“You do WHAT?!?”
That is the typical kind of response I will get from someone when I tell them about hiking up in the mountains during the dead of winter. Skiing they understand. Hunting, they acknowledge. But hiking? That is something you are supposed to do on a nice warm, spring day right?
For some people, perhaps fair-weather hiking is the only kind of hiking they do, which is totally fine. However, if you are one of the few dedicated hikers who does not let a little thing like cold and snow get in the way of enjoying the great outdoors, then you have come to the right place.
As great as it sounds, hiking in the winter does present several unique challenges and things to take into consideration before you head out. Whether you are out for an afternoon, or taking it to the next level and camping at the end of your hike, trekking into the wilderness in the dead of winter has some relatively significant risks, including hypothermia, getting lost, avalanches, and injury. While some of these can definitely happen regardless of the time of year, your chances of these occurring are greatly increased when it is winter and the elements are not on your side.
Since your risk factor is increased, you should also increase your level of preparedness. This article will help you in doing that by providing you with the list of essentials every hiker should have before hitting the snowy trail. (Please note that this is a general list of important essentials. You are responsible to assess your own needs and/or seek advice from someone who knows the area and exactly what you will be facing. Hiking is an amazing pastime, enjoy responsibly!)
Winter can have different meanings to different people. Depending on where you live, your hiking clothing set-up may look different. Regardless, dressing in removable layers is the key takeaway here. Here are some basic layers that you should consider for your excursion:
- A base layer: your base layer is the necessary foundation to ensure a fun hiking experience. Be sure to invest in a good set of wicking underwear. This will help you stay dry, which in turn will help you regulate your temperature while you are moving, and keep you warm when you are not moving.
- Mid-layer: on top of that you will want a mid-layer designed for comfort and warmth.
- Outerwear: on top of all those previous layers, you will want outerwear (i.e. jacket and pants) that is designed to keep you dry.
- Head-gear: A very important part of keeping warm is a good insulating hat or headband. It is super easy to take on and off to help regulate your body’s temperature. It has actually been shown that your core temperature can drop significantly if your head is exposed, even if the rest of your body is insulated.
Once you have these basics, other things to think about are gloves, a vest, face mask, etc. Just keep in mind that you are going to have to carry everything you plan on putting on! So the trick here is finding a good balance between bringing the stuff that will keep you warm and leaving behind those will overheat and weigh you down.
Finding Your Way
If there is snow on the ground, you might think getting lost is impossible. You just have to follow your tracks back, right? However, it is rarely that simple. Other hikers, animals, shifting snow, rain, wind, or new snowfall can obscure the trail and cause you to lose your way back very quickly. For these reasons, hiking with a map and a compass is always recommended.
If you are not a mountaineer, bring a GPS. Just remember, this device has its own set of limitations like battery, range, and susceptibility to damage.
Lighting the Way
Whether you plan on hiking in the dark or not, ALWAYS bring a tested headlamp (or 2) and extra batteries. In the winter, night comes on fast, and the last thing you want is to try and find your way back blind.
Man’s (& Woman’s) Best Friend
No, I don’t mean a dog. I’m talking about fire. Nobody plans on getting stranded on a hike, but as they say – hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Bring waterproof matches and/or a lighter (or any other kind of fire starter). Some easy lighting tinder is also a handy thing to have when it is cold and wet.
Stopping the UV Rays
Many people do not realize that the sun can be incredibly intense during the winter due to it reflecting off the snow. Some of my worst sunburns have been in the winter. So be sure to bring along sunscreen and remember to apply it before you begin and frequently throughout the trip.
You don’t have to go overboard here. There are a lot of resources out there to help you put together a simple, yet effective first-aid kit. The important thing is having what you need, when you need it.
If you are hiking, you are burning calories. Feed the beast and bring along some good trail foods to keep you going. How far you are hiking determines how much you should bring. Bring what you think you will need plus some just in case of emergency.
Since it is cold, you often do not feel as thirsty. However, anytime you are hiking outside and exerting effort, you are losing moisture. It is important to keep drinking water even if you do not feel especially thirsty.
Be sure to pack enough water for your trip if you can. And if you can’t, bring some kind of treatment system.
A few other things you should consider bringing along:
- Multi tool
- Knife and/or saw
- Duct tape
- Emergency shelter (tarp, tent, bivy, etc.)
- Space blanket
- Hand-warmer packets
- Snow goggles
- Extra dry clothes
Time to Conquer a Mountain!
Like I said, winter can mean different things for different people. For some, it is a bit of chilliness and rain. For others, it is mountains of snow and subzero temperatures. Regardless, it is vital that you prepare properly and bring the necessary items to ensure you have a safe, enjoyable hike.
Whatever version of winter you may be facing, getting out and hiking in it can reveal some of the most striking scenes nature has to offer.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
An avid archer, political junkie, and aspiring musician, Brady makes his home on the edge of society, just close enough to get good WiFi, but far enough to not be bothered.