5 Tips for Hiking in the Snow
We can’t all wait for the snow to melt and the buds of the plants to sprout open for a new spring and regeneration of nature. Hiking is our passion, it’s one of the things we live for and what we want to do when we wake up on a Saturday morning. As nice as it is spending the days indoors with the heater on full, watching movies eventually you get that urge to put on your marching boots and start backpacking in the cold weather. With the hills and valleys adorned in a white blanket, you must be prepared for a different type of hike altogether. Read on for our tips on being prepared and keeping safe when hiking in the snow!
1. Communication with Other People While Winter Hiking
The first rule, not tip, rule, when hiking in the snow is communication. Whilst you should always tell a friend, family member or your accommodation where you are hiking to and when you’ll expect to be back, this is even more paramount in the snow. Anything can happen in these adverse conditions and all eventualities must be considered. Whilst the weather is always changeable this becomes more apparent in the winter. More snow could fall, as could hail wind and rain, meaning that your hiking plan may have to change quickly.
Always have a plan B and C for this happening. Study your route meticulously and if possible ask someone who has hiked the trail before or read some online forums. If the weather changes quickly it may be best to turn back and to save your walk for another day. As magnificent as nature is, she must be respected. She can give you the most breathtaking views, but she can also take your life.
It is for this reason that people must know where you are going. Another communication tip is to never hike alone in the winter snow. Hiking solo in the other seasons is perfectly fine in order to enjoy the solitude of nature. Winter, on the other hand, is a different beast and having a friend to accompany you and to enjoy the hike alongside you is not only a bonus but a necessity. Also, make sure your mobile phone is fully charged before you set out!
2. Dressing Appropriately When Winter Hiking
You must dress warmly and wisely before you head out in the snow. In order to be comfortable on your hike, your clothing must be more carefully thought out before you set off. First of all, make sure you are wearing a solid underlayer of thermos. A base layer that covers both the legs and torso is important and shall retain your body heat whilst trekking. Wool and synthetic garments should be chosen for your base layer. Cotton garments, if wet, shall absorb the water making you cold and uncomfortable during your hike.
For the second layer of clothing, we recommend a fleece or jumper. Again, wool is recommended due to the natural fibers being able to absorb 30% of its weight in water and its ability to dry quickly. There’s a reason that sheep can roam around for months on end in the snow unfazed by the cold, alongside leather, wool is perhaps the most important and versatile animal product garment.
Your outer layer should be waterproof. If you have a thick fleece or jacket on then a lightweight waterproof jacket may be optimal to prevent you from getting hot and sweaty during your hike. If it’s not too thick then perhaps a warmer jacket such as a down jacket is better. Just ensure that it is waterproof as any fall in the snow shall leave you sodden and the rest of your hike will likely be miserable.
Just like your jacket your trousers should be waterproof or have a waterproof covering put on them as a third layer. The trousers also should be comfortable and fairly loose in order to preferential chafing on your thighs. Even though it is crisp and cold outside, due to your thick clothing and the harder effort that has to be put into walking through the snow, you will probably find that you build up a sweat real quick.
Extra accessories should also be considered in order to keep your body temperature up. Gloves or mittens should be taken as should perhaps a scarf to shield your neck and face from potential blizzards. When it comes to hats a beanie hat is the choice of most hikers as it gives an overall coverage of the head. You should also consider a hat that has a cap on it. When hiking in the snow the sun often seems to be brighter as it reflects upon the snow, making it perhaps difficult when walking in the direction of the sun. To combat this, sunglasses or goggles should be considered in order to protect your eyes from the sun's glare. Also, make sure you keep a little extra space in your backpack in order to store some of your clothes if you’re building up an uncomfortable sweat.
3. Protect your Feet
Your feet are your most important asset when hiking. If you don’t take care of them then you can’t hike. It’s as simple as that. When hiking in the snow both your socks and boots must be considered carefully so that you don’t have to postpone any future planned hikes!
Consider wearing woolen socks as they are thick and suitable if your feet get wet. Having woolly socks against your skin may cause you some discomfort if chafing occurs. One tip to tackle this is to wear a regular pair of socks and then to wear wool socks on top of them. Due to the thickness of woolen socks, they also prevent your feet from rubbing against your boots. Something else you may wish to consider is heated socks. These battery-powered socks shall keep your feet toasty for the full hike!
The type of hiking boots that you choose to wear is also of paramount importance. Your lightweight summer hiking boots are simply not enough to protect your feet from the winter elements so winter appropriate boots must be selected. The boot must have a thick sole with a strong grip to avoid tripping and slipping. Make sure that it goes above your ankle and that it can be tightened or sealed at this point to prevent snow from seeping inside. Gaiters are also a great way to prevent this. You may also find yourself wearing snowshoes or crampons when hiking in the snow, so it is best to check that your books are compatible.
4. Learn How to Walk in the Snow
Trekking in the snow is also a skill that needs to be mastered. There are many hazards that come alongside walking in the snow can care must be taken in order to prevent any trips, slips, and falls. Take it slowly when walking in deep snow. You may stray from the path easily if the markings are covered. Also, be careful to not walk straight into a ditch. You can’t always tell if your foot will follow through due to the snow laying on top of a hole, meaning you can slip and injure yourself from something you didn’t even know was there.
Ascent and descent over hills in the snow can be tricky, and it is recommended that you practice the techniques to this on a smaller slope before you set out on a longer hike. It is recommended that trekking poles of a simple walking stick are utilized in order to give yourself extra support in the snow. To ascend a hill take short steps and push your feet deep into the snow in an upwards motion to give yourself a grip upon the slope. When making your way downwards, use the plunging technique. This is where your heels make initial contact with the ground with the knees bent to stop them jolting.
5. Always be Prepared
It’s the motto that has served the boy scouts well for over 100 years, and it’s a phrase that should come to mind anytime before you set out on a hike, especially in the snow. If you’re not prepared to hike in the snow, then don’t go. If it’s a long hike then pack yourself a lightweight tent or shelter, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad in case if you get stuck overnight. The days are much shorter in winter so it’s best to get hiking early in the morning to avoid this scenario.
Pack yourself extra food and water bottles. Insulated bottles are preferable to prevent the water freezing - so that should an overnight situation occur, you’ve got the supplies to deal with it. Bring a lightweight camping stove along with boil in a bag food/soup and some coffee to warm up and combat the cold temperatures. Additionally, make sure you have all the right gear - a map, compass, headlamp, pocketknife, fuel, basic first aid, and lighter are all basic necessities and lifesavers when hiking in the snow.
There is a great sense of beauty and majesty when gazing over the untouched rolling hills enveloped in snow. Hiking in the snow is a wonderful gift and once you have a few summer hikes under your belt consider getting your trekking poles out to enjoy a winter wonderland. For your first snow hike, it is wise to do it on a short and straightforward day hike so you can get yourself used to the different techniques that come with hiking in the snow. From this point on you can build upon it and take part in what is one of the ultimate hiking adventures.
Bonus tip: Be inspired by the magnificent views provided on this winter hike in the Swiss Alps!
About the Author
Ahoy there! The name’s Kevin Smith, the proprietor of this little travel and outdoors blog. The outdoors has always been a passion of mine since I was a kid as my parents were avid campers themselves. They taught me everything I know when it comes to camping, hiking etc. and I would like to do my part by imparting my know-how to like-minded individuals who enjoy the same hobby as me. I started this website in the hopes of helping other people when it comes to answering questions, giving tips and recommendations focusing on the camping niche. Along with some close friends of mine, we are here to help you make the most out of your outdoor experience. Enjoy your stay and enjoy the wild side!