5 Safety Tips for Winter Hiking

Winter hiking can be an invigorating experience, filled with breathtaking moments. There's nothing like walking on a clean blanket of snow watching for animal tracks and frozen waterfalls. Unfortunately, winter also comes with considerable risks, especially if you set off unprepared. Before you take on the challenge of winter hiking, consider the following safety tips.

Don't be a loner. It's always dangerous to hike alone without telling someone where you are going. It's especially dangerous during the winter, when slippery conditions and harsh weather increase the risk of injury and death. Before heading out into the cold, make sure to tell a friend or family member where you will be and when they can expect you back. You should also consider hiking with a buddy, especially if you plan to traverse an especially challenging or remote trail.

Bring emergency gear. Aside from standard hiking gear, you should pack a trail map, compass, a first aid kit, pocket knife, hand warming packets, a headlamp, water purifying tablets and a lighter or flint. You should also have extra socks in case your feet get wet. For day hikes, it's best to split up heavier safety items among the various members of your group.

Dress intelligently. During the winter, temperatures can fluctuate drastically from morning to midday to afternoon. You can also expect drastic changes in temperature as you venture from the bottom of a trail to the summit of a mountain. Be sure to dress in layered breathable fabrics, so you can strip off clothing as your body heats up from exertion. The last thing you want is to start sweating and then have that sweat turn cold when temperatures plummet. Be sure to dress smartly, so you can regulate your internal body temperature and avoid hypothermia. You should also make sure you wear waterproof footwear with very good tread.

Check the weather. It's very important to get a complete picture of expected weather conditions for your trip. This means knowing more than just the temperature. To properly prepare and determine whether hiking conditions are truly safe, you need to know wind speeds, chances of precipitation, avalanche reports and accurate daylight hours. It's a completely different world during the winter, and even the smallest change in conditions can drastically increase your risk of injury or death. Thoroughly investigate expected conditions, and if they seem scary, postpone your hike.

Stay hydrated. When the weather turns cold, it's tempting to drink less water. When you're hiking rugged, snow-covered trails and sweating beneath layers of clothing, however, you're bound to lose plenty of water and electrolytes. Be sure to take a few sips of water every time you stop, even if you don't feel particularly thirsty. You can prevent your water from freezing by holding the container close to your body or inside your coat. You can also help keep it from freezing by adding a bit of sports drink or by storing it in a wool sock.

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