When winter hits, the average person prefers to stay bundled up indoors sipping a warm beverage. If you’re reading this, you’re probably not that kind of person.
Adventuring through the snow is great exercise and is not terribly expensive as opposed to skiing or snowboarding. Studies have also shown that hiking through the woods significantly decreases stress levels, which is needed with the short days and long nights of winter. Winter hiking, with its own set of unique conditions and quickly changing weather, is an experience all its own.
In order to properly enjoy, and stay safe, while winter hiking, there are some key equipment items that are needed.
Trekking poles are a wise investment, regardless of season and conditions. They provide balance and relieve pressure on your joints and knees on steep downhill sections. They also help to navigate rough terrain and stream crossings.
During the winter, hiking poles serve a similar purpose to ski poles, providing balance as you move through the various types of snow. As winter begins to move into spring, the can be of great assistance helping you across streams, through muddy or other types of slippery conditions, and to help distribute weight and effort if you’re carrying a heavy backpack. They can also reduce stress on joints when hiking down hills.
Chances are, even with the best hiking boots you will have issues with icy or packed snow conditions while winter hiking. Spikes are extremely helpful for both. They perform the same task as chains would on a car, using your body weight to break into the heavy snow or ice and ensure solid footing.
Navigating a trail with just boots while hiking in winter can turn into a dangerous endeavor. Well trodden trails often have sections of tightly packed and slick snow, which can be especially dangerous while traveling downhill. Spikes are an incredibly useful traction aid Spikes and poles are all that you will need at lower elevations that have typically four feet or less of snow and help you avoid embarrassing and painful falls.
If your passion for hiking in winter takes you to higher elevations with heavier snowfall, snowshoes are vital. When dealing with deep and powdery snow, hiking boots and spikes will not prevent you from sinking into the snow as deep as your waist. This is called “postholing” and is a surefire way to ruin a hike and cause you to be generally miserable.
Luckily, snowshoes help you avoid postholing, by packing down snow and distributing your weight across a larger surface area with each foot step. Although moving with them on can seem initially awkward, you will adjust quickly. They greatly expand the potential hikes you can take in the heart of winter.
Regardless of your winter gear, you must always be cautious of avalanche danger. A couple of indicators of an avalanche area is the slope of the hill(30-45 degrees is the typical slope for avalanches) and a path that cuts through a dense area of trees. If the area is completely void of vegetation, it’s likely a regular spot for avalanches and should be handled with extreme caution. It is also wise to check on avalanche danger in your area.
The Ten Essentials
It’s always important to bring the ten essentials with you while hiking, but it is doubly important in the winter. Fewer hikers are on the trails and conditions change rapidly, complicating potential rescue efforts. You must always be prepared in the instance that you become lost or someone in your party is injured.
- Compass or GPS
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Extra clothing
- Headlamp or flashlight
- First-aid supplies
- Fire starter
- Extra food
Now you should know everything you need to go tromping through the snow in your spare time. While many of your friends are hibernating indoors, you will be indulging in fun, snowy adventures all winter.