Many people associate hiking with sunny trails and hot summer days, yet hiking is a year-round activity. Some adventurers even prefer to explore the outdoors in the cold winter months. The US has some of the most gorgeous trails for winter hiking, including Cumberland Trail in Tennessee and Mazama Ridge Trail in the state of Washington.
There are many things one needs to know before embarking on a winter hike in order to hike safely and smartly. Summer requires bug spray, sunscreen, and plenty of water, while winter hikes have their own set of must-pack items. Some travelers prefer to migrate to warm states to hike, and they should check out Texas’ ten best state parks. Hikers who are not afraid of the cold, however, should follow the tips below when visiting and hiking a state park in the winter months.
Related: Break Out Your Snowshoes For These Beautiful Snow-Covered U.S. Hikes
10/10 Stay Hydrated With Bottled Water
Even in the winter months, it is important to pack water for one’s hike. Hikers can become dehydrated even when it is not hot and sunny outside. It is important to pack a water bottle during the cold months. Hydration reservoirs have many benefits, including being hands-free and small, yet they are not well-suited for winter. The drink tubes easily freeze in chilling temperatures, making the reservoir unusable. Solve this problem by packing a regular water bottle and storing it inside a backpack for extra insulation.
To keep the cap from freezing, store the bottle upside down.
9/10 Use Sunscreen
Some people assume sunscreen only needs to be worn in the summer; however, this is not the case. Travelers planning a winter hike in a high-altitude area should wear sunscreen while outside. High-altitude areas have a thinner atmospheric layer, meaning there are higher UV levels. Sunlight also reflects off of snow, causing UV rays to bounce around. It is recommended hikers wear SPF 15+, as well as sunglasses. Some people also find it helpful to wear wide-brim hats.
8/10 Check The Weather Forecast
To be fully prepared when visiting a state park in the winter, travelers should check the weather forecast. It is important to do research before traveling. Look up the typical winter weather patterns of the area, as well as the 7-day forecast. The Weather Channel website is a great resource, as well as the Weather app. If the weather looks a little dicey, do not worry. There are plenty of actions one can take to stay safe while traveling in bad weather.
7/10 Know When The Sun Sets
Knowing what weather conditions to expect is important, but travelers should not forget to also check what time the sun sets. During the winter months, the days are shorter, and nights are longer due to the sun setting earlier and earlier. The shortest day of the year, or winter solstice, is December 21st. Visitors embarking on hikes around this date should be especially mindful of time when hiking. Wandering on a trail in the dark can be quite dangerous, especially if the hiker did not intend to be on the trail past dark. It is always better to be over-prepared, so travelers should also review what to do if they get lost hiking prior to their trip.
Another tip is to invest in appropriate footwear prior to hiking at a state park. Good footwear is a necessity year-round, yet there are additional ways to make hiking shoes winter-friendly. Winter traction devices are a great way to upgrade one’s hiking boots. These devices attach to the bottom of a shoe and feature microspikes for optimal traction. They are sold at most sporting goods and outdoor adventure stores and can even be found on sites like Amazon as well.
Related: 10 Magical Winter Activities To Do In Michigan This Season
5/10 Cover Your Skin
The clothing one wears hiking is just as important as the shoes. With freezing cold temperatures and gusty winds, it is important to cover up one’s skin in order to prevent frostbite, hypothermia, and general feelings of discomfort. A few winter clothing essentials include waterproof fleece gloves or mittens, thick wool socks, a neck gaiter, a winter hat that covers the ears, and long underwear for layering. An additional way to stay warm is to use hand and toe warming packets.
4/10 Watch For Signs Of Hypothermia
Even when taking the proper steps, hikers should still be alert and watch out for signs of hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when the body reaches an alarmingly low body temperature and cannot produce enough heat. Beginning signs of hypothermia include shivering, clumsiness, brain fog, and confusion. Treating hypothermia requires getting the body to produce more heat. This could look like getting the person indoors, changing from wet and cold clothing to dry clothing, or warming up in a heated car.
3/10 Check The Park’s Website Ahead Of Time
Another way to prepare for a hike is to check the state park’s website prior to visiting. On the website, travelers can learn of safety alerts, road conditions, trail closures, and hazards. The website also provides safety tips that specifically relate to that state park.
The park websites also share fun information, such as which winter-related activities are available in the area. Snowshoeing, fat tire biking, and snowmobiling are all exciting winter activities to investigate prior to visiting.
2/10 Create A Backup Plan
Planning outdoor trips can be tricky, as no one can control the weather. Following the weather patterns and checking the state park website gives travelers a pretty good idea of whether they can hike the trails, yet it is always smart to create a plan B. Finding alternate trails to hike, planning a stop at the visitor center, or finding nearby indoor attractions are all smart ways to plan for a vacation (sans travel agent). While it can be disappointing to alter one’s travel plans, it is less of a stress when there is already a backup plan prepared.
1/10 Add A One-Day Buffer To Travel Plans
The main takeaway from this article is that the weather is unpredictable. A smart way to plan a winter hiking trip is to tack on an extra day to one’s itinerary. The extra day may come in handy if there is a flight delay or cancelation. Perhaps there is one particularly freezing day, making for unhikeable weather. The extra day can also be used as a “recovery” day if travelers need a day to relax, rest up, or get over jet lag before embarking on a tough outdoor hike.