Winter Hiking

Hikes range in length and intensity but even a day hike can turn into an overnight when an unexpected event occurs such as an avalanche or simply taking a wrong turn. A smart hiker is always prepared, especially when undertaking a winter hike. Hiking safety tips are especially important when winter hiking because daylight hours are short and there is a risk of hypothermia.

Winter Hiking Packing Tips Continued

First-aid kit (note that you can buy pre-made kits from camping supply stores):

  • Bandages and gauze (can be useful for cuts but also for blisters)
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Small roll of medical tape
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Anti-inflammatory/pain medication (ibuprofen, acetaminophen)
  • Tweezers
  • Antihistamines (for bee stings or bug bites)
  • Non-latex gloves
  • Eye drops
  • Bug spray
  • A card with all personal and contact information for each hiker
  • Photo ID, medical insurance card, and credit card for each hiker
  • Bear spray (if the hike is in an area with bears)
  • Snake bite kit (if the hike is in an area with poisonous snakes)
  • Any personal medications including an Epi Pen for a person with serious allergies

Tips While out on a Winter Hike

Pay attention to the sun-a winter hike should start at sunrise because of short daylight hours. Through the hike, watch the position of the sun, trying to make sure that you will be back to your vehicle by sundown.

Be aware of the snow-if hiking in the snow watch for danger signs of avalanche or holes in the snow.

Consider hiking with cross country skis or snow shoes in the snow.

Never count on a fire or stove to keep you warm. Learn how to build an emergency shelter.

Keep your energy up-take breaks as needed and stop for water or snacks. Note: dehydration will speed up the onset of hypothermia. Also, do not underestimate the amount of food that you’ll need. Snowshoeing burns about 600 calories an hour and winter backpacking uses 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day.

Pay attention to your feet and hands-stay alert for the signs of hypothermia, frostbite, or trench foot. Know the signs and symptoms and how to treat them before you set out. If your foot or hands start to hurt, take your boots or gloves off and check for blisters or wet feet that could be causing frostbite or trench foot.

Stay safe-watch out for potential dangers such as wild animals and don’t touch, pick up, or eat any unfamiliar plants, flowers, fruit, or animals.

Protect against bugs and insects-keep skin covered with long sleeves, pants and hats. Long pants should be tucked into socks. Wear bug spray and check for ticks at the end of each hike.

Practice fire safety-only use designated fire pits, clear away flammable leaves and pine needles before striking a match, and make sure the fire is fully out (and the ground in the fire pit is cool to the touch) before moving on.

Pro tip: Take a Wilderness First Aid class to prepare yourself for winter hiking.

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