Although the elements can be harsh, the rewards of a winter hike or camping trip often outweigh the obstacles you have to face to get there. The best way to ensure your trip is big on rewards and low on obstacles is to be prepared.
Adam Swisher, a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) field instructor out of Wyoming has taught multiple courses from standard hiking and rock climbing to winter courses. Here he shares his top tips for winter safety in the outdoors.
1. Stock Your Car
Just like you'd keep extra snacks or water in your backpack, the winter is the ideal time to stock up your car, as well. Whether you're heading to the trailhead for a hike or are simply taking a long drive during a potential snowstorm, having the right items in your car can save a lot of stress, and help keep you warm and safe for longer periods of time.
"I hear stories about people being stranded up on a high pass for a couple of days," Swisher says. "There are a number of things you want to keep stowed away in the trunk or back of the car."
If traveling on any mountainous, snowy roads, make sure you have chains for your tires, as well as a snow shovel and a pack of kitty litter. If you slide out on ice, use the kitty litter for better traction to get out. Also, keep extra warm clothes in the car—snow boots, hats, mittens—as well as some sleeping bags and blankets. Keep a lighter, extra food and even a stove or pot in case you become stranded for a long time.
"If you get stranded in the woods or are running late, you can usually get back to your vehicle without being stuck outside overnight," says Swisher, who recommends you have jumper cables and some sort of tow rope, as well.
The rules of fueling and hydrating on a winter hike are similar to the rules you follow in summer: Take enough water and food to stay hydrated and keep your energy up based on the amount of exercise you'll get.
"In the winter, you have to be aware that everything is going to be way more strenuous, especially if you are hiking through snow," says Swisher.
For any moderate hike or climb, you should drink 3 to 4 liters of water a day. It can be hard to down cold water when you're already freezing, but it's important to stay hydrated. Try bringing a thermos with non-caffeinated tea or even just warm water. If you have the space, pack a lightweight stove and pot—if you get lost on the trail, you can at least melt snow for drinking water.
"With water," says Swisher, "make sure it is insulated if you are below freezing temperatures." Stow your water in your pack to keep it warm, or you can buy an insulating sleeve for a water bottle.