Hiking in the winter means fewer people on the trail, no bugs to swat away, and it is a fantastic way to combat seasonal depression.
If you have never hiked in the winter before, start small! Winter hiking is more dangerous than summer hiking because the harsh conditions can lead to frostbite or death without proper equipment.
You will need to adjust your packing list for a winter hike. Pack accordingly to the trail conditions, if there is deep snow, pack snowshoes. If you expect packed-down ice and snow bring a pair of crampons! Hand and toe warmers are always a great idea to bring along. The cold weather kills electronics quickly so a portable charger should also be on your packing list. If you are hiking on a sunny day don’t forget your sunscreen! The snow can reflect harmful UV rays and easily cause sunburn.
Wear a toque or headband to keep your ears and head warm, and bring gloves or mittens for your hands. Wear a balaclava or face mask to cover your cheeks, nose, and neck from the harsh conditions. Balaclavas also help protect your lungs against the cold air.
You can tie loops or zip ties to your jacket zippers to make it easier to zip or unzip pockets while wearing gloves. Trade your summer hiking boots for a warm pair of winter snow boots! Alpaca or merino wool socks will help keep your toes warm. You can wear fleece-lined pants or full-on snow pants depending on the conditions and your personal preference.
The most important part of winter hiking is staying warm without breaking a sweat. Sweating leads to becoming chilled in the cold conditions.
Be bold, start cold is a great motto to follow. As you hike your body temperature rises. Starting cold prevents you from overheating and sweating too early.
It is always a great idea to pack extra layers to prepare for the colder weather at higher elevations. This is why many people prefer to wear a larger hiking pack while hiking in the winter compared to summer.
In the winter daylight hours are much shorter. Hikers will find they become exhausted faster due to the energy their body is spending to stay warm, and the effort of trudging through snow. Hikers should always set out as early as possible in order to make it back safely before dark, especially since snow and ice will slow your pace.
Hikers may find they are dehydrated after a winter hike. Hikers may not feel as thirsty in cold and damp conditions, so don’t forget to hydrate often.
A few inches of snow can completely cover a trail and easily cause hikers to become lost. You should know how to navigate with a map and a compass and always carry a GPS. Check the weather forecast before heading out, as well as the Parks Canada website to find out what the condition of the trail will be like.
Don’t forget to check for avalanches in the area by clicking here. If you want to become a hardcore winter hiker you can even take an avalanche course and learn how to identify the risk of one for yourself.