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An Introduction To Winter Hiking

Get in shape

If you’re active and feel confident in your stamina, reconsider that before hiking in the winter. When the snow is deep, heavy, and wet, it can bring an entire new set of complications and challenges. You get tired quicker, and your body is fighting against the elements (wind, snow, rain, freezing temps, ice, etc) while trying to carry you up and down a mountain. There’s a difference between being in shape and being in winter hiking shape.

Invest in quality gear

Do some research on what gear you think will work best for you. It’s about trail and error. Some things ere going to work for some people that just won’t work for you. Don’t invest in cheap, poor quality gear to get you by, you will quickly regret that decision. Sometimes the name brands are expensive for good reason and the gear you pick will be proof of that.

Lower your expectations

Unfortunately, you aren’t always guartened spectacular views on a winter hike. Often times you’ll get absolutely zero views from start to finish. If you’re hiking only to chase the views, you might find yourself a bit disappointed. Lower your expectations and focus less on the views and more on the beauty of winter. The glistening trees and snow capped peaks make up for the lack of summit views. Learn to embrace navigating your way through a thick cloud of fog, and remember that Mother nature always wins.

Know your comfort level

Pick a hike with lower milage and level of difficulty. Don’t push yourself to do anything you aren’t comfortable doing or anything that’s unsafe. One wrong move could lead to a potentially fatal and life threatening event. If you feel unsafe at any time on your hike, turn around. If the odds are not in your favor, then it might be time to seek help. Call 911 and alert them of your situation. Give them an idea of your whereabouts, your full name along with the names of each hiker in your group, your current state of health, any noted injuries or complications, and any other useful and important information that may help. When waiting for help to arrive, find an unexposed and safe spot to camp out to stay warm.

Checklist

Waterproof + insulated footwear

Extra socks

Wool hat

Gloves or mittens

Glove liners

Gaiters

Down jacket with hood

Rain/wind jacket

Trekking poles

Neck buff

Face mask

Hand warmers

Goggles

Base layer bottom

Mid-layer bottom

Rain/wind proof bottom

Base layer top

Merino wool or fleece top

Wide-mouth Nalgene bottle(s)

Snow shoes

Crampons or microspikes

What’s in my first aid kit?

Bandaids (assorted sizes)

Tweezers

Insect repellent

Sports tape

Alcohol cleansing pads

Safety pin

Aspirin

Gauze

Sunscreen

Sting and bite after-care

Survival gear

Waterproof matches

Lighter

Headlamp

Batteries

Whistle

Knife or multi-tool

GPS system

Personal emergency locator

Compass

Map

Bivvy

Emergency blanket

Personal items

Toilet paper

Bandana

Water filtration system

Sunglasses

Headphones

Drivers license ID

Form of currency

Chapstick

Don’t go alone

For safety purposes, never hike solo alone in winter. The fatal consequences are too high to hike alone.

Start early

Daylight hours are limited during the winter, and the sun goes down quickly. Start early and always remember to pack a headlamp with extra batteries just in case.

Leave your plans at home

Let a friend or family member know your exact plans and an estimated time in which you plan to return by. Always stick to those original plans. If your plans do unexpectedly change, be sure that you let them know beforehand.

Carry a map and compass

Topographical maps and a compass are necessary on a winter hike. Do not rely on a GPS. Be sure that you know how to use both of these tools prior to hitting the trail.

Never underestimate

Don’t underestimate the power of the mountains. They make their own set of rules, and sometimes those rules won’t be in your favor. If you are overly confident in your abilities, you will be put in your place very quickly.

Dress in layers

Ditch the cotton and pack extra layers of clothing in case you get wet or the weather changes.

Check the weather

The last place you want to be in inclement weather is above tree line. If the weather is poor, it’s probably time to turn around. The mountains will always be there tomorrow.

Resources

Check the Mount Washington Observatory’s higher summits forecast

Practice Leave No Trace

Following the rules of “Leave No Trace” is necessary at all times. Be sure to pack out your food, trash, and toilet paper. Never litter or leave waste behind.

Pay attention

Be aware of the signs and symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia. If you are experiencing any of those symptoms, do not ignore them.

Charge devices

Make sure that your phones battery is fully charged prior to leaving and bring a portable charger to play it safe. Batteries tend to die much quicker when they are exposed to cold temps.

Stay on trail

Use the intended trail. Be sure that you’re following any visible trail blazes and the trace from previous hikers. Avoid stepping off trail and sinking into deep snow along the trail. Do not attempt to bush-wack and make your own path. If you do wind up getting off trail, use your GPS system and/or map to find the best route to get back on it as soon as possible.

Fuel up

Even if you don’t feel hungry or thirsty, fuel yourself. It’s essential to fuel your body with enough calories to function properly when exerting energy. Drink a few liters of water over the course of the hike and bring a back up plan in case your first hydration method fails.

Have fun!

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