Hiking and camping in the beautiful winter months can be a rewarding experience. But for people new to outdoor winter activities, they can also be dangerous. This list of dos and don’ts will help inexperienced hikers and campers prepare for their first winter hiking or camping trip.
The Dos and Don’ts of Winter Hiking
Nature is beautiful any time, but with the world covered in snow and a clear, starry night, winter might just be the best time to see the natural world in all its glory. It can also get a little dangerous—weather can quickly turn from calm to stormy, and extreme temperatures make proper preparation even more important than in the summer. Though hiking and other outdoor activities can be a great experience in the winter months, safety should always come first, and this list of dos and don’ts is a great place to start.
DO: Check the weather forecast.
In a rush to see the winter sights when the time is available, amateur hikers may skip this step and think they can handle whatever nature throws at them. Checking the weather forecast is a vital step, as temperatures may change over the course of a day and slip from cold but reasonable to below freezing. Checking the weather forecast ahead of time ensures that you’ll know what’s coming up, and while it might not always be entirely accurate, it’s best to have an informed idea about what to expect. Knowing the weather ahead of time also allows you to pack accordingly—prepare for everything you can, not just what you expect. While checking the weather, be sure to check trail and road conditions as well. There’s nothing worse than being geared up and ready for a great hike only to be stopped by unexpected flooding or snow blocking the road.
DO: Layer up.
All the fancy gear in the world isn’t going to keep you warm if you don’t layer properly. Staying safe in snowy areas isn’t just about keeping warm; it’s also about keeping out moisture, including sweat. Avoid cotton as the layer closest to your skin, as it may hold in moisture and cause your body to cool. It doesn’t hurt to wear two base layers, such as warm underclothing and something a little thicker, but still breathable. For the next layer of clothing, wear something intended to keep the body warm. Fleece and microfleece are great fabric choices and will help you hold in your body heat while your bottom layers wick the moisture away from your body. On the outside, you want something both wind and waterproof. If you splurge on one area of your clothing, the outer layer is where you want to do it—cheaper jackets may not breathe as well as more expensive ones. Don’t skimp on shoes, either, as cold and moisture can easily lead to frostbite.
DO: Wear sunscreen.
Wearing sunscreen in cold weather might seem a little strange, but sunburns are possible even in overcast weather. With the added help of reflected sunlight from snow, sunburns are a real possibility in winter hiking. Getting a sunburn any time isn’t fun, but with so many other things to look out for during winter hikes, it’s a chance you don’t really want to take. Be sure to cover any exposed skin in a reasonable SPF—your skin will thank you for it.
DON’T: Get dehydrated.
Drinking water is just as important in cold weather as it is in warm weather. Always pack lots of water for a hiking trip, and use water bottle covers in cold weather to keep them from freezing so quickly. Remember that treating water using chemical treatments may take longer in cold weather, and water filters may not function as intended. Melting snow is an acceptable water source but it’s best to rely on pre-filtered water if you can—snow isn’t sterile, but it’s better than nothing at all. If you’re new to hiking, pack more than you think you’ll need: running out of water can have dire consequences, and it’s always best to be prepared.
DON’T: Skimp on your sleeping situation.
Sleep is vital, especially when you’re doing a lot of physical activity.
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