These Winter Hiking Safety Tips Could Literally Save Your Life

While hiking in the summer is a great way to escape and perhaps beat the heat with elevation, winter offers stunning views. Seasonal affective disorder may be rearing its head, so hiking is also a way to get outdoors and get some endorphins pumping. However, taking a trip to nearby mountains, no matter how high the elevation may be, needs a different set of preparations than the more temperate months.

These considerations are not meant to discourage anyone from getting out there and enjoying their own winter wonderland. However, staying smart and knowing your own limitations is key in enjoying the powdery peaks this time of year. Here are a few basic guidelines to get you started, but be sure to check out the specific guidelines and precautions for the region you’re interested in, such as these helpful tips about the Smoky Mountains.

Start small.

Depending on where you live, you may have been hiking in heavy snow and ice for a large portion of your life. However, even if you hike religiously in the summer, you should go easy on yourself for your first winter hike. Keeping it shorter than a typical summer day hike will limit your risk for any emergencies or health problems. This also gives you a chance to feel out what you will need on a longer hike or camping trip that may not be listed on a gear list. These are great places to start, but knowing yourself and how you react to these conditions is important.

Know your layers and gear.

While in summer it may feel like all you want to do is strip down to the bear essentials, hiking safety in the winter calls for a strategic plans when it comes to layers. It’s important to have a base layer, which is the layer closest to the skin, to wick away moisture. The best fabrics for these are wool or synthetics, not cotton. In particularly chilly temperatures, a medium weight base layer can be worn under a thicker option for added warmth.

After the base layer is the middle layer. This is the predominant layer for insulation. A down alternative jacket or microfleece is a great option. On top of the middle layer is the outer layer. This should be a waterproof and/or windproof layer with ventilation so that moisture doesnít get trapped inside. To learn more about layering, check out REIís comprehensive guide to each item.

Your boots also need special consideration during inclement winter weather. Not only will you be trekking through snow, but you will likely encounter ice as well. If it’s just cold and without precipitation, you might be able to get away with layering warm socks with regular hiking boots. However, snow boots are highly recommended for anything more intense.

Donít go alone and be sure others know your location.

Itís important to have company that can lend their skills to the hike as well as an extra pair of hands to help anyone who is struggling. With the added risk of hypothermia at play, having a few friends along lessens the chance that you could be stranded. Having someone who has done the hike before in the group is particularly helpful. †If youíre camping, this also adds warmth in the sleeping quarters should you need it.

Furthermore, it’s important you tell someone who is not on the hike your plans. Telling an emergency contact what trail you’ll be on, what time you plan on departing and returning and the members of the hiking group, is extremely valuable in a crisis scenario.

Have an emergency plan.

First of all, bring more food and supplies than you think are necessary. Your group could get stuck somewhere because of weather conditions and those supplies will become invaluable. If there are alternate routes, be sure to know those as well as your intended route so you may be able to get back another way. Having extra cash on hand in case of an emergency is always a good idea as well. Lastly, be sure to know the locations of the closest medical or search and rescue services

Check the routes and weather online.

While this may be an intuitive move at this point, there are certain routes and conditions that are more favorable in the winter. The parks you want to visit will have important closure information on their website. I also recommend following the park you are planning on hiking on social media as this will give you the most current information regarding conditions. You should never attempt to hike a trail that’s closed, no matter your skill level.

There are also routes that may be at an increased risk for avalanches during heavy snowfall. Another consideration is that trails are going to be less visible in the snow as most of the ground will be covered and look alike. You should know landmarks and trail blazes very well before attempting to hike a long hike. This is another instance when talking to someone who has done the hike before or having them in your group is important. All in all, there is no such thing as being too prepared when it comes to going out in winter conditions.

Know the warning signs.

Should things not go as planned, it’s important to know the warning signs for hypothermia. According to the Mayo Clinic, hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat. The first noticeable symptom is shivering; but beyond that be sure to keep a look out for confusion, clumsiness, nausea, fatigue, faster breathing, trouble speaking, a weak pulse and lack of concern about oneís condition.

If someone is exhibiting these symptoms, getting him or her inside and under medical treatment as quickly as possible is your best bet. In the meantime, if you need to move the person into temporary shelter, do so gently as sudden or jerky movements are dangerous with an irregular heartbeat. Shielding the person from the cold and wind is important until he or she can be moved inside. Getting as many layers of dry clothing on the person is also important. Skin to skin contact is also a method for heating someone back up. Removing clothing and getting into a sleeping bag with blankets and clothing on top is a start. Just remember that no direct heat such as hot water should be used as this could cause the suffererís heart to stop.

While many of these safety tips rely on common sense, it’s easy to get over-eager and excited. Knowing your limits and being prepared for any situation will make your winter hiking experience both enjoyable and safe.

45 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Robin R.
Past Member 1 years ago

Just saying thanks wouldn’t just be enough, for the fantastic fluency in your writing. Health

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Janis K.
Janis K1 years ago

Thanks for sharing

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sandra vito
Sandra Vito1 years ago

Gracias

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Teresa W.
Teresa W1 years ago

thank you

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Tiffany Schreiner

thx!

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Winn Adams
Winn A1 years ago

I'll wait for warmer temps.

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Winn Adams
Winn A1 years ago

Thanks

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Kathryn Irby
Past Member 1 years ago

Thanks for the great tips!

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Anne Moran
Anne M1 years ago

Why hike in the winter, when it's freezing out,, and everything is slippery and dangerous ?? - I don't get it...

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