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Tips for winter hiking. The 6 best tips for your winter hike

Winter hiking

Write by Jonathan Lessard

2020-11-18

Winter is coming, and you don’t know what you will do? You loved hiking this summer, but you think that hiking in winter seems less comfortable and more dangerous? You should know that sometimes I find winter hiking more enjoyable than summer hiking. Fewer people on the trails and it’s more challenging to hike. So, you wanna know more about what you need to start winter hiking? Let’s go with the best tips for winter hiking!

Preparation

I am more of a let’s have no plan and have fun” kind of guy, and I don’t prepare my hikes a lot anymore. If I feel hiking one morning, I just put water and food in the bag and jump to the adventure. This is less true in winter. From my point of view, winter hiking required more preparation.

Check the weather forecast before leaving if you don’t want to hike in the biggest snowstorm of the year. And the cold January month at -40 (Celsius) is not that friendly here in Quebec, on the eastern side of the country you don’t need to worry about avalanches (except in the white mountains, I think). But if you decide to hike in the west, be wary of avalanche condition: https://www.avalanche.ca/ in Canada or https://avalanche.org/ in the united states.

A lot of regions also post trail conditions on Facebook or on their website. So you can prepare the right gear to hike the trail

tips for winter hiking

Mont saint gregoire

Bring winter gear

When I hike, I always carry my regular gear (see my article about this) with a few twists. I don’t use my running shoes, obviously, but switch to winter boots. In addition to my first aid kit, I always bring my emergency blanket with me with a chemical warmer. May not be of use, but better be safe than sorry!

I also always bring my headlight, winter days are shorter, the night will fall fast. Fun tips, be sure to charge it or change the battery before the hike. I once ran out of battery 30 minutes after opening my headlamps. A big thank you to my phone for the light!

If you know the trail conditions, you will know if you need to bring ice crampons or snowshoes. For crampons, I bought EnergicSky crampon on amazon* this last winter and they are still in perfect condition and I never have fallen with them.  They are great for the price. I did some icy trails without crampons and trust me that can be dangerous. Crazy carpet with your ass may sound like fun, but it is not safe on a mountain trail. Always be careful and wear the right gear.

Wear adequate clothes for winter

Winter Gear and cloth are essential things in the tips for winter hiking. People never know what to hear when they hike in winter.  But there is no magic answer to keep the cold away.

Wear layers: You need three-layers for this. The first one is a base that wipes sweat away from the skin,  the second layer will keep you warm and the third layer is to keep wind and moisture out. With this, you can add and remove a layer and always be careful to not overheat, so you get sweaty. The sweaty cloth will get you cold. In this spirit, I always say no to cotton. Cotton doesn’t dry fast, a pain in winter. A wet cloth can stop your trip suddenly.

A good winter coat is always best. I use a North face coat and am really happy with it. Probably the best coat I have bought in years, do some research to find the best coat for you depending on what you want to do! In my opinion, do not use the hotter type of coat, if you wear a layer, you need a hot coat that will stop the wind. Your other layer will take care of keeping you hot.

Personal opinion: layers are not good everywhere. I once wore two pairs of socks in winter, and my feet got frozen! (thanks to my friend Sam for reminding me of this) One pair of good socks inside good winter boots should be enough! Also no cotton there.

Keep Hydrated

When you are hot and sweaty, you always have to remember to drink water. But this is also true when it’s cold. People always forget to drink because they feel like they sweat less. But, your body needs as much water in winter as in summer.

A hydration tube gets tricky in winter. I try to add a layer around the tube, but the colder it gets, the easier it freezes. You will probably need to forget about the tube and bring an old school water bottle.

Fun trick: Put the bottle upside down in your backpack. The first place to freeze is the top of the bottle, upside down, the bottom will freeze first, so you will have no problem drinking.

At a freezing temperature, you will need to bring an insulated water bottle. Those are pretty heavy in your backpack but it is better than running out of water in the mountain

 

Eat a lot

Doing activities in freezing conditions will burn more calories. Especially in winter, it is vital to bring more food so you can compensate for the energy you burn

It is a great habit to take some shorts breaks in winter to not get too cold. Because yes, not moving does not generate body heat. So be sure to bring food that you can eat fast or eat during your walk. I always get my famous Cliff bars*  Nuts mixes are also pretty good to bring when you hike in winter. Keeping bars or small food inside your pants pockets helps them to stay a little bit warm, a frozen bar is hard on the teeth. A small mix of deli meat and cheese is also good to bring and give you a lot of energy.

An excellent option can be to get a hot soup inside a thermos.  Always good to eat in freezing weather. Some dehydrated food and hot water in your thermos are also a good option.

tips for winter hiking

Be aware of FrostBite and Hypothermia

Those are winter threats you need to know how to detect and what to do in case it happens this is one of the most important tips for winter hiking.

Frostbite is more common on fingers, toes and ears. It’s the freezing of tissues. What are the signs of frostbite? The skin is cold and pale, you may feel numbness, tingling or pain. Your skin can feel soft in the area, and in deep frostbite, a blister can form. Small frostbite can be treated by covering up the skin and warming the affected area. Do not use hot water as you could damage your skin. If blisters form and you have deep frostbite, consult a doctor as soon as possible.

I always hear some horror stories of people getting hypothermia in the first cold at Mont Washington. Hypothermia is a real problem and does not only happen in winter but also in cold rain at a low temperature can be enough to cause it. Hypothermia can threaten your life, so take it seriously

Sign of hypothermia per stage:

Mild: Shivering, Fast heart rate or rapid respiratory rate, mental confusion or change of mood may happen

Moderate: Amnesia and higher confusion, slurred speech, decreased reflexes and loss of motor skills

Severe: Heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure decrease, Cold inflamed skin, hallucinations, lack of reflexes, shivering is often absent here.

Be aware of Paradoxical undressing. As people become disoriented and confused, they may start to discard their clothes, increasing heat loss and this can cause death.

To treat hypothermia, you need to get the person indoors. If you cannot bring the person inside, try to get the person away from what is causing the distress like getting out of the wind. If the hiker is wet, you can put on dry clothes and make sure the cold does not get in. Mild hypothermia can possibly be recovered from. If moderate or severe hypothermia syndrome appears you need to evacuate.

How to prevent all this?

Follow all the other tips that help you to stay warm. But more important, don’t let your pride get in the way. If you need to warm up at some point, do it. And if you feel you can’t continue because of the cold, don’t be afraid to stop. Better to hike another day than not be able to hike anymore. I am not writing this to scare you, but only to make you aware of the risks.

tips for winter hiking

Mont algonquin

Final thoughts on the best tips for winter hiking

Winter hiking can be enjoyable. You discover a new kind of landscape. The snow brings a new challenge to the trail, and climbing steep icy trails is very fun. Also, if you are trying to avoid people, the trails are no longer filled with people.  But like any outdoor sport, you need to be careful. Winter can be cruel, follow all the best tips for winter hiking, be ready for what you want to do, and you will also fall in love with winter hiking. If you do not know where to hike take a look at my top mountain for beginners. They are all open in winter!

 

 

 

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