Essentials for Winter Hiking and Snowshoeing Safety

by Alison McIrvin
Essentials for Winter Hiking and Snowshoeing Safety

Rumor has it that 2015 was the year of the hiker with hiking and I both increasing in popularity like never before. With all the new interest comes a large group of inexperienced and potentially unprepared people in the back country. This is dangerous regardless of the season, but winter hiking and snow country unpreparedness can become a life threatening situation very quickly due to exposure, hyperthermia, avalanche dangers and other concerns.

The place to start is with any local mountaineering organizations as well as being familiar with local and regional safety resources. In Washington State, the following organizations have a myriad of resources and helpful links to keep you safe in the backcountry this winter. Your state and region will also have similar organizations.

When you are on the trail in snowy conditions, keep in mind the following:

  • Always carry the 10 essentials, they really are essential if you find yourself in need
  • Carry extra water, emergency supplies and food to last you a full day in case you get stranded, lost, or injured.
  • Know your avalanche dangers in the area you plan to hike and realize they do not just occur on steep grades. is a great resource for more detailed information.
  • Know the 10 essentials of Avalanche Safety and follow them.
  • Be aware that many objects and hazards can lie just beneath the surface of the snow such as rocks, sharp branches, and even barbed wire fences. Proceed with caution as if something is under there.
  • Always carry a map and familiarize yourself with your course before you leave the trailhead. Snowy conditions can make even the most familiar of trails unfamiliar to you and cause you to be disoriented.
  • Along with your map, bring a compass and have an understanding of basic compass reading.
  • Don’t walk out on frozen water just because someone walked it before you. Check for thickness yourself and when in doubt, it is best to go around.
  • Let someone know where you will be going and approximately your expected arrival time.
  • Know the signs for hypothermia and frostbite and be prepared to deal with it. Hyperthermia can progress very slowly, impairing judgement and lead to life-threatening decisions.
  • Get the appropriate winter clothing and gear for your activity. Sierra Trading Post has created this great guide to help you plan your layers and suggested fabric types for each layer.

Follow these guidelines and you will be doing all you can to keep yourself safe out there and having fun all winter long.

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