are and able to recognize if you or your friend start showing signs of possible hypothermia.
Conditions that can lead to hypothermia
- Cold temperatures
- Improper clothing and equipment for changing weather conditions
- Fatigue, exhaustion, dehydration, inadequate food intake
- Alcohol intake also expands your blood vessels which can lead to increased heat loss
Symptoms of hypothermia
- Uncontrollable or violent shivering
- Slurred speech or inability to communicate
- Fumbling or lethargy