Get Outside, and enjoy a Winter Hike
Over the past two years, due to the pandemic, many of us have changed how we live our lives. Some were significant changes, others were small, but the pandemic gave us the time to re-evaluate how we live and what we do. The lockdowns have been hard on all of us. We all were looking for any form of escapism to help us pass the time. And distract us from some of the inconveniences placed on us due to Covid-19. Some people took this time to improve themselves by taking courses and training in other fields. Others used this time to pick up a new hobby or skill – think about all the people you know who tried their hand at baking bread and such.
For us, our wanderlust was constantly gnawing away at us. We needed to get out and go somewhere – but we couldn’t. So, the most significant change the pandemic brought to our lives; we began exploring other options that would satisfy our wanderlust while still following covid protocols and restrictions. We took up hiking as our outlet, and over time, we have challenged ourselves to do more, including – longer trails, greater intensity, rougher terrain, etc.
Embrace the Chill
In Ontario, we are fortunate to have many great locations to choose from for our hiking adventures. The Bruce Trail runs along the Niagara Escarpment from Niagara to Tobermory. Hamilton has more than 100 waterfalls making it an excellent place to find frozen waterfalls in winter. There is a multitude of conservation areas full of trails to explore.
We use trail apps like All Trails or the Bruce Trail App to find new places to explore. In addition, we have annual passes to a number of Conservation areas, and Provincial Parks that we love to support & visit.
Winter brings its own set of challenges concerning hiking. Still, it also brings with its incredible beauty the crunch of snow under your feet, frozen waterfalls, and frosty landscapes that are glistening under the midday sun. This can be an excellent time to head out for a hiking adventure.
Many, more-experienced hikers have already embraced the incredible experiences that a winter hiking adventure can provide. Since we are still relatively new to hiking and by no means experts, this article is geared towards novice or inexperienced hikers who might just be starting out. We have learned some things as we get more experienced with hiking, usually through the mistakes we made.
Enjoy the Thrills
Before heading out on our winter hike, we always check the weather forecast, temperature, and trail conditions. We choose our hiking destinations based on the best conditions and the type of adventure we hope to have. This will help you decide how to dress and what to pack for your hiking adventures. Being prepared will help you to get motivated to get outside during the colder months and have more fun enjoying winter outdoor activities.
What to Pack:
In a previous article, we discussed what to carry in your backpack for an afternoon hike. This is an excellent resource for your warm-weather hiking adventures, but a winter hike requires adjustments to that list.
Cell Phone: never head out on a hiking adventure without your cell phone – for safety, navigation, and taking copious amounts of photos. If you are in trouble, lost, or stranded, you will need a way to get a hold of someone
Navigation: Prior to going out, make sure you download tracking apps to help navigate your way so that you don’t get lost.
Back-up power: The cold weather can easily drain the battery on your phone or camera, etc. Pack a backup power supply such as a mobile power bank if your cell phone drains. Keeping your battery or cell phone wrapped to keep it warm will help prevent the temperature-related drain.
Extra chargers: Have extra universal charging cords and car battery chargers in your car in case of an emergency. Once we were on a winter hike, we came across an older woman who drove off the road into a ditch. She did not have a cell phone charger, and her battery was dead, so she couldn’t call CAA. We had an extra car charger and cords for iPhone & android. We were able to call CAA for her, and provide her with the cord & charger for future. She greatly appreciated that.
Winter Clothing: Wearing the appropriate winter clothing will make your hike more enjoyable. Bundle up in warm layers so you can take off items when you get too hot or add more when it gets colder. Place your focus on warm, wind-resistant, and waterproof items where possible. Warm, comfortable socks and thermal underlayers are a great base to start. Comfortable and wind-resistant outerwear, toque, earmuffs, scarf, face protector, gloves/mittens, and warm waterproof, comfortable boots are essential items for a winter hike.
Water: It is still critical to stay hydrated. It can be easy to forget to drink water or think you don’t need to – but do not make that mistake. You are still doing considerable physical activity with a winter hike, and dehydration can still occur. Tip: Fill your bottle with warm/hot water to prevent freezing.
