9 Tips for Winter Hiking: A Frosty Adventure With Safety in Mind

Dec 21, 2023

Winter hiking offers a special experience to adventurers of all ages: snow-covered landscapes, serene environments, and a refreshing chill in the air. But with the beauty of winter comes additional challenges for staying safe. For parents, kids, and even accomplished Cub Scouts, understanding how to hike safely and comfortably is essential. Here are some key hiking tips for getting that exhilarating experience without risking your safety.

Winter Hiking Safety Tips

1. Know Before You Go

Before heading out, research your trail. Understand the terrain, potential hazards, and any seasonal closures. Be sure you know where you are going; don’t rely on your phone. Check the weather forecast and be prepared for sudden changes. Always inform someone about your hiking plans and expected return time.

2. Dress for Success

Another important step to hiking in winter stress-free is dressing appropriately. First, avoid cotton clothing. When cotton gets wet, it loses its insulating properties and can make you feel colder. Instead, opt for synthetic or wool fabrics that retain warmth even when damp. 

Next, keep in mind that layering is key. Start with a moisture-wicking base layer to keep sweat away from your skin. Over that, add an insulating layer, like fleece or wool, to trap warmth. Finish with a waterproof and windproof outer coat to protect against the elements, and consider some winter hiking pants of this type as well. 

Finally, remember that your feet are your primary mode of transportation on a hike, so keep them warm and dry. Waterproof, insulated winter hiking boots are a must. Consider using gaiters to prevent snow from entering your boots. Always pack an extra pair of socks in case the ones you’re wearing get wet.

3. Gear Up

Be sure you have appropriate supplies in your backpack. Carry a map, compass, and possibly a GPS device. Even familiar trails can look different under a blanket of snow. Also, pack a whistle, flashlight or headlamp, and extra batteries. These can be lifesavers if you find yourself out longer than expected.

4. Stay Hydrated and Energized

Cold weather can suppress your thirst, but your body still needs hydration. Carry a thermos with warm drinks to encourage regular sipping. Also, pack high-energy snacks like nuts and energy bars to maintain your stamina.

5. Beware of Hypothermia and Frostbite

Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it. Symptoms include shivering, confusion, and fatigue. Frostbite, on the other hand, is when skin and underlying tissues freeze. It most commonly affects the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks, and chin. Make sure these parts of your body stay covered or otherwise warm and dry. If you or anyone in your group shows signs of hypothermia or frostbite, seek shelter, warm up, and consider ending the hike.

6. Respect Wildlife

Winter is a challenging time for animals too. They conserve energy and rely on stored food. Avoid approaching or feeding wildlife, and be cautious of tracks or signs indicating animal activity.

7. Leave No Trace

Preserve the beauty of winter landscapes and natural resources by practicing “Leave No Trace” principles in winter, just as you would at any other time of year. Pack out all trash, avoid disturbing wildlife, and respect other hikers.

8. Group Dynamics

Never hike alone in winter, and consider hiking with more than one other person. Hiking with a group is not only fun, but also safer. There’s strength in numbers. If someone gets injured or lost, having others around can be crucial. Maintain a pace that’s comfortable for everyone, and regularly check on each other’s well-being.

9. Trust Your Instincts

If conditions deteriorate or if you feel something isn’t right, it’s okay to turn back. The mountain or trail will always be there for another day.

Enjoy Winter Recreation Safely With BSA Laurel Highlands Council

If you live in the western parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, or West Virginia, enrolling your child in the Scouting America Laurel Highlands Council is an excellent way to introduce them to safe winter recreational activities. Join us for Cub Scout Winter Weekends from February 2–18, 2024, at Heritage Reservation.

Scouting’s programs and outdoor adventures give young people equal opportunities to try new things, provide service to others, build self-confidence, and develop leadership skills. These experiences not only help Scouts while they are young, but help them grow into exceptional men and women that respect their family, community, religion, country, and themselves.

The Scouting America, Laurel Highlands Council serves youth members and volunteer adult leaders throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania and portions of the Potomac region in Maryland and West Virginia. We aim to beneficially involve every eligible child and their family in the fun and adventure of our programs. We provide extraordinary youth development programs that develop and strengthen the values of the Scout Oath and Law. 

So what are you waiting for? Join now!


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