Significantly less people hike in the winter months. It is cold, windy, and the deep snow creates harder hiking conditions. However, the mountains and views are absolutely stunning and it is worth seeking these views out. Here are a few hiking tips for winter conditions.
A lightweight survival kit can be a huge lifesaver, or just provide some comfort in certain situations. I bring a trash bag, duct tape, GPS, whistle, multi-tool, titanium cup, signal mirror, water filter, first aid kit (with a SAM splint, and ace bandage), matches, mylar emergency blanket, and rope. Recently, I was hiking and had to create a pair of improvised gaiters for someone who did not have them and was getting snow in their hiking boots. I cut off the corners of the trash bag, and duct taped them to their ankles and shows. It did not look pretty, but it worked in preventing a cold injury. ALL of the gear you bring is your survival kit!
Wear a wool lightweight long sleeve shirt, and bring a few insulating layers. I bring a wool hoody, a windbreaker, a synthetic hooded puffy jacket, and a thick down jacket. Your trash bag can always be used as an improvised rain and wind barrier but a rain jacket (make sure its big enough to fit over all your layers) is a better choice to always bring.
This sounds counter-intuitive, but start your hike feeling a little cold, and wearing your base layer. This way you will not sweat right away, and you will warm up quicker than you think as you hike. This prevents an unnecessary break 5 minutes into your hike to take your layers off.
Protect Your Feet-
A bigger sized hiking boot with a thin liner sock and a thick wool winter sock over it works wonders. A pair of gaiters is a huge game changer with winter hiking as they will prevent snow from entering into your boots. Bring an extra sock system with you in your pack and change them halfway on your hike to keep your feet dry from sweat. MICROSPIKES are a very necessary piece of gear for winter travel. The trails are icy and these are very important to make sure you wear on your feet!
Put A Layer On-
As soon as you stop for a break, put an insulating layer on to keep your heat. Don't wait until you are cold to layer up.
Gear is great, but can also slow you down. Figuring out the exact kit for you can take time when figuring out how much food, water, layers, and other gear will work. There is a fine line between being unprepared, and having the lightest pack possible. Your ability to move is one of the biggest factors of success on winter hikes.
If you bring water bottles, store them upside down to prevent the caps from freezing. If you bring a hydration bladder, blow air into it when you are done drinking to clear the tube of water which can freeze. Tuck the mouth piece in your shirt to keep it from freezing. Although your water will be cold, drink! Its easy to get dehydrated during winter as drinking cold water when you are cold isn't the most pleasant experience.
Avoid Summit Fever-
When I hike, I ask the question "Am I okay to keep going?" If the answer isn't 110% "YES" then it qualifies for a turn around, no matter how close or far we are from our goal. My goal is getting everyone back to the trailhead in one piece. Reaching the summit is a secondary goal.
Sunglasses don't fully wrap around your head or create an insulative barrier for the top half of your face. Snow goggles provide sun, wind, and cold protection. Make sure you bring a face mask or balaclava too so you can completely cover your face.
This post only provided a few tips to get you thinking about your next winter hike. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact OEWS. If you want to build skills and confidence, consider taking a SURVIVAL CLASS with Owl Eyes Wilderness Survival. These classes are 6 hours and are completely outdoors around a fire during the cold months. They are meant to set you up with tons of outdoor skills to prep you for your outdoor adventures!
Thanks for reading!
Tim Swanson, Founder of Owl Eyes Wilderness Survival