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Winter Hiking: Plan Ahead to Stay Safe

by / Friday, 26 January 2018 / Published in Backpacking, Blog

Cold weather shouldn’t keep us indoors all winter, but it should make us more safety conscious. Whether you’re camping for a weekend or hiking long distances at frigid temperatures, safety considerations should be slightly different for winter versus summer hiking.

To help you stay safe on the trail, we’re even hosting Wilderness First Aid in February! With proper planning, you can be safe outdoors no matter what elements you may face.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Photo Credit: The Greatest Road Trip

Keep Good Company

It is always a good idea to hike with loved ones, but this is especially true during the cold winter months. There are simply too many things that can go wrong too quickly if we were to hike alone in snow and ice. In addition, tell a friend who’s staying home where you’re going and when you expect to be back. Accountability is one of the best safety measures to take.

Get A Head Start

During the winter, daylight hours are shorter. Because the sun sets much more quickly, it is best to start your hike earlier in the day to make the most of the few daylight hours you have. Just in case, make certain to pack flashlights, headlamps, and spare batteries (lithium batteries are the most dependable in cold weather).

Cuyahoga Valley National Park Buckeye Trail
Photo Credit: Summit Post

Ask for Directions

If snow is very deep, it can hide trail markers. Dust off your navigation skills beforehand, and pack your compass and topographical map just in case. (GPS can be unreliable when it is too cold outside.)

Plan Ahead for Warmth

Be aware of the clothes you’re wearing. You’ll need to stay warm using only what you can carry, so dress in layers and decide whether it’s best to pack extra clothes or emergency shelter equipment. You won’t be able to depend on fire or shelter to keep you warm if the weather grows worse.

Frozen Kendall Lake
Photo Credit: Neo Naturalist

Know Your Surroundings

If you’re hiking in deep snow, study avalanche dynamics and how to hike safely in avalanche terrain. Always be aware of the snow around you and your relation to it. Sometimes local outdoors clubs provide winter hiking training, so if any of these skills sound like you could use some brushing up, sign up for a course.

Eat and Hydrate Regularly

Make it a habit to eat and drink often. Dehydration can make hypothermia set in faster, so even though the weather is cold, don’t misestimate how much liquid you still need. Also, because the terrain is more difficult for hiking during the winter, eat often. Snowshoeing uses approximately 600 calories every hour, while winter backpacking burns between 4,000 and 5,000 calories in a single day. Pack healthy, nutritious snacks that will keep you fueled for your adventure.

Take A Course at Appalachian Outfitters

To help you safely enjoy the outdoors all winter long, we’ve designed a Wilderness First Aid course for our local community! Don’t let sudden illness or injuries ruin your time outdoors, and don’t assume that you can rely on 911 in a wilderness emergency. Depending on the area you’re exploring, professional help could take hours or days to reach you. Knowing how to give immediate, extended care in the wild, even with limited resources, could make all the difference for you and your hiking buddies.

Our course is designed by the Emergency Care and Safety Institute (ECSI), the American College of Emergency Physicians, and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. With these resources, we’re able to offer you one of the best Wilderness First Aid classes that are currently available. All of our instructors have received training from the Philmont Training Center.

The class will focus on common situations that hikers have experienced in the outdoors, like altitude sickness, hypothermia, cuts, burns, breaks, anaphylaxis, and other outdoor injuries and illnesses. Participants will learn through several hands-on scenarios, like physical exams, victim and spinal injury assessment, and how to give information to 911 or rescuers. There is a strict limit of just 12 people for each class, so see our activity calendar for more information and registration!

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