Hiking in the Winter
Most associate hiking as a summer activity, but winter hiking can be just as breathtaking. You can even hike the some of your favourite hikes with them looking completely different in the colder months. Here are a few tips and tricks on how to survive the cold and enjoy the winter wonderlands!
First thing you need to know is that winter hiking requires a little more planning than usual, but the payoff can be just as amazing. Waterfalls can turn into gorgeous vertical glaciers and the forest becomes a glistening blanket of snow so don’t be afraid to face it!
For a day hike, remember that the days are shorter in the colder months, especially in the mountains. Don’t expect there to be as much daylight so start off with a shorter hike than usual. For your first time hiking in the winter, plan a hike that isn’t so vertical. Little tip, Ice Fields are especially beautiful during this time of year, so take advantage of them!
A really great reward when you reach your mid hike is a s’mores break! In the summertime, the chocolate might melt in your pack, but there is no better excuse than the cold air to make some! Even as an adult, I love making a fire in the woods in the wintertime! (In case you don’t know how to make a fire, YouTube has excellent videos!) Bring along some hot chocolate packs too, melt some snow (make sure it’s not yellow!) in your pot for a truly Canadian hot chocolate!
Your sleeping bag is more important than ever, invest in a good one if you plan on hiking overnight. Winter nights can be unpredictable and it isn’t uncommon for Northern Alberta nights to reach -40 degrees. Your tent should have a fairly thick under layer, remember you’ll be sleeping on ice and snow.
Bring multiple socks. Unlike the summertime where you can air out your expensive hiking socks at night and put them right back on in the morning, the cold winter is challenging. Make sure to keep your feet dry and change your socks often.
Trails are often covered in snow, so make sure you have a map and plan before leaving. Mark your way with bio-degradable tape along the path. (It can snow heavily during the night and by the time you wake up the path may be covered, altering your route)
Your food pretty much remains the same but remember you might be carrying a heavier pack (on account of a bigger tent and you wearing more clothing than usual) so you might want to pack some meals with extra calories! Even if there is snow all over the place, carry purified water with you!
What do you wear?
- With any hiking it’s all about layers, layers and more layers. I like to spoil myself with a really good Merino Wool long sleeve thermal (I like to wear a onesie because I like my under layers to stay put, it’s a lot harder to readjust in the wintertime). I wear a thick cotton sweat over that. (FYI our Ripper sweaters are incredibly soft!)
- Since I am Canadian, I invested in a fabulous snowsuit. Since there are many winter sports up here and there is snow for almost 8 months of the year, I spoiled myself with a suit I can get a lot of use out of.
- Probably the most important part of your attire is footwear. If you are just starting out, wear a good pair of winter boots and throw on some crampons (these are surprisingly cheap and worth the $25-$65) if you really enjoy winter hiking, maybe ask for a nice pair of specialized winter hiking boots for Christmas.
- I like to wear mittens when hiking in the wintertime because my fingers get cold very quickly so I throw finger warmers in my mittens (little tip, you can buy a bulk pack of those warmers at Costco). I also throw a pair of gloves in my pack in case I need to do something technical (aka a fire)
- I prefer to wear a dual scarf that can turn into a balaclava (Buff makes excellent ones especially for wintertime and range from $30-$50) my own ears become cold quite quickly so I wear a nice wool hat on top of my balaclava!
- Don’t forget your sunglasses! The glare off snow can be pretty intense, even if it isn’t that bright out!
What do you bring?
- Lip balm (remember its winter), sunscreen (yes you can still get sunburnt in the wintertime), hiking poles, a lighter (to make a fire) and some dried branches in a sealed baggie (if you’re not confident about your fire building skills.)
- No matter what hike you go on, bring a first aid kit. The only difference this time is that you should throw in a heat pack in there! (Make sure you identify frostbite, do yourself a favour and watch a few videos on how to treat it on YouTube)
- Snow shoes are fun and easy to get used to. Some are very cheap so you might want to throw a pair onto your pack.
- Snow eventually becomes water (duh), so make sure your pack is waterproof or waterproof it yourself with a cover.
- Your stove (preferable a small light one) that is if you prefer not to make fires (btw make sure your fire is completely out, even though it is winter wildfires still do happen, so be responsible with your fire)
Make sure you make time to take in the breathtaking scenery of winter, dress warm and maybe sneak a hot totty when you get home! You deserve it!