Tips for Planning for a Winter Hike
How to get outside and best enjoy cold, wet, snowy, and icy hiking conditions
Brrr, it’s cold and wet outside. Does that make you want to stay inside and curl up next to a warm fire? Or are you the type who says, “Bad weather? More like perfect weather to get outside for a hike!”?
If you’re like us and cold weather months dominate your calendar, becoming bear-like and hibernating inside isn’t always a favorable option. Sitting by a fire is nice, but getting outside and enjoying nature has its immense advantages. Here at Union Creek Resort, where deep snow is common in winter, we revel in outdoor winter activities. Local Upper Rogue River and Crater Lake hiking trails are perfect for serene winter hikes, filled with thriving creeks and rivers, cascading waterfalls, towering old growth forests, and the pristine Rogue River National Forest.
Staying inside, out of wet and cold weather, can give anyone a serious case of cabin fever, inhibit your exercise, and dampen your mood. Winter hiking can be an especially enlightening experience with the forest becoming a different world during the cold season. For starters, you can practically have the trails to yourself as fewer people brave the elements. Hiking in the rain or on snow-covered trails brings a new world of sights, sounds and smells. Rain lightly hitting Douglas fir pine needles and the forest floor is a calming, soothing sound. The muffled crunch of snow under your feet, juxtaposed with the extreme quiet of a white surrounding winter land, makes for an exhilarating, memorable experience. And the cool, clean, fresh smells filling the air just can’t be beat.
For all of its positives, cold-weather hiking does require a great deal more due diligence than fair-weather activities. Being prepared and ready for cooler temperatures and wetter environments is a must and helps guarantee a safe and fun time.
As the Boy Scouts say, Be Prepared
Before hitting the trails, you need to spend some time researching where you’re going. Consult your local library for detailed trail guides, Google search the area and specific trails, or contact the U.S. Forest Service with questions. You can also contact nearby businesses to get the very latest, and actual, information. If you’re hiking in the Union Creek or Crater Lake area, contact the Union Creek Resort at 541-560-3565 or email@example.com. If possible, talk to people who have actually hiked the trail during both nice and poor weather conditions, and find out how the trail is different in each situation.
- Study the trail. Study and bring maps (either printed or digital) and make sure you know the ins and outs of following the trail; a snow-covered or wet trail is harder to follow so make sure you learn insider tips of when it branches off in different directions, passes by landmarks, and places where it’s difficult to see. It’s also essential to find out how strenuous the trail is and how long it typically takes. You don’t want to tackle too difficult a trail in cold weather, and you want to give yourself plenty of time to finish during the daylight hours.
- Check road conditions. Some smaller roads are closed during the winter due to snowfall so make sure you are aware of any possible closures. You can also search out webcams that show current conditions and give you a visual sense of the conditions you will be hiking in.
- Weather reports. Be sure to check the latest forecasts for temperature, rain, snow, wind, and any other information you can get.
- Sunrise and sunset. Find out your optimal window of daylight hiking and be on the trail as early as possible, depending on the length of the hike. The sun sets much earlier in the winter months and you don’t want to get stuck out on the trail after sunset because of poor planning.
Plan for everything; plan for a great time.
If possible, go with hiking partners who have experience in poor weather. If you bring a friend who’s great at following snow-covered trails, or knows how to build a snow shelter when necessary, bring them along for added safety and peace of mind.
You should also let your friends and family know your trip plan, making sure they know where you’re going, how long it should take, and when you will check back in with them so they know you’re safe and sound.
Finally, make sure all of your equipment works. You don’t want to find out that your waterproof jacket is ripped, or your water bottle has a slow leak once you’re out on the trail.
If you’re specifically hiking snowy trails, snowshoes are a must and make any depth of snow manageable. Snowshoes can be rented at the Union Creek Resort Country Store. Trekking poles are also handy in slippery conditions, which include muddy, snowy, or icy trails.
Clothes may not make you, but they’ll definitely make you warmer and more comfortable.
Comfort in hiking in wet and snowy conditions requires clothing that will keep you dry and warm. You’ll need clothes, boots and accessories that wick moisture, dry quickly, are insulated, waterproof and breathable. And above all, avoid wearing cotton-based fabrics (including corduroy, denim, flannel, or duck) that hold moisture against your skin, wicks heat from your body, and don’t insulate once wet – putting you at risk of hypothermia. Wool is also to be avoided as it does not wick moisture, and instead keeps it against your skin.
With clothing, layering is key to keep a constant body temperature. When you start out, you may be cold but your body will generate heat in the first 15 minutes.
- Base layer. This layer, which touches your skin, is your moisture-wicking layer that moves moisture from your skin to outer clothing layers where it can evaporate. Typical base layers are a wicking breathable shirt or thermal layer.
- Middle layer. This is your insulating later and helps your body retain heat. Ideas include a microfleece shirt, fleece or down jacket and fleece pants.
- Outer layer/shell. Your first line of defense against the elements of rain and snow, the outer shell should be wind and waterproof.
- Socks. Time to layer again. Wear a thin, well-fitting pair next to your skin and a second, thicker set over those. Make sure the two pairs are not so thick that they make your boots too tight, which will make your feet cold.
- Boots. Wear footwear that is comfortable, waterproof, and insulated with good traction for slipper conditions. If you’re hiking exclusively in snow, a good idea is to strap on ice traction devices like Yaktrax or STABILicers that strap onto the bottom of your boots.
- Hat. Heat is lost through the top of your head, so in cold weather make sure your top is covered. Hats can also help keep rain out of your eyes or eye protection.
- Gloves/mittens. We all know how miserable it is when our hands are freezing, even if the rest of our bodies are toasty warm. We suggest two layers – one for insulation and the other for waterproofing.
- Gaiters. If you’re hiking in snow, gaiters are awesome for keeping wetness from entering your boots and ensuring your feet stay dry and warm.
- Eye protection. Glasses or goggles are great for keeping wind and water out of your eyes, as well as blocking UV rays and reflection in snowy conditions.
Now that you’re prepared for any type of weather, freezing temperatures, difficult ground conditions, and unforeseen emergencies, it’s time to hit the trail. Here are a few basic tips to remember while you’re hiking.
- Warm up. If it’s chilly when you start, job in place for a minute or so or go for a quick sprint at the trailhead. This will warm you up and get you ready for the hike.
- Stay hydrated. In cold weather, you won’t feel as thirsty but it’s important to drink constantly to avoid dehydration.
- Be careful. Icy, snowy, or wet conditions translate to slipperiness. Always be aware of where your feet are stepping and the slope of the trail. Trekking poles can really help you keep your balance in any terrain.
- Stay dry. Avoid getting unnecessarily wet, especially when crossing a stream or walking through puddle-lined trails.
And finally, don’t forget to enjoy the experience! Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in what’s wrong with a cold-weather hike, because it is, after all, a cold-weather hike. Sure it’s cooler, wetter, and possibly darker. But it’s also a memory-creating experience where you’re in the great outdoors instead of stuck inside. Enjoy the cool, fresh air, winter exercise, and beautiful scenery!