It’s a winter wonderland in the mountains but you’re craving to hit the trails and camp out for the night. Winter hiking has some great perks – there’s less people for one. And, the landscape is much more dramatic with snow covered peaks. There’s no reason to wait for warmer weather. Layer up, get a group of friends together, grab your camping gear and get to it. These tips for hiking and camping in the snow will ensure you have a fun trip this winter season.
Learn how to plan & prepare for your own overnight hiking adventure.
1. DRESS WARMLY
Wearing layers is key to staying warm when you’re hiking in the snow. You’ll be cold when you first start hiking, but you’ll warm up once you get moving. Keeping this in mind, don’t bundle up too much or you’ll start to sweat.
As far as what to wear, you’ll want the layer closest to your body to be a wool or synthetic base layer. Next, you’ll put on fleece pants and a shirt or down vest to insulate you. The last layer will be your waterproof rain jacket and rain pants to keep you dry.
For your extremities, put on a pair of thick wool socks, waterproof gloves, and a warm, windproof hat or beanie. You can lose a large portion of your body’s heat through your head, so you’ll always want to keep your hat on. The socks and gloves will prevent any snow from getting on your skin.
Many hikers bring hand warmers to keep their fingers from freezing.
2. DON’T HIKE ALONE
Even if you’re the most experienced hiker, it’s always better to bring a buddy along on your trip. Winter hiking brings new dangers that aren’t normally an issue during the warmer seasons. If you fall and get injured, you don’t want to risk freezing in the event that you can’t get a hold of someone.
Hiking in the snow can be tricky since you can’t see what it’s covering below. If you don’t know the route already, you won’t know if a river or ditch are hiding below the snow. Avalanches can also occur at random, so you’ll want someone else to know where you are at all times should something happen.
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3. STAY HYDRATED
Drinking water may be the last thing you want to do when it’s freezing outside, but it’s vital to drink fluids throughout the day. According to Popular Mechanic, it’s just as important to stay hydrated in the winter as it is during the summer. Bring a thermos and camping stove so you can boil water for tea, coffee, or hot chocolate and stay warm all day.
4. SCOUT OUT YOUR CAMPSITE
When you’re ready to settle down after your first day of hiking, take the time to evaluate your potential camping site. You’ll first want to make sure it’s not in the path where an avalanche could occur, such as the bottom of a mountain covered in heavy snow. Not being directly under trees is preferred as well, as the heavy weight of the snow can make them snap on a whim.
Winter tends to bring much more wind than in the summer, so make sure you spot is sheltered from the wind. You’ll want to be as warm as possible when you’re at your campsite, especially since you won’t be moving much. If possible, put your campsite in the path of where the sun will rise in the morning so you’ll warm up faster.
Photo by istockphoto.com/portfolio/Shaiith
5. BRING THE RIGHT GEAR FOR CAMPING
Once you’ve picked the perfect camping spot, put down a waterproof tarp or ground sheet underneath your tent to prevent water from seeping through. Bring your smallest tent with you, as it’ll take much less time for your body heat to warm up it up at night as opposed to a large tent. A tent without large vents or windows is ideal so the wind doesn’t come in. You’ll also want to make sure you have strong tent poles in case the wind picks up.
For your sleeping bag, you’ll want one that’s different than your lightweight bag used for your summer excursions. Use an insulated one to provide extra warmth, and add a sleeping bag liner for an added layer of warmth and comfort. Put a sleeping pad under your sleeping bag to cushion you and prevent any body heat from being lost.
6. BRING EQUIPMENT FOR THE SNOW
Even if you’ve been on the route many times during the summer, it might look different when the snow covers up landmarks you’re used to seeing. Bring along a GPS device (or a hiking watch with GPS) and a good map of the area in case you get turned around, and make sure everyone in the group has one as well. Agree on the route you’ll follow together as a group, and be prepared to re-evaluate the situation if the route doesn’t look safe.
It’s important that you understand how to read a topographical map. If you’ve never used one before, or need a refresher, keep out our guide on how to read a topo map.
If you do get lost, do not panic. Calmly look at your map and GPS unit to see where you are and try to figure out where you need to go. Retrace your steps until you can recognize where you are on your map. If you’re separated from your group, blow a whistle or be loud so they can call to you.
7. BRING EXTRA FIREWOOD
If you are car camping, consider bringing extra firewood with you. While you may be used to finding firewood in the summer anywhere you camp, don’t assume the same thing will happen in the snow. For one, the ground is completely covered, making it hard to search for wood that would normally stick out. There’s a good chance the wood you do find won’t burn due to being too wet.