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Ten Tips for Winter Hiking

winter hiking

1. Begin with a shorter easier hike
If you are new to winter walking/hiking take it easy on your first hike. While it might be easy to do a 15 km loop in warmer weather, deep ice and snow on the trail can make that 15 km look and feel much much longer. Plowing through deep snow can be very tiring. Don't forget that many access roads that are fine in the summer may be closed or unplowed in winter.

2. Start early
The sun sets much earlier in winter months resulting in shorter hiking days, so it is important to begin the hike earlier than usual. You need to be off the trail well before dark and remmeber that it gets dark in the woods long before the official sunset time. Carry a flashlight just in case.

3. Dress in layers
In colder weather, temperatures can vary throughout the day and from the bottom of a ravine to a wind swept summit. Using a variety of insulating clothing helps you to adjust your clothing to keep comfortable throughout the changing conditions of the hike. A good combination of clothing consists of a layer of long underwear, a light fleece and a waterproof jacket, along with waterproof pants. Fleece lined jeans are not a good idea as once they get wet from the snow and body heat, cooler temperatures will freeze your pants and it will feel like you are walking in stiff frozen stove pipes.  Carry some extra items in your backpack for stormy conditions.
You will need winter weight socks because your toes will be the first to feel the cold. Use a polypropylene liner under your winter socks. To keep snow out of your boots, wear gaiters. A fleece hat and mittens that can be easily put off and on helps. Try to avoid cotton clothing in winter hiking as it retains mositure. Warm waterproof boots are essential, of course.

4. Recheck the weather
Weather conditions can change overnight, so it is important to check the weather before you leave in the morning. Don't just check the temperature where you are hiking. Consider precipitation, wind speed, along with daylight hours. Remember that the visibility of the trail can be greatly hampered under a layer of snow.

5. Bring crampons
When the trail becomes icy, crampons are a necessity. Without them you will likely have to turn back. The risk of sliding off an icy trail and down a slope is high. Practice putting on and taking off the crampons before you go hiking and practice using them by walking around the block in winter. Be careful and take it slow in icy conditions and remember that those sharp metal spikes can cause injury to yourself and others.

6. Bring safety items
You should alsways have a trail map and a first aid kit whenever you hike but it's especially important to consider safety in winter conditions. A compass or gps is good as is a pocket knife. A small flashlight with a bright beams is helpful also in case of emergency. Small hand warming packets can greatly add to your comfort when you hands begin to get cold. Are you prepared to spend the night in an emergency? A small silver emergency blanket costs less than $10, is very light and could save your life. Bring a charged phone but be aware that cell reception may be nil in the woods. Also consider that sunscreen is necessary even in winter and that a hiking pole with a carbide tip can help you down slippery slopes.

7. Hike with a friend
Don't hike alone in winter. An experienced friend can make the hike safer and more fun also. Leave information at home about where you are hiking and send an email about your destination to a friend.

8. Bring a warm drink
A thermos of hot coffee, tea or hot chocolate can warm you up and brighten your spirits when you get cold and weary. Some handy snacks of nuts or high energy bars will feel great on the trail.

9. Bring water
We tend not to feel as thirsty in winter but it is important to always keep hydrated. Drink often even if you don't feel thirsty. Dehydration can result in dizzyness and confusion -not a good combination on a snowy, icy trail.

10.  Keep moving
You need to walk fast enough to keep warm, but not so fast that you are breathing hard and perspiring. Don't stop for too long or you will cool down quickly. These tips should help you have a safe and enjoyable winter hike.
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