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9 Tips for Adventuring Safely During the Winter


EXPLORE OUR TOP 9 TIPS FOR STAYING SAFE (AND HAVING A GOOD TIME) WHILE OUT ADVENTURING DURING THE WINTER.

 



Deep, soft snow. Frosted pine trees. Cozy wool socks. The silence you only find after a snow storm.


Winter.


It can be wonderful, magical and mythical - but it can also be cold, icy, disorienting and a tad bit scary. Luckily, if you know your stuff and understand how to explore safely, having a winter adventure can be a truly amazing thing.


Growing up in Colorado, we both had our fair share of winter adventures. From snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park to skiing some of the best resorts around to simply wandering around a quiet forest listening to birds and pretty much nothing else. There truly is something special about heading outside when snow is on the ground and the weather is cool and crisp.


But winters can also bring their own specific dangers and challenges. Icy roads, blizzards, roaring winds that cut at your face, and hidden trees and rocks that can scratch you up if you fall through the snow (we have way too many scars from this issue ourselves). It seems Mother Nature is at her harshest during the winter season.


Luckily, over time you learn a thing or two about how to handle the winter weather and landscape. Below you will find 9 of our top tips for safely adventuring during the winter, which we have learned through many years of trial and error. Hopefully, these tips inspire you to get outside even when the weather turns cold and the land goes white.




Foggy winter forest landscape.







 

TOP 9 SAFETY TIPS FOR AN EPIC WINTER ADVENTURE

 







1 | Be Prepared For the Worst


You know what they say: hope for the best but plan for the worst. And no truer words could be said about adventuring during the winter.


That is because in the winter if something goes wrong, it can go from bad to absolutely terrible in a short period of time. Weather, road conditions, the backcountry, all of these things can be more dangerous once the colder weather sets in.


So if you take one thing from this guide, have it be this: always prepare for the worst case scenario when adventuring outside during the winter.



Here is how:


| Pack extra layers of warm clothing, snacks and water and either leave them in your car, or take them with you when heading out to explore - especially if you are planning to check out the backcountry.


| Likewise, keep emergency supplies in your car in case you get stuck in the snow or if the weather turns really nasty and you can't drive home. Some of the best emergency supplies to have are warm blankets, flashlights, gear to help get your car out of snow (a shovel, cat litter, chains), jumper cables, an ice scraper, and a first aid kit.


| Always try to have a full(ish) tank of gas when heading out - just in case you get stuck and you need to keep the heat on.









2 | If a Trail (or Road) is Closed, Turn Around


During the winter, many trails and roads will close due to too much snow, ice or mud. If you come across a trail that is closed due to any of those three things - and especially mud - do NOT keep going and instead turn around and check out another trail that is open.


Many trails will close in order to protect the trails from excess damage. While it might not seem like that big of a deal for you to hike along it, if everyone followed your lead, the trail would eventually become eroded, damaged and not very fun to use. When a lot of people explore a muddy trail or road, they often begin trying to avoid the worst mud spots and instead walk along the side. This decision can have some really negative consequences - including damage to the surrounding ecosystem (especially to the plants).


Do your part to protect the trails during the winter by following all closures. More often than not, you can find other trails that are open and fine to use. While a closure can definitely wreck your current outdoor plans, think of it more as a way to keep that trail usable for many years to come.






3 | Follow all Leave No Trace Principles


No matter the time of year you are adventuring, it is incredibly important to follow ALL 7 Leave No Trace Principles.


In the winter, the biggest principles to follow are: packing out everything you brought in; including, all trash, gear, food and supplies. Remember, no matter where you are exploring, always try to leave it better than you found it. In fact, if you can, try to pick up any trash you find while out along the trail.


The second important LNT principle to follow during the winter is to make sure you are always sticking to the established trail. Never leave the trail - even if the trail is really wet and muddy. By hiking outside of the trail you are slowly causing erosion to the landscape - which of course is bad. The trails are there for a reason, so use them!









4 | Respect All Wildlife


Another thing that should go without saying is that no matter the time of year, you should ALWAYS respect any wildlife you come across while out exploring.


During the winter season in particular, make sure to look out for any animals that may be hunting or scavenging. Because it can be a lot tougher to find food during the colder months - especially if there is snow on the ground - it is really important to give these animals plenty of space so they can carry on with their business.


If you do happen to see wildlife along the trail, slow down or stop, let the animal know you are there (especially bigger ones like moose) and then allow the animal to move away. Or if the animal is staying where it is, you should give it a wide berth and slowly move away.






5 | Respect Other Backcountry Adventurers


When out exploring, make sure you are respecting all of your fellow adventurers - no matter what activity they are doing. This includes making sure you are keeping your noise levels down (please do NOT play music out loud), following all trail etiquette (like yielding for people going uphill) and keeping an eye on anyone coming downhill at a bit of speed (like backcountry skiers) so you can give them the space to keep going.


Likewise, if you are out on a popular trail and you see cross country ski tracks (which look like two perfect lines side by side) make sure to NOT snowshoe or walk along on top of the tracks. While it might not seem like a big deal, this is one of those common courtesy things that should just be followed during the winter (aka, don't be an a**hole).










