20 tips for safe hiking before you hit the trails this winter

Oct 25 2019, 3:56 pm

This article was written by Taryn Eyton, founder of HappiestOutdoors.ca. Taryn is a hiker and volunteer educator with Leave No Trace Canada. She is passionate about promoting outdoor education to help us all learn to keep the wilderness wild.


Just because winter is here doesn’t mean hiking season is over.

With the right gear and preparation, you can keep hiking through the snow and ice. The chilly temperatures might be challenging, but the blanket of snow makes everything simply beautiful. Here are some tips for making sure your winter hike is safe, warm, and fun.

Choose an easy trail

Snowy and icy conditions are more difficult than summer hiking since you slide around. Pick an easier trail than normal seeing as winter hikes often take longer than summer ones.

Leave a trip plan

Make sure you tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. That way if you get lost or injured, search and rescue will know where to look. Adventure Smart has a great online trip planning tool and an app, too.

 

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Check the weather forecast

Know how cold it’s going to be and if it’s going to snow, and dress accordingly. Don’t forget to check the wind as well — wind chill is no joke.

Be Avalanche Aware

If you’re headed to the mountains, check the avalanche forecast on avalanche.ca. If you don’t have avalanche training, it’s best to stay out of the mountains in winter.

Prepare for an emergency

Carry a first aid kit just in case. A foil emergency blanket is also great and folds up super small in your backpack.

 

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Bring a friend

There’s safety in numbers, so going with a #squad is always a good idea. Plus, breaking trail through the snow is hard work. When you hike in a group, you can take turns going first.

Hit the trail early

Plan to be at the trailhead around first light to give yourself lots of time to complete your hike, because the sun goes down early in the winter and you don’t want to be caught out in the dark.

Pack a headlamp or flashlight

You might not plan to stay out after dark, but if you do, at least you’ll be able to see where you’re going.

Wear layers

Bundle up in warm clothing to beat the winter chill. Make sure you use a layered approach so you can take things off if you get too sweaty and put layers back on when you’ve cooled off. Choose synthetic or wool clothing since it will keep you warm even if it gets wet. Cotton soaks up moisture, making it a bad choice for hiking.

 

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Bring hand warmers

Chilly hands are the worst! Tuck hand warmers inside your gloves or stow them in your pockets for instant warmth.

Keep your feet warm and dry

Wear waterproof boots and cozy socks to protect your feet from the cold and wet. Layer gaiters over top to keep snow from sliding into your boots.

Wear snowshoes or traction devices

If the snow is deep, bring snowshoes — they’ll keep you from sinking in. However, if it’s icy, snowshoes won’t help much. Instead, pack a pair of traction devices. They have spikes on the bottom for grip and will slip on over your boots.

Use hiking poles

It’s much easier to fall down on slippery winter trails. I like to use hiking poles to help me keep my balance when snowshoeing or winter hiking.

 

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Pack snacks

Everything is better with snacks, though you should choose your winter hiking snacks wisely. Pick things you can eat on the go and won’t freeze right away. Or just keep your snacks in your pocket to keep them warm.

Stay hydrated

You might be tempted to drink less when it’s cold, but that will just leave you feeling dehydrated and terrible. Bring an insulated bottle to keep your water from freezing, or pack a thermos of hot chocolate.

Protect yourself from the sun

When it reflects off the snow, the sun can be blinding… literally. Bring sunglasses, a hat, and some sunscreen to shield yourself from harsh solar rays.

Keep your electronics warm

It’s devastating to arrive at a viewpoint and find your camera batteries have died. It’s even worse to realize you need to call for help but your phone is dead. The cold kills batteries. Keep anything with batteries in an inside pocket to retain warmth.

Don’t feed the animals

Grey jays and squirrels are super cute when they beg for food… but your human food is actually quite bad for their health and feeding them makes them forget how to find natural food on their own. Plus, if you stay still, they’ll pose for photos even without treats.

 

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Pack it in, pack it out

Bring a trash bag to take all your garbage home with you. This includes biodegradable things like apple cores and banana peels. They won’t actually decompose until summer and, until then, they are just ugly trash (and bad for animals for reasons listed above).

Share the trail

Winter hiking and snowshoeing are getting more popular, which is awesome. But make sure everyone has a great time by moving off the trail to take breaks or to let faster hikers pass. If you’re also sharing the trail with skiers, don’t walk in the ski tracks.