When it comes to winter, there are two types of people: those who spend December to March hibernating indoors, and those who spend those same months outside enjoying the crisp air and beautiful snow. This article is for the second group (or people in the first group looking to change their ways). Hiking is a common pastime many people enjoy during the warmer months, but it is also a great pastime for the winter months too— but don’t expect it to be quite as simple as hiking in the summer. Due to the cold weather, snow and ice, winter hiking requires some additional planning and preparation to make it enjoyable.

If you’re looking to get outdoors this winter and explore nature’s beauty, then continue reading below for a list of tips for hiking in the snow.

Hike in Groups

First things first. You should always hike with at least one other person. Not only will they give you someone to enjoy nature with, but if you were ever to slip and hurt yourself, they’d be able to help. This can include bandaging and treating a wound or even assist you in making it back to the car or cabin safely.

Wear Proper Attire

Gone are the days of hiking in shorts, t-shirts and 30+ degree weather. Hiking in the winter requires many layers and forgetting to do this crucial step can be a day-ruiner. But when it comes to layers, not all materials are equal. We suggest staying away from cotton and choosing wool or synthetic material for your base layer. These materials won’t hold moisture like cotton and will make you feel warmer. The key to preparing your outfit for a winter hike is not to underestimate the weather. Although the temperature may feel warm and the sun may be shining, it can feel quite cold after a few short minutes. We recommend wearing as many layers as possible so that you have the option to shed any should you start to feel too warm. You want to feel comfortable without causing your body to sweat profusely. And don’t forget your scarf, mitts and toque!

Don’t Forget About Your Footwear

Along with the need for proper attire, is the need for appropriate footwear. Those hiking shoes might have been fine for hiking in the spring and summer, but winter hikes require tall boots with enough support and insulation to keep your feet safe and warm on your next hike. This applies to your sock choice too! Your sock should fit snug and provide additional protection from the cold. Depending on where you’re hiking and the conditions, you may also want to look into bringing snowshoes or slip-on ice grippers. These will make walking across icy trails or deep, fresh snow much easier and will save you a lot of aches, pains and energy.

Watch the Weather

Winter weather can change in an instant, and that’s why it’s important to make yourself fully aware of any potential weather that could turn your relaxing hike into a stressful trek. Before heading out for your hike, be sure to check out your area’s weather forecast and make a note of when any snowfalls may occur. While beautiful, these snowfalls can make a winter hike more difficult by covering up tracks and reducing visibility significantly. Depending on the seriousness of the snowfall, it can also make it difficult to see where you’re going and can increase the chance of injury.

If snowfall is forecasted to hit while you plan to be out hiking, we suggest bringing some form of eyewear with you. These can be sunglasses or even ski goggles. Regardless, they’ll allow you to see where you are going and may also protect you from the harmful glare off the snow.

Watch the Time

Along with watching the weather, you’ll also want to watch the time. With the days being much shorter than the summer, it can mean nightfall hits much sooner than expected. This can make finding your way back to the cabin or car much tougher, but can also face you with much colder temperatures than you prepared for. Your best option is to plan to start your hike early in the morning (around 8 a.m.) and plan to be finished by no later than 4 p.m. This should give you enough additional time to make it back to the car or cabin just before or just after it gets dark should you run into an unexpected delay. And it also means you should make it back to warmth before the temperature drops too low. 

Use Walking Poles

One of the best parts about hiking in the winter is all the snow and ice. But while they’re beautiful, they can also make it tough to gain traction and maintain stability. This is where walking poles become a vital part of winter hiking. Walking poles, or sometimes ski poles, come with a metal tip on the base to allow them to grip the ice and give hikers the stability they need. They’re also great for cutting through the snow down to the ground to ensure they are as stable as possible.

As with any physical activity, there is always a chance of injury— even more so when it comes to the snow and ice of winter hiking. If you or someone you know has suffered a tweak, twist or pull, we invite you to visit our Kitchener or Baden office to be examined and properly diagnosed. While many injuries are quite minor and will eventually disappear on their own, some require rehabilitation and therapy that can only be prescribed by a professional. Our team of rehabilitation and therapy specialists are ready to assist you in treating your pain or discomfort and are dedicated to getting you back on the trails as soon as possible. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this article further, you can reach out to us by phone, email or even social media. One of our team members would be more than happy to help you.

Happy Trails!