Winter Hiking Tips

With winters so long in Canada, if you don’t get out on the trail during the season, you’re missing out on a lot of hiking time. And with the leaves on the trees gone, you’re also missing out on seeing new views along the trail!

When hiking in winter, it’s important to keep in mind that while this may be the same trail you hiked in summer, the conditions you’re hiking in have changed.

The trail goes THIS way
The trail goes THIS way

To begin with, when a trail and the surrounding trees are covered in snow, it’s even more critical to be attentive in looking for trail blazes. And as I learned last week, don’t blindly follow footsteps in the snow, since the hiker ahead of you might be leading you through some underbrush!

Another thing to keep in mind is that with shorter days, plus a slower hiking pace as a result of the snow and extra weight of clothing, you’ll need to adjust your start time so that you don’t get caught on the trail in the dark.

Additionally, the potential severity of winter weather heightens the importance of checking the weather forecast the day you go hiking and preparing for it. It’s important to stay warm out there, and layering the right clothing is one way of doing this. Keep in mind, though, it should help you stay warm but not cause you to overheat once your body warms up with exertion. Sweating in winter isn’t good, since it will cause you to get cold and could lead to hypothermia.

As with hiking at other times of year, it’s important to eat and drink to maintain your energy levels. However, due to the cold and drier air at this time of year, it’s even more important.  Warm drinks or soups are a great way to help you stay warm.

Another good idea is to always bring ice grips (traction for your boots) with you and, if you have them, snowshoes. It’s sometimes hard to know what conditions you’ll find on the trail until you get there, and a patch of ice or snow that’s too deep can quickly ruin a day of hiking or, even worse, be life threatening.

Other equipment to bring on winter hikes are sunglasses (to help prevent snowblindness on sunny days), and something to sit on that will prevent conduction of the cold.

Wilderness First Aid Instructor Paul Tarsitano has an informative video with more details on staying warm and safe in cold weather hiking.

Make your winter hiking more enjoyable by taking steps to make it safer!

Photo Credit:  Heidi Bischof

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