Not going to lie I’m not big on winter hiking.
I respect those that go out and do it– safely. However, after scrolling various social media channels there are a lot of folks that don’t.
You can do it safely. Hike in pairs or have a detailed plan outlining your stops etc. left with a family member or ranger station, have the appropriate gear (my problem), have back up gear, and a warming system.*
Where I grew up, I hiked more in the winter but most of the time it never dipped below the mid-twenties and all my gear worked well. Side note, it was a “wet” cold because of the humidity so it could get chilly and when you’re wet and chilly you can get miserable.
Now, I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum. “Dry” cold, wind chill, and low numbers. I never thought I would get to a day when I thought 1 degree was warm but after experiencing a couple -20 days in a row, I can say that 1 degree is pleasant.
However, I’m weak and I don’t want to do a multiday trip in such weather. Especially, sleep and then get up and hike in Sub-Zero’s closet. I’ll gladly admit I’m weak. I wannabe warm, drinking hot cocoa, and snuggled into my couch when those numbers dip below 20 degree. But I will canoe in it… go figure that one out…
I do day hikes when possible in the winter. I think it’s beautiful and knowing I’ll be out of the cold before it gets really “cold” makes the trip better.
Yet, I do have the itch to get out for a longer stretch and camp. I’ve been looking at some places nearby where I can do an overnight. But, I do have to coordinate with my better half on when I do this so that little man isn’t neglected. Wade also worries about me doing stuff by myself– it’s almost like I didn’t make it 26 years on my own. He means well though.
I do think it would be cool to get some snowy sunrise shots though. I might do a trip in Badlands (it’s warmer).
Things to remember or blend in with your trip planning for winter hikes:
- Ice cleats and trekking poles. This was a life changer, I really used them on my February trip to Indian Gardens in the Grand Canyon. However, since then I love them just booking around the local trails in winter. Even though I live in Nebraska were it’s “somewhat” flat– they are still handy when hiking the river canyon.
- Sleeping bag liner— this was the best thing when I hiked the Grand Canyon. It really does aid in heat retention.
- Gravity water purification system. It will save your hands. Or use iodine tablets.
- Quality mittens, wool snuggly socks, and gaiters– if your hands and feet are cold the trip will suck.
- Tent and sleeping pad, make sure you have the tent outfitted for cold weather. If you are hiking in extreme cold, go with a four season tent. Also a good R value on your sleeping pad will assist in retaining heat while you sleep. 3.5, or in my case a 4, will make the night bearable in cold snowy temps.
- Have a detailed itinerary– leave it with a family member, ranger, or someone you trust.
- Plan on it taking longer than your average summer hike. Shorter days, snow pack, and freak snow squalls can add time. Plan on shorter trips in areas you know.
- Pack extra food– you’ll be burning calories just trying to stay warm.
- Pack extra clothes in case you wind up soaking due to an unfortunate event or because it drops into colder temps than expected.
- Make sure you are drinking water– you can still become dehydrated even in cold conditions. Hot tea is the best.
- Finally, check the weather. If a front is moving in, move your plan to the back yard.
Get out and enjoy the cold if that’s your thing but do it safely so us EMS folks don’t have to get out in the weather too– I mean we will because that’s what we do.
I’m now expanding my winter weather hiking equipment and I’m willing to experiment and go hike in my “new” locale. I still don’t want to go when it dips below zero though…
P.S. Pack more snacks than normal– then double it.