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14 of the Most Essential Tips for a Safe Winter Hike

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Winter is often the time of year most men pack on the pounds and are tempted to hibernate like a bear. As a result, winter depression can occur. So don’t let the cold weather and shorter days keep you from venturing outside for a hike. But before you go, it is important to plan and pack properly. Here are some of the most essential tips for a safe winter hike.

  1. Dress in Layers

Having a variety of insulated clothing on and with you allows you to adjust your body’s temperature as needed. Lighter layers work well while moving and have a down jacket handy for when you stop. All layers should be dry-wicking to help keep natural sweat from cooling you off too quickly.

  1. Keep Your Feet Warm

For most winter hikes, a good pair of waterproof hiking boots should do the trick. If you’re hiking in deeper snow, add a pair of gaiters to keep the cold from trickling in.

No one wants to suffer from cold, wet toes during a hike. Wear a thin layer covered by a thicker, outdoor sock to keep your feet toasty. Don’t forget to pack an extra pair in case your feet get wet.

  1. Prepare for the Glare

Sun reflects off snow, so not only does it double your chances of getting sunburn it can also be blinding. Wear a good set of wraparound sunglasses to keep your vision clear and protected.

Although beach days are far behind in the winter, it doesn’t mean you should stop worrying about sunburn. The sun’s rays reflect off snowy landscapes and can burn easily. Pay attention to your nose, chin, and around your neck.

  1. Cover Your Crown Day and Night

Even if you have a thick mane of hair, you lose a significant amount of heat through the top of your head. Wearing a hat is one of the most important winter hiking tips. Even if you think you don’t need one, throw one in your bag just in case.

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.

  1. Invest in Crampons

Even the most well-groomed hiking trails can be tricky in the winter. A good pair of crampons will keep you from slipping on unexpected ice and your footing solid beneath you.

  1. Protect Your Hands and Lips

Light or midweight fleece gloves under a waterproof shell are the go-to for winter hiking. It’s always a good idea to bring an extra pair of fleece stowed away in case the ones you’re wearing get wet.

Dry winter air can do a number on your lips even while indoors. Pack a good stick in your bag to keep your lips protected and comfortable during a hike.

  1. Bring a First Aid Kit

Hopefully, this is one item you’ll never have to use. But even the smallest cuts and scrapes can become a nightmare when exposed to colder temperatures. Make sure to bring all the first aid kit basics like bandages and antiseptic ointment, for example.

  1. Keep Batteries Warm and Fire Starter Dry

Lithium batteries hold up better in cold temperatures than alkaline batteries, but no matter what battery type you use, it’s best if you try to keep them warm. Stowing your headlamp and other electronics in a pocket close to your body can help.

A disposable butane lighter or sturdy pack of matches should suffice. However, make sure they’re packed in a waterproof container to keep out the elements.

  1. Know the Area and Bring a Compass and Map

Winter can change any landscape, even a trail you’ve traveled often during warmer months. Know the trails and layout of the land along with any changes snow might bring to a familiar trek.

Deep and drifting snow can often obscure trail markers, making the need for a compass and physical map essential. Don’t just rely on GPS as you can often hike out of service range.

  1. Pack Food and Water

During a winter hike, your body burns twice the calories it normally does to stay warm. Pack high protein snacks for your trip to help keep your energy levels up.

Dryer winter air can cause you to become dehydrated faster than in the summer months. It’s imperative that you stay hydrated during a winter hike. Keep water bottles close to your body and in a thermos to keep them from freezing.

  1. Monitor the Weather and Avalanche Risks

This might seem like an obvious tip, but it’s one of the most important. A quick glance at the local weather can be a lifesaver. No one wants to get caught in a blizzard or freezing rain.

Even the most experienced hiker will never be fully prepared for an avalanche. It’s best to steer clear of these areas altogether. Make sure you know where the avalanche areas are and avoid them at all costs.

  1. Tell Someone and Take a Friend

Even when traveling with a group, give someone outside the hike an itinerary. Not only should this contain your planned route, but directions on who to call should you return late. Always stick to the trail and to your preplanned route. Leaving the trail can be deadly if you get lost in bad weather.

Hiking is not only more fun with a friend or group but also imperative to your safety. Traveling alone during the summer is not a wise idea, and in the winter it is even more important you don’t go alone.

  1. Start Out Cold

While it might tempt you to start out a hike warm and toasty, it’s best to start out cold. This way, peeling off layers as you go becomes much easier and you’re less likely to start a hike already sweating.

  1. Start Out Slowly

If you are not an experienced winter hiker, make your initial trip day hikes in areas you are familiar with and start out slowly. Remember the start of a hike is always the easiest. Don’t be afraid to turn back if you’re in doubt.

These 14 essential tips will help you have a safe winter hike the next time you go out. Wintertime is a great season to hit the trail, but only if you take the proper safety precautions. Many people don’t return each year because they didn’t prepare properly, so make sure to cover all your bases to be as safe as possible.

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