Hiking doesn't have to be a "fair weather" activity. In fact, some of my favorite weather for hiking is in winter, with or without the snow (though, to be honest, I prefer with snow)! Hiking in winter is very different from hiking in ideal weather and does deserve special considerations. Use these 5 tips to help make your next winter hiking trip the best it can be!
Keep Cell Phone Charged
No one plans to get into trouble when hiking but, in the event of an emergency, it's always good to carry your cell phone with you to call for help. More importantly, make sure your phone is adequately charged before you set off on your hike. You may need to make multiple calls to guide first responders to your location, use your phone equipped flashlight if it gets dark, or research whether the mushrooms you've been eating are the safe to eat kind. These things would not be your typical battery use so thinking that 15% battery would hold out through the hike might be a little presumptuous if you find yourself in an emergency situation. Better to be safe rather than sorry and get charge your phone!
Let Someone Know Where You're Going
OK, you have your phone charged to 100%. Everything is good now, right? No! If you're like me, there might be some places you would think would have service but, once you get out there deep into the trail, you find out otherwise. Wouldn't you know it, that just happens to be where you find yourself in an emergency situation and need help. Wouldn't it be nice if you filed a plan with someone you know? Providing details about where you are going, how long you'll be there, and when you'll be back can mean all the difference between "just in time" and "too little too late". If the trail you are taking is regularly and heavily trafficked, you probably won't need to worry your loved ones with the details of the hike, just in case... However, you should certainly do so if you are planning to hike a little known, very remote trail especially if it's known to give hikers trouble. Be smart and let someone know what's going on so they can have your back if you don't come back in time.
Come Prepared With Food And Water
You're probably thinking, "It's winter, why would I need water? It's not hot and often cloudy so what's the point?" The point is that, even if you can't feel it, you are still losing hydration. The humidity in winter is often really low to the point that you wouldn't feel sweat even if you did sweat. The wind, should there be any, can cause your skin to dry and crack as well if not properly hydrated. Let's face it, wind burn is no fun to deal with and staying hydrated can help!
So what about food? Chances are it's cold! It is winter after all... You're going to be burning extra calories staying warm on top of the calories you are already burning on your hike. You may not know when hunger is going to strike but with the extra calorie burn, if you're not prepared, it'll hit hard. If you aren't close enough to the end of your hike, you might be crawling back with some pretty intense hunger pains. Remember, you don't have to bring yourself a full meal, just a little energy boost to help get you to the finish!
Dress Appropriately With Proper Clothing & Shoes
If you're like me, you probably have that one friend that refuses to wear anything other than shorts all year round. Don't be like that friend. Dress warm as you don't know what the weather is going to be like along every point of the hike. You might be fine out of the wind but if you find yourself in the open, that manageable 40°F will start to feel like an unbearable 25°F with the wind chill. If you didn't bring any extra food to help keep you burning calories to stay warm, you could be in for a very miserable experience. Not to mention, exposed skin could become wind burned if not frostbitten. Take care of yourself and dress in warm layers if needed.
The same goes for your footwear. Bring shoes with appropriate tread and ankle support as the, likely, rocky trail may have snow or ice cover in parts. You can probably already guess how awful it would be to limp your way off the rest of the trail, however far it might be.
Bring a Trail Map or a GPS
If you know the trail or area you're hiking through, great, no problem! If the trail or area is new or unfamiliar, you should bring a trail map with you if nothing else. You will especially want to bring a map with you if the trail is covered with an untouched layer of snow. This can make it hard or impossible to see the actual trail and more likely you will find yourself off course. If they trail doesn't offer maps at the trailhead or local park office, bring a handheld GPS if you have one! You can set a waypoint at the trail head and enable the GPS to track your progress so you can gauge your progress and see whether you are tracking off course.