Hiking in Snow

There are a lot of pluses regarding getting off of the couch and away from the TV during the winter. Many of them are the same pluses that are there in all seasons. In Winter you will not see the crowded trails which is a plus, but the minus could be you are on your own if anything should go awry. Winter has a beauty and fascination all it’s own. The stark white landscape, the surreal otherworldliness of a thick coverage of snow and ice that blankets the hills, mountains, and trees is simply divine. There is a stillness providing quiet reflection, as you breath in the chilled frosty air, and the winter wind nips at your nose. A new adventure that differs from Spring, Summer and Fall.

First let me say that I am not professing to being an expert regarding Hiking in Snow, as living in Southern California certainly isn’t conducive to conjuring up visions of a Winter Wonderland. That being said, our local mountains certainly have opportunities for snow fun, and obviously as you head further North there are endless possibilities. What I am trying to accomplish with this article is to give you food for thought as I am relaying my experiences of ‘Hiking in the Snow’.

Planning

It is imperative to plan ahead for wintery frolicking. This is essential to ensure you have a safe, and enjoyable experience. Check the weather and plan accordingly. Make sure that the roads are open to the location that you have chosen, and that the trail itself is open and available for winter fun. Find out information regarding the current conditions of the trail so you will know what to expect and to match this with your equipment and skill level. If this is new to you then you might want to take one step at at time, choosing a flat easy area, or at least an area that you are familiar with so there are not surprises for your first hiking in snow endeavor. Keep in mind Summer hikes and Winter hikes are very different. What might be an easy trek along a hill or mountainside is very different when it is a slippery slope. There is a lot more energy being expended between the two different seasons, and it takes far longer than you expect. Are there any streams, lakes, waterfall features that might be a concern? Are you in an area where there could be avalanche issues?

Safety Group

In Winter it is even more important to make sure that someone has your back. That is important anytime of year, but even more so when hiking in snow. It would be a good idea to hike with someone else if you can, although I certainly get that peaceful solitude of time alone on the trail. I don’t go anywhere without alerting my Safety Group even if I am with a group of experienced hikers. I still want that layer of safety of people I trust knowing where I am, what I expect to be doing, a map of my purposed outing, and the expected time of my finish and when I will be back in cell coverage.

Dress for Success in the Wilderness

What you wear is of dire importance, and should not be taken lightly. I invite you to review my article regarding the subject of layering: ‘Dress for Success in the Wilderness.’ To that thought I will add that when hiking in snow, as opposed to just cold weather hiking, you should consider waterproof hiking boots and possibly insulated winter boots. Boot gaiters can help keep snow out. Cool, wet feet are not only uncomfortable, but dangerous. Wool socks are good for anytime of year. Don’t forget your gloves and beanie.

What to Pack

The essentials that you would pack for a Summer day hike are also things that you will want to have for a hike in the Snow. One thing that could differ is your hydration system depending on just how cold it is. I use a camelback when hiking, but if the temperature is below freezing then the water in the tube could freeze. So you might consider bottled water or perhaps even the luxury of a thermos filled with a warm beverage.

  • Food (The act of digestion can add warmth. Also keep in mind you will be burning more calories hiking in snow due to more effort.)
  • Hydration System
  • Sunscreen (Higher Altitudes and Snow Reflection makes this essential.)
  • Sunglasses (The glare off the snow and ice is irritating)
  • Trekking Poles (The added stability is important)
  • Micro Spikes (They are helpful in the snow, but when traversing a mountainside they are absolutely crucial)
  • Head Lamp (Your trek will be longer than you think in the snow)
  • Gloves
  • Multi-tool and Knife
  • Emergency Whistle
  • Compass and Map
  • GPS Tracking (either on your phone or depending on what you are planning perhaps InReach Garmin Satellite Tracking)
  • Spare Battery (Keep electronics warm they could fail in cold weather, and the battery will drain quicker.)
  • Fire Starter (matches, lighter, flint)
  • Emergency Space Blanket
  • First Aid Kit

‘Hiking in Snow‘ can be exhilarating, but I have found that it is much harder, more energy is consumed, and it will take a lot longer than you think that it will. So start early, and especially with short Winter days, leave plenty of cushion between your expected finish and sundown. When the sun drops the temperatures will plummet, and an already hard to follow snow covered trail will be even more difficult. Another reason that GPS mapping is important in snow.

Make sure you are staying hydrated. In Summer with the heat you will feel that thirst, but in Winter by the time you are thirsty you could already be dehydrated, so make a conscience effort to drink more than you think that you need.

As far as the snow itself I have found the following concerns. In the morning when it is cold the snow is more apt to support your weight, be it on a trail that others tromped, or when you are forging virgin snow. Later in the day with the sun warming up the air and the snow, I found that I was sinking through the footprints. Earlier I was on top of the snow or sinking in only a few inches, later in the afternoon the snow was now going over my boots. Also keep in mind that snow can drift, especially around bushes or a fallen log. I might go from snow just over my boots to my knees or thighs. Skiers that cut through the trees are aware of the danger of tree wells, and the possibility of falling headfirst into such a well and becoming trapped. So if you are in a deep snow area beware.

 “Despite all I have seen and experienced, I still get the same simple thrill out of glimpsing a tiny patch of snow.” — Sir Edmund Hillary

I hope that this article gave you some ideas of how to plan for your ‘Hiking in the Snow’ adventure, so that you can go out and have a great experience while ‘Pursing Balance Through Adventure’. Stay with me for more content of this nature by doing these simple things: LIKE, FOLLOW, COMMENT and SHARE.  For inspiration and ideas on where to adventure checkout the menu above. Keep in mind each location is a separate website and thus needs to be FOLLOWED independently. A portion of this post concerned proper clothing. To look good, feel good and spread the joy of ‘Pursing Balance Through Adventure’ checkout SHOP APPAREL for top quality adventure wear. 

Happy Trails-

Roger Jenkins

Pursuing Balance Through Adventure

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