Winter camping is a challenging adventure that can be risky, yet thrilling. The skillset required for winter camping is vastly different from camping in the warmer seasons. It’s tricky because daylight hours are shorter, while the nights are long and cold. You will likely encounter snow when hiking in winters. Snow can make hiking even more difficult, which is why winter hiking is also a great way to spend some quiet time in the mountains when most people are back home in their cozy beds.
Pros of Winter Hiking
First, let’s explore some advantages of winter hiking:
- Clearer night skies offer stargazing opportunities;
- Cross frozen lakes and explore far beyond what you can’t during summers;
- Nature is completely different in winters with varying animals and day and nightlife;
- It can be satisfying and rewarding when you successfully finish a winter camping trip;
- It is a new and different skill to learn with unique gears and tools that aren’t used during summers;
- You can try winter sports like skiing and snowboarding;
- Dogs love snow! Have a great time with your pet in the mountains;
- And lastly, no bugs! What more can we say to convince you?
Winter Camping with your Dog
There are some things that you should consider before taking your dog on a winter hike. Honestly and objectively, think about these aspects:
- Is your dog too small, old, or short-haired to handle cold weather? It may love hiking in summers, but not all dogs can handle snow.
- Is your dog healthy, obese, or underweight?
- Are your dog’s legs too short to walk comfortably in the snow?
- Is your dog trained well enough to stay by your side when outdoors? Does it listen to commands?
Leave your dog behind if it’s not ready or physically capable of a winter hiking trip.
How to Camp in Winter?
Now that you’re ready and excited, here are some quick tips to get you started on prepping for your trip:
- Invest in winter gear. You can borrow or rent equipment instead of buying it because winter gear can be expensive.
- Before you go on a long hike for weeks, take shorter daytime trips to a similar but closer location to give you some idea of what to expect and what to pack for your trip.
- If it is your first winter hiking trip, it is wise to tag along with someone experienced. Talk to any friends or guides that frequent snowy mountainous terrains. You can even enroll with a hiking organization.
- Some books that can guide you as you hike in winters include:
- Hypothermia, Frostbite, and Other Cold Injuries: Prevention, Recognition and Pre-Hospital Treatment, by James A. Wilkerson.
- NOLS Winter Camping, by Buck Tilton
- Paradise Below Zero: The Classic Guide to Winter Camping, by Calvin Rutstrum
- Secrets of Warmth for Comfort or Survival, by Hal Weiss
There are numerous other books that you can refer to for some comprehensive guidance.
- Try camping in colder months in the fall or spring so that you get accustomed to the change in gear and develop skills slowly instead of jumping right into extreme weather.
Planning your Winter Hike
Research and proper preparation will make your trip enjoyable and safe. Following are some tips that will help you prepare:
- Research the specific area that you plan on exploring. Search for any blogs that offer information or experiences. If you can’t find much material on the internet, contact a local guide and ask them about the weather conditions and essential gear.
- Guides can also tell you about factors such as seasonal road closures in winters. They will also tell you which areas to stay clear of due to excessive depth of snow.
- Check the weather forecast in advance.
- Bring maps or printed pictures you found online to easily locate various areas because it can be easy to get lost when everything is covered with snow.
- Keep a notebook and take notes whenever you feel like you could have brought something to make things easier or left something at home because you didn’t use it much. This notebook will help you plan future hikes.
- Write down the routes you will take and leave them with at least two contacts along with your expected time of return. If you’re not back by then, they can help begin a search operation at the correct location.
Packing for your Winter Hike
Make sure that you make a last-second checklist to run through right before leaving for the trip so that you don’t leave anything behind.
Here’s a list of some basic items, just as a reminder:
- An extra pair of batteries, toilet paper, cooking fuel, hand cleaners, etc.
- Map and compass (preferably one that doesn’t run on a battery)
- Flashlight or headlamp. Keep one for your dog as well. You hang it around their collar so that you can easily spot them in the dark.
- Extra food in an emergency pack in case you are delayed in bad weather conditions, get lost, get injured and can’t move, etc. Keep carbohydrate-rich snacks because they help ward off hypothermia. Make a special pack for your dog with treats to appreciate their good behavior.
- Snow blindness can be dangerous! Remember to bring a sturdy pair of travel-friendly sunglasses and sunscreen. You can get sunburned in winters too! Snow reflects UV light.
- First aid kit (duh!). Remember to keep essentials for your dog as well!
- Campfires are winter essential. Bring around extra pairs of emergency matches, lighters, or fire-starting kits. Fires can also signal your presence to people in case there is an emergency.
- A kit to repair winter camping equipment.
- A snow shovel, snowshoes, icepicks, etc.
- Consider a sled to carry your weight. It is easier to have your dog drag your sled since it slides easily across the snow.
How to Layer up for Winter Hiking
Layering is the most efficient way to ward off the cold. It is also easy to modify layers with the rise or fall of the temperature. Here’s a quick guide on what each layer should consist of:
- The first layer (base layer) should be absorbent to absorb your sweat or other moisture. Consider wool or synthetic fiber.
- The second layer (mid-layer) should add insulation and keep you warm. This layer should be thicker than the first.
- The third layer should be wind and water repellent.
- The fourth layer is worn when taken rest or sleeping. It provides extra warmth, wind-proofing, and comfort. Usually a jacket, the fourth layer is easy to pull over or remove.
Remember to layer up your head, feet, and hands as well!
Winter hiking can be an exhilarating experience if done right. Plan right and meticulously. Do your research. Take short preparatory trips. Train yourself and your dog. Pack the right gear. Remember to make your trip eco-friendly. And you’re good to go!