Many think that the winter is nothing but an adventure-hibernation. Sure, downhill skiing and skating are great fun, but there isn’t the same sense of exploration; there are no trails to blaze. We all know that true adventure waits for you on your favourite trails, but did you know it’s actually really easy to get out all year round? In fact, winter hiking can be just as memorable as summer hiking!
The winter brings a whole new face to the backcountry. There’s a serenity that can only be experienced first hand. Of course, you’ll want to be prepared. If you follow these tips, you’ll never have to worry about shedding that layer of winter fat ever again.
There are lots of hiking clubs that keep going in winter. We recommend using the site Meetup to find local groups. In addition to Hiking clubs, there are often dedicated XC Ski clubs and snowshoe clubs. Going with others is much better because they know the best places to go, and it’s safer in numbers. On the flipside, be aware that the others in the group may not know any more than you and can get you into danger.
Don’t buy the cheapest stuff you can find! You need to rely on your winter gear, especially critical items. Support your local outdoors store and get property fitted. You don’t want your snowshoes to break, your microspikes to fall off, or to find out your mitts aren’t waterproof halfway through a daytrip! Gear here also implies a good amount of layers. You’ll want wool and waterproofing for winter walks.
Know what avalanche terrain is and stay out of it. Avalanche Canada has a great website that gives you lots of information and can even point you to a site in your area (if you live in Canada) that offers training. For our readers in Europe (and the UK specifically) the European Avalanche School is a good resource. Americans can find great training through Avalanche.org. Their map will help you find training in your area.
There is a smaller margin of error than there is in the summer. Consider bringing a proper emergency communication device: we love the Delorme In Reach. Always bring a first aid kit, some waterproof matches, have something to sit on, have some warm clothes and take a headlamp with some extra batteries. We also love having a tarp as it serves so many uses as well as some small/light food (hot chocolate and soup mix works well).
Start early; leave a buffer of time at end of day. The winter season means shorter days after all and helicopters can’t rescue in the dark. This means you need to make sure your emergency kit can help you out if you are stuck outdoors for a few hours.
Tell your friends; tell your family; tell the park rangers. If you’re gone too long it’s important that someone can send help. We prefer sending an email the night before to all members of our group and a family member who isn’t going with our route, weather conditions and expected start / finish. This also helps the group ensure they pack the right gear for the expected weather.
Know the dangers, current trail conditions, and suitability before you leave for your adventure. Get an accurate weather forecast from www.mountain-forecast.com. It’s an unpredictable season at times and having as much information about your trip as possible is essential. Most importantly, don’t blindly follow another group’s tracks – they may not know where they are going! Evaluate your own route and make your own assessment for relative safety of your route.
Ensure you have lots of warm layers on, and make sure there is extra layer in your bag. Bring something to sit on too if you’re ever taking a break. We like the Thermarest Z seat. Also, a small thermos of hot tea with lots of honey really hits the spot when you’re on the trail. It’ll warm you up and give you a little boost too.
Poles are an enormous help on icy sections. They are also an enormous help when heading downhill. Heck, poles are great at practically all points of the trail.
This is the best advice, just keep on learning. Take a course on snowshoeing, winter hiking, avalanche training or backcountry skiing with local guiding companies. This is a great way to learn more, meet interesting people and have safe, epic days. You’ll be shedding that winter fat in no time!