Winter Hiking Tips

  • Daylight hours are short in the winter and the sun goes down quickly. Begin your trip early in the day and be prepared with a headlamp and extra batteries. Lithium batteries are more reliable in cold weather than alkaline ones.
  • Bring food and water. Remember that during a winter hike your body burns more calories and requires more nourishment and water than it might during a summer hike. Bring plenty of food and plan on stopping frequently and replenishing your energy by eating moderately sized snacks. You need to fuel your body for the activity at hand, but also so that it can generate the heat needed to stay warm.
  • Eating snow is an extremely inefficient way to get water into your system. Bring water and keep it from freezing. This might mean keeping your water bottle inside your coat. Storing water upside down can help too. Water freezes in a bottle from the top down, and if you carry the bottle upside down, it is actually the bottom where the water freezes, not the mouth of the bottle.
  • Dress in layers. While you are hiking add and remove clothes to minimize sweating. Take off while hiking to avoid overheating and put them back on when you stop to keep from getting chilled.
  • Avoid cotton when choosing your clothes. When cotton gets wet, it takes a long time to dry. Wet cotton also freezes quickly and (whether it is sweat or simply moisture from snow or rain) becomes useless almost immediately for the hike.
  • What should you have with you when hiking? Synthetic underwear, like polypropylene, is a great invention, in all its newest forms. "Wicking" pants and tops work well. Always have a hat and gloves. Dry socks can prevent frostbitten toes, and are a good idea even for a day hike. Down coats and vests are the best - if you can keep them dry. Extra dry layers are worth the weight if something inadvertently gets wet.
  • Deep snow, clouds, and blowing snow may obscure trail blazing or trail markers. Topographical maps, a compass, and knowledge of how to use them is essential. Do not rely on a GPS.
  • Use snowshoes. Post-holing (leg falling down into the snow) is tiring and makes the trail unpleasant and dangerous for the next hiker.
  • Donít glissade (butt slide) down the trail. It makes it harder, icier, and more dangerous for hikers after you. It can also be hard to stop when you need to.
  • Snow fills in holes and gaps between rocks, but can also hide those things and more. Large patches of ice can be just under a thin fresh layer of snow.
  • Microspikes, crampons, or other traction aids can help greatly on ice. If the trail is too slick, turn back and come back during better conditions. Coming back again is better than getting hurt in unsafe conditions.
  • If you are not an experienced winter hiker, make your initial trips day hikes in areas that you are familiar with. Go on trips with experienced winter hikers who are familiar with the area and local conditions. Staying on more popular trails is also a good idea.
  • Hiking in groups is a better idea this time of year. Collective decisions can be safer decisions. Never continue though if anyone in the group is not comfortable with the conditions. In poor visibility, a larger group can cover more area to find the trail and markers without getting out of sight of each other.
  • Stay alert for the signs of hypothermia, frostbite or trench foot. Know the signs and symptoms and how to treat them before you set out. Take a Wilderness First Aid class to prepare you better.