Cold Weather Hike: Tips and Safety Hacks

Hiking - quadtrekusa

Being a hiker, you understand the joy of hiking in different weather conditions. While most people avoid hiking in the summers (of course, because of the heat and tan), there exist avid hikers who love to hike in the pleasant cold weather. But is there really weather which can stop you from attempting the sport if you are determined to do so? 

Any adventure sport lover knows exactly the technicality of hiking in particular weather but if you naïve and is your first time experiencing a hike in winter weather, then below are certain tips that can help you get instant ready! 

You must have, 

  • Proper cold weather clothing and gear 
  • Food and hydration 
  • Cold related injuries and illness aid box 

Let me give you a brief of few things which needs to be considered under each category

Cold weather hike clothing and gear tips

Wearing comfortable clothing and gear is the utmost priority if you are planning a hike during the winters. Of course, if you cannot struggle with the falling temperatures, then your attempt of trying the sport goes in vain. 

Wear layers: Layering isn’t that simple as it sounds. This is a crucial three-part system that includes the base layer to get you rid of the perspiration from your skin, mid-layer which keeps you insulated from the cold weather and the last layer which keeps the wind and moisture out. You always need to add multiple layers depending on your tolerance of the weather outside. 

No cotton: Cotton is a great fabric but when it comes to the winter, cotton takes a longer time to dry. You continuously feel cold and damp which can affect your health. Therefore, always wear synthetic when you are planning for a hike in the winters at places with negligible connectivity to the city.  

Cover your skin: This point has nothing much to explain because, as a human being, you need to keep your hands, feet, ears protected from the winter winds.  

Heat: This is a natural source of energy but what would you do when there is no strong sunlight? You need hand warmers and toe warmers to keep you warm.  

Cleats: You cannot walk properly with your regular shoes at terrains not suitable. You need an extra grip which can only be attained with few all-terrain cleats and snow traction cleats.  

Keep a headlamp: When hiking in the winters, the sunlight might not be enough in the longer run. Always keep a lamp handy to get out of the route safely! 


Food and hydration for cold weather hike

This is anytime the most important thing that you need to carry with you when traveling outside. But there are certain tips to keep in mind when traveling in the winters. 

Keep food from freezing: Nobody likes to chomp off cold food but, scientifically the colder the food, the more would be the bacteria. So, avoid eating colder food especially when you are hiking.  

Don’t let the drink tube freeze: If you are carrying a water reservoir make sure the tube is properly maintained. Have an insulation system for the reservoir or blowback into the reservoir after drinking. 

Winter is not always the best time to hike — because in some areas the weather is not necessarily very accommodating for outings.

For some people, winter or not winter, it doesn’t make much difference. Few others, winter heralds the end of the season and a break of several months. For others, winter is an opportunity to enjoy the snow (when there is one) and make beautiful snowshoe hikes.

No matter what category you belong to, you probably suspect that winter hiking is a little more dangerous than in summer.

Of course, winter hiking is not going to involve the same things depending on the region, countries, and terrain. In some places, for example, conditions are much more wintry in summer than in other places in winter. In the mountains, some summer hiking routes are impassable in winter because of snow — or are practiced in the form of mountaineering races.

However, with good preparation and respecting some safety rules, it is quite possible to hike the winter safely and with pleasure. In addition, it allows you to enjoy nature in a different way, with landscapes and colors specific to this season and with fewer people on the trails.

The purpose of this article is not to make you a mountaineer or a polar adventurer, but rather to give you some tips for winter hiking.

12 Tips For A Safe Cold Weather Hike

Tip 1: Beware, in winter the days are shorter

It’s something to be careful about when planning your hikes. We have less time in a day, so think about it, unless you like to end up in the night.

In summer, it’s easy to expect a good margin before dark. For example: for a scheduled end at 4 p.m., it leaves 5–6 hours of margin. In winter, with an end scheduled at 4 pm, it can leave only an hour’s margin.

Tip 2: Manage your clothing well

This is not a scoop, the temperatures are colder in winter. Moreover, the sun is not as intense as in summer, it is not as high in the sky and temperatures can drop rapidly with nightfall.

So remember to cover up and take enough clothes with you — especially if you don’t have the experience of hiking in the cold. Always remember to provide a margin of safety.

