Hiking in the Snow: Safety Tips and Tricks
Winter hiking can be a captivating experience, especially with the serene quiet that descends when snow cloaks a forest. However, it's crucial to bear in mind that venturing into the outdoors in winter means leaving behind the familiar comforts of home, including ready access to food, water, shelter from the elements, and emergency services. Before embarking on a winter hike in your favorite national park, consider these safety tips and tricks when hiking in the snow.
Watch the weather forecast.
Prioritize checking the weather forecast before planning your route or snow hiking gear to avoid hazardous conditions like blizzards and extremely low temperatures. Seemingly insignificant factors, such as strong winds, can significantly impact winter hikers, potentially causing skin damage due to wind chill.
Temperatures above freezing can melt snow, creating wet and possibly muddy conditions, with a risk of flooding based on water conditions. Snowfall can turn into freezing rain, penetrating winter gear and causing intense cold—hiking over frozen water, like a pond or lake, is perilous and should only be attempted when the thickness of the ice is assessed and measured.
Conditions can drastically change within hours, with a sunny midday hike offering a different experience from a sub-zero midnight in a tent. New cold-weather hikers should be mindful of the early winter sunset as the combination of cold and darkness poses risks. Those with ambitious plans should check the weather report for the entire trek.
Prepare for the kind of snow.
Residents of wintry areas are familiar with the diverse forms of snow, including sleet, slush, hail, and powder, each characterized by different textures, such as grainy, crusty, and dusty. Snowfalls can also vary in volume.
Different types of snow, including powder, icy surfaces, and melting conditions, present distinct challenges for hikers, such as powder caking around clothing, slippery icy surfaces, and wet and muddy conditions from melting snow.
Hazards like falling icicles and the potential for avalanches in mountainous backcountry or falling through hidden crevasses on glaciers underscore the importance of extra caution and adaptability for those new to snow when traveling to hiking destinations.
Layer up your clothes for snow hiking.
Engaging in hiking involves physical exertion, often leading to perspiration. While it might initially appear beneficial for maintaining warmth, it is quite the contrary. When you cease activity, the sweat quickly cools your body, turning the once-refreshing glow of exertion on a hot day into a potential source of extreme cold in winter.
Preserving body heat remains crucial, but rather than relying on a single large coat, consider enveloping yourself in multiple layers.
Typical winter hikers adopt a stratified approach, starting with a moisture-wicking base layer, like Merino Wool Crew Neck Base Layer Shirts, followed by an insulating layer, such as Laureate Thermal Mock Neck Pullover, and finally, a protective shell, like Laureate Front Quilted Jacket and sow hiking pants, such as the Triumph Grid Fleece Pants to guard against the wind.
When engaging in physical activity, it's advisable to remove the insulating layer to prevent overheating and then reapply it during pauses. The best clothes for snow hiking effectively "wick" moisture away.
Experienced hikers often carry backpacks or other bags to store discarded layers, efficiently managing body heat regulation by reintroducing items as needed.
Protect your face.
"Frostnip," the uncomfortable precursor to frostbite, frequently targets our cheeks as individuals often overlook covering their faces when stepping into the cold outdoors. Harsh weather conditions and strong winds can subject your face to various issues, ranging from a tingling sensation to skin inflammation and more severe consequences.
Various headgear options, starting with traditional wool hats and scarves, can be effective. Alternatively, you might explore a balaclava, a thin mask that covers the head and face, leaving only an opening for the eyes.
Another option is a neck-gaiter, a loose circular piece of fabric that can be wrapped around the jaw or cranium, depending on which area feels colder. In windy conditions, consider adding a pair of snow goggles to your snow hiking gear to shield your eyes from stinging blasts.
Be mindful of choosing headgear that provides adequate warmth without causing overheating as excess sweat can amplify the sensation of cold, especially during physical exertion.
Go for waterproof boots.
Regardless of the season, having wet feet can spoil a hike. In warmer weather, stepping into a puddle can lead to wrinkled soles and blisters. In winter, wet feet can intensify the sensation of cold.
When your feet are excessively moist, they lose heat 25 times faster than when they're dry. Breaking through a frozen puddle or allowing too much snow to infiltrate your boots can compromise an outdoor excursion, particularly if you're covering extensive terrain or camping overnight.
A gaiter is a textile piece that encircles your ankle and shin. This straightforward garment, often made of nylon, can be a game-changer during a hike in the snow. Specifically designed to thwart snow from entering your boot or adhering to your pants, gaiters act as a protective shield. Their effectiveness is influenced by their length, gaiters can prove invaluable in helping you navigate through a foot or more of snow while maintaining comfort.
Try traction cleats for extreme weather conditions.
Traction cleats function as the tire chains of boots, featuring an elastic arrangement of metal rings or studs that easily strap over your heel and toes. These cleats are particularly beneficial in extremely cold conditions when the trail is coated in ice, helping winter hikers avoid potentially hazardous ankle-twisting falls.
Their efficacy extends to the extent that many commuters in cold climates utilize them on regular sidewalks. If you're seeking improved traction for hiking on snow but prefer a less heavy-duty option than crampons, microspikes on the bottom of your shoes can provide the necessary assistance.
Consider wearing snow shoes.
If the movement of cross-country skiing seems unfamiliar or uncomfortably distinct from hiking, an alternative worth considering is using snow shoes as part of your snow hiking gear. These snowshoes typically feature broad platforms constructed from woven string or aluminum and plastic frames, providing buoyancy in deep snow.
The concept behind snowshoes has ancient roots, having aided Neolithic hunters in traversing the tundra in pursuit of game thousands of years ago. Although using these specialized footwear may feel peculiar initially, most individuals adapt to the experience relatively quickly.
Use trekking poles.
Trekking poles essentially serve as a redesigned version of ski poles tailored for hikers, offering a more practical and retractable alternative to traditional walking sticks. Once you experience their benefits on a steep slope, it's likely you won't want to go back. These poles play a crucial role in helping hikers maintain balance over rocky and icy terrain, allowing them to leverage themselves up rocky ledges. They can be used to tap surfaces for stability testing and provide support when fatigued, particularly while carrying a heavy backpack.
Many serious mountaineers vouch for the advantages of trekking poles, and they prove especially beneficial for older hikers, those new to hiking, individuals with balance concerns, and hikers embarking on long-distance journeys.
Pack an emergency kit.
Pack essential items for emergencies for your hike in the snow. Useful accessories to include are a first-aid kit, a whistle, extra food, and brightly colored clothing. For extended hikes or overnight stays, consider bringing a fire-making kit, a headlamp, and perhaps even a "bivvy bag" or survival blanket.
Remember to hydrate.
Staying hydrated is a crucial aspect of any physical activity, even if you don't feel particularly thirsty. It's important to note that cold temperatures can keep water chilly, and there's a risk of it freezing, potentially jeopardizing a life-saving resource. Using specialized water bottles can help maintain your water at a consistent temperature for a more extended period. If you're considering camping, ensure you have a reliable source of fresh water, either from a spigot or by purifying it from a nearby natural source.
Know your limits.
For those new to snow hiking, the most valuable advice is to begin with straightforward trails and progressively tackle more extended and challenging routes. As you acclimate to the cold and navigate the tricky terrain, you'll also gain familiarity with various snow conditions and the distinct joys they offer.
Explore the Winter Wonderland in Baleaf Style
Embrace winter activities like hiking with year-round enjoyment assured by Baleaf's All Outdoor Gear, featuring the best clothes for snow hiking. Staying warm is a breeze.