Hiking Safety and Precautions for the Winter

Hiking can be a wonderful way to get exercise, and provided you take the proper precautions it’s an activity that can be enjoyed year-round.  Additional caution is needed when hiking in the winter, of course, as winter weather can create a number of perils that wouldn’t even be a concern during the summer.  Should you be planning a hiking trip in winter, it’s important that you protect yourself from both colder temperatures and potential winter hazards.  This can be done by making sure that you have the right equipment for your hike as well as taking extra time planning so that you can avoid many potentially dangerous situations altogether.

Essential Equipment

There are a number of pieces of equipment that you should bring along on a winter hike.  Some of these are as basic as a multipurpose tool or a pocket knife, while others are more complex such as a hiker’s first aid kit.  Your biggest priorities are going to be making sure that you have light and warmth when you need it, as well as food and water to keep you from becoming dehydrated or hungry.  LED flashlights are your best choice for a light source, since they use very little energy and therefore won’t be dying on you when you need them most.  Bringing both thermal blankets and chemical heat packs can ensure that you and your companions will be able to stay warm enough even if you’re caught out in bad weather.  Make sure that you pack all of the necessary equipment that you would bring in warmer weather, and be sure that you put an extra emphasis on safety and first aid because of how much more dangerous some terrain can be during the winter.

Careful Planning

Obviously, you’re going to have a much greater chance of facing slick surfaces caused by snow and ice when hiking in the winter.  When you’re planning your hiking trip, take extra time to plan out your route.  Do your research and see if you can find out about any safety advisories in the area where you want to hike, and adjust your equipment list as needed to accommodate for any special circumstances that you might encounter based on these warnings.  If you’re planning a multi-day hiking trip, you might want to have an LED flashlight that has a lantern function as well so that you can illuminate larger areas with it.  Likewise, if you’ll be fishing during your hiking trip you might want to bring survival knives or some other blade other than just your basic pocket knife.  Begin watching weather reports several days in advance of when your trip is planned for so that you can make any necessary adjustments to your plans in case bad weather is moving in.

Being Mindful of Temperature

Even with all of your planning and making sure that you’ve got everything from a multipurpose tool to extra food and water packed, there’s still one danger that should be considered when hiking in winter.  Temperatures can often drop quickly during the winter, and it can be very easy to underestimate the effects of these temperature shifts.  You must also be mindful of the amount of sweat that your body can produce even in cold weather, as it can not only lead to you having wet clothes and skin in cold weather but you can also be in danger of dehydration and not even realize it.  Quickly dropping temperatures can increase your likelihood of becoming sick and can also put you at risk for hypothermia if you aren’t able to keep yourself warm.  Because of this, in addition to any blankets or heat packs that you bring it’s important that you dress appropriately for the projected temperatures on the day or days that you’ll be hiking.  Dress in layers, either wearing thermal underwear or having some with you in case you need to put it on quickly.  Bring extra shirts, jackets, pants, or other clothing that can be added with relative ease if necessary.  If you’ll be camping during your hike, invest in a sleeping bag that’s designed to keep you warm in low temperatures. 

Though the extra planning that goes in to keeping warm and planning for cold weather can be a hassle at times, no amount of hassle is too much if the extra preparations you do let you enjoy your favorite activities safely during the winter.

~Ben Anton, 2008

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