In general, as long as you walk, you’ll get warm, but you also need to be able to stay warm if you’re immobilized — if you get hurt, for example. Don’t forget the usefulness of survival coverage in this case.

Keep in mind that the 3-layer system can be adapted elsewhere than on the upper body. For the bottom, it can be for example synthetic tights, polar pants, and waterproof and breathable pants. In the cold, it is also possible to multiply the second layers, but be careful not to be too compressed in your clothes, in which case you might be cold.

Also, be sure to cover your extremities. Waterproof, breathable shoes and warm socks are recommended as well as gloves, a cap (very important) and possibly a scarf, buff or collar cover.

Tip 3: Stay dry

This is a tip I give even in other seasons, but when it’s cold it’s even more important if you don’t want to “catch” cold or risk hypothermia (when the body is too low to function properly). 

For this, it is best to use the right clothes and in the right order. It’s just as important to regulate your body temperature and be careful not to sweat too much — by adapting your layers of clothing and using the aerations of your clothes.

The goal is to have dry clothes on the skin to avoid the feeling of cold. It can be worth having a spare first coat (even for day hikes) and having a small microfiber towel to dry your sweat if you ever sweat a lot.

So always bring a third coat (rain jacket, poncho, possibly rain pants, etc.). Taking water in summer when it’s hot or in winter when it’s cold is not the same thing at all. The colder it is, the more essential it is to stay dry.

Tip 4: Protect yourself from the wind

When temperatures are low, the higher the wind, this has a significant impact on the temperature.

This is why it is even more important to protect yourself from the wind in winter. So remember to have clothes cutting you to the maximum of the wind (a windbreaker hood is very important) and avoid drafts by closing your clothes well and using the tightening cords.

Also, remember to shelter from the wind during breaks or at safe locations if you are hiking for several days.

Tip 5: Be vigilant to orient yourself

But what does it change in winter? When there is no snow, not much, but when there is, you have to be especially vigilant!

Indeed, topographical maps are summer representations of the terrain — that is, what can be seen on the surface during the summer period.

When snow is present, it hides part of the terrain.

To orient yourself, navigate and prepare your itineraries, it is necessary to take into account that certain clues are hidden and beware of small reliefs. Under these conditions, the use of the compass is generally a little more frequent than in the summer. Having a GPS and knowing how to use it well can also be a plus — especially in the mountains.

Be careful, even on routes you already know, the landscape is very different and can be unrecognizable with snow.

Tip 6: Get to know the snow and ice

This, of course, only applies to those who are at risk of encountering snow or ice on their outings. This is not reserved for winter, snow and snow are common in the mountains in spring and autumn.

Some summer-passable sections can be dangerous with snow or ice if you don’t have the equipment, knowledge, and experience. It is not enough to make passage dangerous.

Avalanches are naturally thought of, but there are many traps, such as snow-covered streams or holes, ledges, etc. Snow and ice are complex areas that are difficult to decipher, so beware.

Whether you’re on foot or snowshoeing, prepare your itineraries knowingly, train and don’t hesitate to turn around.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind you that the material is not everything. Hiking in the snow requires safety equipment (DVA, shovel, and probe) in many cases, but you have to learn how to use it and just because you have this equipment doesn’t mean nothing can happen to you. There are also adaptable non-slip cleats and soles on hiking shoes, but it’s important to learn how to get around with it, know what you can do with it and know their limitations. In parentheses, when snow and ice are present, sticks can be of great use.

Also, remember that walking in the snow (with or without snowshoes) is more tiring and slower than on a trail. So adjust your walking time estimates.

Tip 7: Think about hydrating properly

In cold-weather hike, hydration is a basic necessity, but I think it’s important to re-specify it. Indeed, the feeling of thirst is less important when it is cold and you can dehydrate easily without realizing it. You should also know that dehydration promotes hypothermia.

So remember to hydrate even if you don’t necessarily want to. If the ice water doesn’t tempt you (which I understand), you can opt for a hot drink in an insulated bottle. I wouldn’t recommend it for multi-day hikes because of the weight of the insulated bottle.

Tip 8: Don’t underestimate your energy needs

In cold weather hike, we expend more energy and our body needs more inputs. This is something to consider especially for multi-day hikes. More nutritious food will be needed than for a summer hike.

