- Start Early and Smart
It’s better to set off early morning. With the sun setting much earlier in the winter months, plan to get off the trail before dark to avoid getting lost or in an accident.
Choose a trail you know you can handle without difficulty. Be objective about the distance and difficulty of the trail.
A twelve-mile loop in summertime conditions might be a cinch, but you will inevitably run into ice or deep snow during the winter. With many access roads closed and unplowed over the winter, beware of significant added mileage to your trip.
- Check the Weather.
This might seem obvious from the start itself, but it’s important that you get a complete picture of the conditions for your trip, not merely the weather alone. Look at the daylight hours, wind speed, and precipitation.
Do your research, learn about winter conditions as it’s a different world in the colder season. Be sure to plan your hike for a day when conditions are likely to be manageable.
Nowadays it is very easy to obtain all kinds of weather information, and if the conditions are scary, postpone your hike.
- Bring Enough Safety Gear.
Aside from basic hiking gear, the few essential items that every winter hiker should carry include a first aid kit, a compass, trail map, a pocket knife or multi-tool and a headlamp. It’s always a good idea to divide the heavier safety items among the members of your group.
Experienced outdoorsmen warn that even day hikers should be prepared to spend the night in an emergency. Even though your backpack may get slightly heavier, it may come in handy in avoiding frostbite if you have to stay out in the open overnight.
- Cover Yourself in Layers
They have a saying in the Quebec that literally translates into “Dress like an onion, ” i.e., in layers. When hiking in colder climes, temperatures can vary in places. Having a variety of insulating layers will help you regulate your body temperature and stay comfy.
Wear a layer of long underwear, a light jacket, and waterproof pants. Keep an insulated jacket (preferably synthetic), fleece pants, and a waterproof jacket handy in case of foul weather.
- Bring Along an Experienced Hand.
Hiking in a group is always preferable, especially in the winter. Not only is it safer to be with friends, but it’s also more fun to share the adventure with others. More experienced companions can help you with choosing gear and identifying dangerous conditions.
And be sure to have someone at home who knows where you’re going.
- Be Ready to Turn Back.
Remember that the mountains have been here for a long time, and they’ll be there for a long time still. As the legendary mountaineer Ed Viesturs once said, “Getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory.”
Don’t delay or hesitate to turn around if you run into worsening conditions that might become dangerous. Focus on the trip in the entirety, not just the way to the top. After all, reaching the summit of the peak is just half the journey, and you should have enough time and energy left for the descent.
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