It is that time of year again, Winter. The snow shivers your spine. The morning brew gives you just enough heat to move your muscles. You strap on your boots, throw your hiking bag in the car, and drive to the trail head. It is a brand new day and adventure awaits you. Slow down for a moment. Let’s back it up. You are about to go out into the chill of winter. You need a guide. Without further ado, I give you 10 Cold Weather Health and Safety Hiking Tips for Winter. With this article in hand, you will be sure to be able to take on the cold like a champ.
Let’s get started.
1. Make Sure to Wear All the Proper Clothing
If you do not wear proper clothing, you run the risk of hypothermia and frostbite. To beat the cold, you need to pack on the layers. This means you should use the three layer system. Let’s use the analogy of the earth. You have the inner, the core; the mantle, the middle; and then the core, the center. Your ‘crust’ needs to keep wind and moisture outside. Otherwise, any water inside could freeze. The ‘mantle’ is all about insulation. It keeps the heat inside. Your ‘core’ keeps perspiration off of your skin. You are still going to sweat, but the core keeps your skin as dry as it can.
This means no cotton. Cotton holds in water and is no good for hiking. Use a fabric like wool instead. Any fabric which will not hold in the moisture will do just fine. Goggles/sunglasses protect against snow blindness
Also, cover your skin. Any exposed skin leads to frostbite. It acts as an attractant for the cold. You need to be covered from head to toe. The only exposed skin should be your face, but even your pretty grin cannot be exposed too much or else you risk frostbite and hypothermia.
You need to bring along some sunglasses too. Snow blindness is an actual thing. The sun reflects off the snow and then onto your face. Stare at the snow long enough and you will be blinded by the sun’s rays.
Make you wear a beanie or something similar. Your brain burns a lot of calories too and your head acts as a key point of heat escape.
2. Fuel Up to Feed Your Tired Muscles
You are drudging through the foot deep snow. It did not seem so bad at the start but now it is starting to get to you. Woo eee, you sure do work up a sweat even though it is cold outside. In other words, winter hiking drains you. For this reason, you need to bring plenty of food along with you, snacks, lunch, the whole gambit. It is good to burn calories, but you also need food to feed your muscles. You burn a lot more calories winter hiking than you do summer hiking, so you need the extra energy.
3. Bring All the Proper Gear
The most important pieces of gear you need to bring are sunscreen, headlamp, and hand and toe warmers.
As I said earlier, the sun reflects off the snow and onto you so you will not only need sunglasses, but also sunscreen. You still experience ultra violet (UV) rays and all their nasty effects no matter your skin color. If you want to preserve the beauty of your skin until old age, then you need to protect your skin. It is the body’s largest organ.
The days shorten fast during the winter. In some parts of the world, the day ends under 10 hours and the next thing you know you are hiking through darkness. Unless you have night vision like an owl, I suggest you bring along a headlamp with extra batteries (and keep the batteries warm too or else they could freeze and they would be no use). You do not want to trip and fall while hiking back home.
Hand and toe warmers will be sure to keep all your little parts warm. They are the parts of your body most susceptible to frost bite, so you need to protect them as much as you can. When your fingers are warm, it feels like your whole body is warm along with them.
If you are looking for a backpack to put all of your gear in or want a better one, then you should check out one of my previous articles, The Best Backpacking Backpacks of 2019. Many of the packs listed in the article work just as well for day hikes as they do for backpacking. Check it out by clicking on the link below.
4. Drink from Your Water Bottle to Prevent Freezing
The water could freeze, plain and simple. Most water bottles are not thick and built for summer, so they start to freeze as soon as they head out into anything below 32 °F (0 °C). If you get thirsty, you do not want to be drinking ice or slushy water. Your body has to put in more calories and energy to get the water out of the ice. It may seem tempting to go without water, but you need to keep drinking it. In the winter, water may seem like an extra, but your body will need it with all the energy you are using.
5. Pack a Warm Drink, Everyone Likes Hot Coco
Coffee, tea, hot cocoa, it is all good for your health, so long as the drink is warm. A hot drink helps prevent frostbite and hypothermia. Also, it is a morale boost. The weather outside may seem cold, but now you feel stronger and more sure of yourself. The blood rushes faster. Your confidence rises.
6. Watch for the Signs of Frostbite
In essence, frostbite is the freezing of tissue. Some signs include: cold, waxy skin; numbness; soft skin; and pain in the affected area. Your best bet is to warm up the affected area. This does not mean running the skin under hot water. Do not do that or else you may damage the tissue. Instead, place your fingers under your armpits or your toes on someone’s belly. In other words, place your frostbite on something warm.
Also, change the environment. Get warm. You need to get out of the cold. Get to a warm place like a house or your car. The blood flow needs to return to the affected area. You need to cover the affected area from the cold too.
7. Keep an Eye out for Hypothermia
Hypothermia is a drop below the body’s normal temperature. Watch for the signs: shivering, minor clumsiness, slow thinking, change in mood, confusion.
Just like with the frostbite, treat hypothermia with a change in the environment. Get warm. This could mean putting on a whole fresh set of clothes out of the wet ones, getting into a warm car, exercising, and/or even heading back home. It also helps to eat food and drink water. Food and water will give your body the energy it needs to shiver. When your body shivers, it naturally warms up your body.
8. Know Your Limits
Even Bear Grylls knows when to stop and call it a day. You need to know the same too. Mother Nature moves along just fine without us people mucking things about. It is marked by indifference. It goes along its merry way no matter what happens. In response, you need to be conscientious. This means paying attention to the weather and listening to your body. Put a close ear up to both and keep a keen eye alert.
If you start to feeling your toes and fingers start to slow down, warm them up with some hand and toe warmers. If necessary, feel free to pack up and leave. You can always come back another time. If you are with friends, watch them. Good friends have each other’s back.
It is easier to stay warm than to get warm. Take the analogy of a hand crank water pump in the desert. It takes a lot of pushing to get the water flowing. But once the waters starts moving and comes up, you only have to pump every now and again to keep up the flow.
9. Plastic Bags Hurt the Environment, but are Versatile
When it comes to the environment, plastic bags are a nightmare. They take thousands of years to decompose, animals eat them, and they can then get into your food, building up chemicals and toxins in your body.
At the same time though, plastic bags have their uses. You can use a plastic bag to keep your feet drier. Slip them over your socks and you are all set to go. Have any wet gear? Just throw it into a plastic bag. Need to keep your camera and phone dry? Throw them both into a plastic bag. Plastic can be your friend if you have a bit of creativity.
10. Let Someone Know Your Plans
Hikers get lost and do not get found because they did not tell anyone their plans.
Even a short text message goes a long way. It takes less than five minutes to type out. If you have roommates, let them know. Take the time to let your friend or family member, someone you trust, know where you are going and when you will be back. It does not take that long, but it means the world when you are lost.
Are You Going to Get Outside this Week?
Well, you should now be all set to go. I do have one request of you before you leave though. I challenge you to join me (in spirit of course) in my weekly hike. It is a lot of fun to go on a hike and it brings you a lot of health benefits. With that in mind, you should head on over to AllTrails.com. It is my go to site to find a trail near me. You can bet there is a place near you that you have not fully explored yet. So what do you say? Are you going to get outside this week?
If you have any thoughts, questions, or think I missed anything, do not hesitate to comment below and please share the article. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!