Snow hiking is no small feat to undertake. If you don’t plan on going prepared, then there is no use in going at all.
The mountains during or after a thick snowfall can be a highly enjoyable place to go for a chilly hike. At the same time, if you are not prepared for any and all situations that might arise during cold weather, then you and your party may be caught off guard in an unfortunate way.
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways you and the rest of your group can prepare themselves well in advance to setting the first foot down in the snow.
Bring an experienced hiker.
If you can manage it, bring someone along with you on your trip who knows the area well.
It is also a plus if you have someone in your group will plenty of hiking experience. No one should hike alone.
Always bring along at least one other person with you, so that you have a partner in the case that anything goes wrong. If you have an experienced friend, they can help you with picking out all of the right hiking gear and can teach you all of the “ins and outs” of snow hiking that they’ve learned along the way.
More often than not, those who are major fans of hiking and similar physical activities will have some extra supplies and gear to lend you.
Dress overly warm using layers.
It may be a given, but you’d be surprised just how many snow hiking hopefuls don’t dress warmly enough.
Layers are your best friend in combating the cold, so don’t be shy about wearing as many of them as you can while still retaining comfortable mobility.
When hiking in cold weather, you never know how jarring a major temperature drop can feel until you’re in the center of it. Depending on how high up you plan on going on a mountain or large hill, you will be experiencing temperature changes in your environment.
The higher up you go, the colder it will become. How cold will depend on how high you plan on going.
It would help to do a bit of research on the mountain and region overall that you plan on hiking in. Try to find as much information you can on what range of temperatures you will be looking at. Once you have this info, dress accordingly.
Invest in hiking clothing. Regular polyester sweaters layered under a nylon coat may be fine for going to the store during a snow storm in your home town. But when you’re exposed for hours to the cold elements, it is better to be safe rather than sorry by opting for higher quality gear.
Insulating clothing is the safest bet, in order to better regulate your body temperature. Long-john underwear, waterproof pants, a fleece under jacket, and a well insulated coat made of down or a similar material are all great suggestions for higher quality clothing.
Gear to bring
On a similar note, always bring along the right safety gear. Every wintertime hiker tends to bring along a few expected emergency items with them. Be sure to invest in and bring with you a nice quality pocket knife (or multi-tool), a well stocked first aid kit, a working compass, a headlamp, a map of the area that anyone in the group can read, and hand warming packets.
If it’s a day hike, try splitting up the supplies between members in order to save weight that one person would otherwise have to carry.
Always have enough supplies on hand that will allow you to spend the night in the case of an emergency. Generally, this means that every member of the group should bring with them a proper sleeping device, such as a sleeping bag, a bivy sack, or sleeping pad made of warm materials like down.
Other supplies that are absolutely important for emergency purposes would be a fully charged cell phone and a portable charging station that will allow you to charge the phone up in case you need more power to call for help.
A sleeping pad isn’t just meant for the purposes of sleeping in. Should one of the hikers in your group become injured, it is best to have a pad or sleeping bag of some kind to lay the injured individual down on while you wait for assistance. Lighters and matches are also important tools to bring along, in case a fire needs to be built in order to stay warm.
Eat before your trip. But not too much.
A nice meal before and after your hike will do wonders for you. Of course, no one wants to go on a long and arduous trek up a mountainside with a stuffed belly weighing them down. On the other hand, neither does anyone want to do the same thing on an empty stomach.
Make sure you ware well fed and feel well rested, before taking on snowy hiking trip. That means getting a full night’s sleep, going to sleep at a good time, and waking up with full confidence that you have plenty of energy to go for a long winter’s hike.
Food to bring
What type of food to bring and how much will be different, depending on how long you plan to hike for. It is always a good idea to bring more than what you are planning on eating, if possible.
Water is an absolute necessary supply that all hikers in the group should have plenty of on them. Even though you are in cold weather and surrounded by what is technically frozen water, dehydration is a real issue with hikers.
You are still performing a labored task and you will need to take frequent breaks to drink water as you go along on the hike. If there is any room, one of the hikers can carry a tiny portable stove top. If you are able to heat up water, you can make hot drinks like cocoa or drip coffee on your trip, which can be pleasant once you’ve reached your destination.
A portable stove top also comes in handy in the case of an emergency. If you have a lot of frozen water, you can melt it down to be drinkable again.
Before setting out on your hike, know where you are going and how long the trip should take on foot. Planning your trip in this way will allow you to know how many supplies to take along with you. It will also allow you to have a good estimation of time that you know you will be away, in order to provide that information to others for safety purposes.
Tell others where, when, and how long you’re going away for.
Always tell other people where you and anyone else in your group are going and give them an estimation of time that you will be away, just in case you are gone a lot longer than planned. That way, there will always be someone informed to let the authorities know where you were last at, in the rare case that a search needs to be performed for you and your group.
Check the weather for all days you’ll be hiking
You may have already thought of this, but checking the weather forecast in the area before your trip is a good idea. Look out for the possibility of snowstorms around the time you are planning for your hike. Even if a snowstorm isn’t in the forecast at the exact time that you are planning the trip, if it is still cutting it close, then there may be reason to reschedule until there is a solid period of tame weather. Do your best to learn about the winter conditions in the area you are planning to visit.
Avalanches are a very real danger for hikers, so research whether or not that type of situation is occurring commonly in the area.
Always look out for red flags during the whole duration of your trip. Before you get there, do your research. While you are driving up to the spot where you will begin your trip, watch the approaching weather.
Once you get there and you are all getting out of the car and suiting up, maintain full awareness of your surroundings.
Does the weather look good enough to last for a day trip?
Turn around and go home if conditions don’t look good
There is no shame in turning around at any point of your hiking trip. Even if you are halfway to the summit point that you’re aiming for.
If you or one of your party members decides to turn back due to scary weather, there is no harm in that. Pushing onward and ignoring glaring warning signs would not be the wise thing to do, no matter how much you want to accomplish your objective.
The mountains will always be where they are and you can always return to them another day.
Try and be reasonable about your goals for the trip. Starting out early is wise, in order to have the most daylight available for you and your group to travel in.
Be realistic in your goals on how much distance you can actually achieve in a specific amount of time.
Be sure to share these goals with everyone else and get an expert’s opinion on the matter before setting out.
Choose a tried and true trail, rather than chancing it on one that no one has tried before or that has very little foot traffic. Start small and work your way up.