For a day hike, it’s less important — even if you don’t forget to eat during your hike. At worst, you’ll make up for it in the evening when you get home. 

Tip 9: Watch out, the water is freezing!

I mentioned the importance of hydrating well, but we must be careful that its water does not freeze. In summer, many people have a bottle or bottle of water on the side of their bag or use a water pocket with a pipette. By doing this in cold temperatures, the water may freeze.

It is, therefore, better to slip your bottle, or water packet in the middle of your bag to insulate it. There are even insulated protection to prevent water from freezing in the pipette. Otherwise, it is advisable to blow into the pipette after each use so that the water returns to the pocket and is less likely to freeze.

For multi-day hikes, be careful where you store your water, to avoid having to melt everything again in the morning (which also requires more fuel).

I leave you the pleasure of discovering for yourself the frozen shoes, the rigid laces, the frozen clothes, the frozen food, the frozen watch buttons, and others.

Tip 10: A bivouac in winter can’t be improvised!

A bivouac in winter is not improvised! Of course, what this entails again depends heavily on the places.

Besides, I do not advise you to engage in a bivouac in the snow or in cold weather hike conditions if you have never done a bivouac in the summer season.

Whether there’s snow or not, you’ll need a more insulating sleeping bag than in the summer or dress warmer indoors. I assure you that waking up every 15 minutes because of the cold is not very relaxing. 

Be aware that there are linings that slip into the sleeping bag to better insulate. You may also want to consider using two sleeping bags on top of each other (it’s not really optimal at weight, but it saves money).

It is also very important to have a mattress that insulates well (“R-value” or “R-value” high) so as not to feel the cold of the ground or to stack several. The choice of location is also important and it is possible to isolate it a little with natural materials: branches on snow for example. 

Tip 11: Don’t expect the same shelters as in summer for a cold-weather hike

If you’re used to the comfort of guarded summer shelters, don’t expect the same in winter! Again, it depends on the places and shelters, but many winter shelters are sketchy with a place to eat and a place to sleep (sometimes you sleep on the table;-)).

If you want to spend a night in winter shelters (often adjacent to closed summer shelters), act as if you were in a bivouac (with the mattress and shelterless). It may be cold and you will need a good sleeping bag.

Tip 12: Not all fuels can be used in cold conditions

It’s all in the title. Some fuels burn poorly, if not in cold temperatures. This is particularly the case for gas and alcohol (it’s even worse for alcohol) for negative temperatures — even if it depends more or less on the stoves.

It is therefore advisable to insulate the fuel from the cold, a good technique is to put the cartridge or the fuel bottle in a sleeping bag (making sure that there is no leakage). It is also advisable to insulate the alcohol stove or gas cartridge from the ground during use.

For very cold temperatures or more comfort, it is otherwise possible to use gasoline stoves or multi-fuel stoves that work very well in cold weather — even if they have other drawbacks.

Cold related injuries and illness aid box in a cold-weather hike

Hiking

This is a serious concern. Why? Because when you are out in the ice, there are dangerous injuries and illness which can take away your life. Keep with yourself a wood fiber cleaning cloth for a safe and healthy cleaning practice.

Frostbite: Simply stated the freezing of the tissues. It generally happens in the fingers, toes, and ears. And there exist three different levels of frostbite: frostnip, superficial frostbite, and deep frostbite. To keep yourself safe from frostbite, keep yourself warm. Cover up all your exposed areas and use a heater/warmer if required. The more you keep yourself warm, the better are the chances to avoid getting frostbite. 

Hypothermia: This is a result of the dropping of the body’s temperature. Hypothermia can happen at any weather conditions and it is mistaken to happen only in the winters. The process to save yourself from hypothermia is no different than frostbite. All you have to do is keep yourself warm, cover exposed areas and use a warmer/heater, if necessary. 

Happiness comes with moments of sadness. But as a sportsperson, it depends on how well you manage a situation or how well prepared you are. No sport is safe, and neither can you guarantee to be safe on your entire journey. All you can do is to try to keep everything perfectly fine and enjoy the moments you wanted to live. Therefore, keep everything handy that would help save your hike and be leverage to you. 

Don’t hold back for unpredictable situations. Keep intact, keep hiking.