The mountains can be unpredictable during winter, but you can still enjoy many of your favorite hikes. Just follow these essential tips on how to prepare, what to pack and more.
Staying safe when hiking during the winter requires a few special considerations, like extra emergency gear and lots of warm layers. Before you hit the trail on a chilly winter morning, review these essential winter safety tips and make sure you have adequate supplies.
Winter hiking in the mountains often means slick and icy conditions on the trails. You can wear traction devices on your boots or trail shoes to stay safe and stable — traction cleats, microspikes, crampons and snowshoes are all great options depending on the day’s conditions.
The batteries in your smartphone, GPS and other devices tend to drain faster in sub-zero temperatures. Bring extra batteries and/or an extra battery pack to be safe.
There are also things you can do to make your phone’s battery last longer in the backcountry, like dimming your screen and using airplane mode.
You might hide from the sun during summer hikes, but you want to hike in the sunshine during winter. Keep in mind that things will get pretty chilly once the sun dips behind the mountains, so factor that into your plans (and always bring a headlamp.)
Your favorite hiking trails might take longer to traverse during winter. Deep snow, slippery ice and other obstacles can all add to your time. If you’ll be hiking later in the day, don’t get too late of a start.
Even with backup battery power, it’s not a wise idea to rely solely on your smartphone for navigation. Make sure you have (and know how to use) a map and compass.
Heavy snow can cover the trail and make it difficult to see trail markers and other landmarks, so pay attention to where you’re going and keep your map and compass close at hand.
You’ll burn more calories hiking in the snow and cold, and dehydration is a common issue, so bring plenty of extra food and water. Some hikers like to bring a lightweight camp stove to boil water or tea, coffee or hot cocoa, too. If you bring a stove, lightweight freeze-dried hiking food is perfect for staying nourished during winter hikes.
Conditions change quickly in the mountains, which means it’s not uncommon for the forecast to change hourly and daily. This also means you should always be prepared for the worst conditions, like getting stuck in a blizzard.
Sometimes, winter weather is just too intense to hike safely in the mountains. If conditions become unsafe, there’s no shame in cutting your hike short.