Snacks: Pack some high energy protein snacks to refuel along the way. Snacks which pack a good combination of protein, fats, and carbohydrates are perfect as they help give you that quick energy to keep going. Protein snacks like meat jerky, trail mix, nuts, and granola bars are all great snacks that are easy to carry. Pack extra snacks in case you are out longer than you expect.
Chewing Gum: we always chew Gum while hiking – it keeps your mouth fresh and moist while you are out.
Crampons / Microspikes / Ice Cleats: We never go out to hike in colder weather without our cleats.These little microspikes slip right over your boots/shoes and make your trek a lot safer when the conditions are icy and slippy. They grip beautifully on snowy paths, slippery slopes, frozen lakes and near-frozen waterfalls. These are very inexpensive, too. We bought a $10 pair at a discount store, and they work beautifully.
Tips: We have been to many frozen waterfalls, rivers and canals, and it always amazes us what people consider appropriate footwear for these conditions. People wearing basic sneakers and fashion boots around a known icy structure are only asking to fall on their asses.
SnowShoes: As I mentioned earlier, being outdoors adventure people is still very new to us, and we are growing. Before the 2021/2022 winter season, neither of us had ever put on a pair of snowshoes. When a local sports store had a 50% off sale, it felt like a natural progression for our evolution. We keep our snowshoes in the car, just in case we find a perfect spot to strap them on and head out for our next adventure. These SnowShoes come complete with poles and are orange.
First aid kit: In your basic hiking/road trip kit, you should already have a first aid kit, but it bears repeating to ensure you have one whenever you are out for a hike. Hypothermia can be a genuine concern, and it would be a great idea to learn the signs of hypothermia.
Survival Kit: Winter Survival kits are a great idea to keep in your vehicle, but many items in it will also be needed in your winter hiking gear.
Sun protection: Much like water, many people feel they do not need sunscreen or forget about the sun’s effects. However, on those bright sunny days, the snow reflects the rays, which can easily lead to sunburn, damage eyesight, and affect vision. Pack sunscreen & sunglasses to minimize exposure to the sun.
Illumination: Winter days are short, and it is easy to find yourself still out wandering when the sun starts to set. Our favourite time to go hiking is during the “golden hour” when the sun is just beginning to set. The light is perfect & the skies are beautiful, creating some gorgeous landscapes. Flashlights or headlamps will come in handy when the sun goes down.
Hiking Poles: Walking sticks or winter hiking poles can give you a bit more safety on the trails when you go for a Hiking Adventure
Reflective Gear: If your outerwear does not already include built-in reflective material on it, be sure to wear something reflective so others can see you when you are out – especially as it gets darker.
Having an excellent hiking backpack to hold all of your items is a must. We recently purchased the Highland Tactical “Major” backpack, and we love it. It is very comfortable to carry, has many compartments, holds many items, and is reasonably priced.
Be a Responsible Hiker
There is an old adage regarding nature walks – “leave nothing but footprints. This is about not leaving garbage behind while in the wilderness. Do not leave your trash behind. When we go on a hike, we always carry plastic bags with us. If we see trash that others have left behind, we pick it up to dispose of it appropriately. Not everyone is a responsible hiker – but they should be.
Obey the Signs
Safety should always be your priority when you head out for a hike. Follow the designated trails, and obey all warning signs to ensure you are as safe as possible. Weather conditions can change quickly, and you don’t want to be lost or find yourself in trouble.
Benefits of taking a winter hike
There are many great reasons to get out for a hiking adventure, especially in winter, including some fantastic health benefits:
- Bugs are not an issue
- There are fewer people out and about
- Being out in the fresh air and beautiful scenery is a natural mood booster
- A hike is excellent for your heart health
- Even short hikes done regularly will help increase muscular endurance
- Weight loss (so I have heard) – You burn more calories trekking through the snow
- Lowers blood sugar
For more on hiking, Check out our article on “Hiking Adventures While on Vacation” (and others)
When the temperatures outside begin to dip, and it seems too cold to do anything, it can be easy to slip into hibernation mode. Wanting to stay home and keep warm. However, going for a winter hike is a great way to get some fresh air & exercise. Shake off those winter blues we all can sometimes experience.
Every weekend (sometimes begrudgingly), we bundle up and head out for new hiking destinations. Without fail, upon our return, we always say how glad we are that we didn’t just stay home. It is very energizing, and it makes us feel so much better.
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