Winter Safety Precautions for Hikers and Backpackers

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Hiking and Backpacking are much more strongly associated with summer than winter, but those who lack their own transport and still want to see the country should not despair. With the right precautions, winter hiking and Backpacking can be safe.

Winter Hike

  • Remain informed of expected weather conditions. If you organise to hike on a day with a snowstorm that brings temperatures below -5°C, you will be in serious trouble. This is the temperature below which frostbite of even covered skin occurs in minutes and hypothermia is almost a certainty.

  • Wear layers of non-cotton clothing so you can shed layers as you warm up. Cotton remains wet instead of absorbing water.

  • Hikers should know the route before they set out, in case the snow surface obscures trails.

  • Evaluate your route and pack what you need. You want to pack light to carry light, so a lot of unnecessary items are not ideal. If you need to walk on snow-covered surfaces, you should attach ice grippers to the soles of your shoes. If the route is steep and covered with thick snow, snowshoes and crampons are more appropriate. In that case, you should also pack a snow pole for balance and forward mobility, a snow shovel to dig yourself out if you are stuck, an ice axe if you hike up a mountain and an avalanche beacon to signal others.

  • Carry food and water that is wrapped up to prevent it from freezing. Snow-shoeing burns a lot of energy, so be prepared to consume a lot of food and water.

  • Be aware of time. Winter days are shorter, so make sure you leave enough time to get to your destination. In addition, you do not want to rush; it gives you no opportunity to appreciate nature and you might sprain or break an ankle if you slip.

  • Backpackers should ideally carry small tents to keep their sleeping spaces dry, but thick trash bags are smaller and can be used in slightly warmer weather. If you are an inexperienced winter backpacker, start with trails that have more substantial accommodation for hikers.

  • To warm yourself from inside and boil water for cleanliness, take a beverage-can stove and enough alcohol to burn.

Do not avoid the beautiful countryside just because you do not have transport. Winter hiking and backpacking can be safe.