6 | Know the Signs of Dangerous Snow Conditions


Before setting out on your winter adventure, make sure you do some research to know what dangerous snow conditions look like.


REI put together a great guide on avalanches - including how to know if you are in avalanche terrain and whether the snow beneath your feet is stable or unstable (there are many factors that go into figuring that one out).


➳ You can read their in-depth safety guide here.


Other common dangers you need to be able to spot while adventuring in the winter include snow cornices - which is an overhanging edge of snow along a ridge or the crest of a mountain that can easily break off (and send you sliding or falling) if stepped on with too much weight, snow-covered rivers and streams (the biggest danger here is getting your feet or body wet, which can lead to hypothermia and a whole lot of discomfort), and hidden ice that can be really slick and cause you to slide and fall (and maybe get seriously injured).


When out adventuring during the winter - especially if there is a lot of snow on the ground - you need to be even more aware of your surroundings. Pay special attention to possible hidden dangers like the ones mentioned above. Likewise, always have a plan in place if something would go wrong while out exploring (like a fall that leads to a serious injury).


Plan ahead. Stay aware of your surroundings. Know how to spot common dangers. These are the core things to keep in mind when outside during the winter.









7 | Know Your Trail and Location Well


Another thing you should do before heading out on your winter adventure is to study the trail or area you are hoping to explore. If you have a specific trail in mind, look at its map and stats ahead of time (especially anything having to do with possible steep sections or treacherous areas like river crossings or unstable bridges). Also, study the route so you can be prepared for any changes in the trail, for a trail done in the summer looks a whole lot different in the winter.


Similarly, if you have a specific trail or trailhead you are planning to head to, make sure you let at least one person know where you are going, when you plan to be back and what vehicle you will be in. This is an important safety precaution to take no matter the time of year, but especially in the winter when roads and trails can be even more dangerous and/or hard to get to.


Finally, come prepared with any extra gear you may need in case you lose the trail. This can include just a standard compass and paper map, or a more hi-tech GPS map that shows you exactly where you are (just make sure all digital maps can be used without service). We always bring at least one offline map with us while adventuring, and usually even two just in case our phone dies or we run into any issues with the software.






8 | Always Wear the Right Outdoor Gear


While warm clothing is super important when out adventuring in the winter, also make sure you are packing gear that will keep you safe (and comfortable) while out on the trails. In many cases, a pair of snowshoes or micro-spikes will be needed to safely explore a trail.


The difference in the two is the trail conditions: if the trail isn't very snowy but instead icy, then you will want to wear micro-spikes. Whereas if the trail is covered in deep snow, then you will want to don a nice pair of snowshoes to keep you above/atop the snow.


If the trail is just muddy and a bit snowy, then you can probably get away with just wearing a nice pair of waterproof hiking boots and some wool socks. Similarly, if you have any hiking poles, consider bringing them with you for that extra bit of support (especially if ice could be present).




TOP WINTER ADVENTURE GEAR


Winter Hiking Boots: these Oboz boots were made for epic winter hikes and snowshoeing adventures. They come with 200g of Primaloft insulation, which will help keep your feet warm no matter the conditions. | CHECK THEM OUT



Winter Hiking Pants: we tend to wear a few layers of pants when it comes to exploring during the winter (especially on those Arctic-like days). Usually, we'll start with a base layer - like this one from Backcountry, which is made from Merino wool - and then put on a lightweight, water resistant pair of pants on top. This one looks great.



Winter Hiking Jacket: there are a ton of options when it comes to picking out the perfect winter hiking jacket. We tend to veer more towards one that can handle a lot of wear and tear and works on its own and also as a top layer. This one by Backcountry seems to fit both requirements. | CHECK IT OUT



💬 INSIDER TIP: we highly suggest bringing a pair of sunglasses with you on your winter adventure, for the sun can become quite intense - especially when it reflects off of the snow. We have gone hiking in the snow before and man, let us tell yah, having a headache while hiking back to the trailhead is not fun.










9 | Be a Smart Parker


Our final winter safety tip comes when you finally get done with all your research and pack your bags, and start to head to the trailhead. Now, depending on what kind of trailhead you are heading to, parking may be a bit tricky. In some cases, the parking "lot" may consist of just a few wide spots on the road. If that is the case, definitely make sure you are being a smart parker - aka parking only in wide enough areas that are not in the road, not parking in a possible avalanche path, and not parking in a spot where snow plays may be turning around (there should be signs about this).


If you are planning to head to a more popular trailhead - say one in a national park - then be prepared for the parking lots to fill up quickly on weekends, especially if there is nice weather. If you can, try to arrive early to secure your spot.


Parking in the winter can be a bit of a headache - especially if there is a lot of snow and/or ice around. Just remember to be aware of your surroundings so you don't cause any harm to yourself, your vehicle and other adventurers.




 



Heading out to explore during the winter - especially when there is a lot of snow on the ground - can be such a fun adventure. But like any adventure, there are risks involved and specific things to be aware of. Hopefully, these 9 safety tips above will help you have a truly epic time exploring - no matter the conditions.


If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or reach out to us directly.


Happy adventuring!




 

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EXPLORE MORE ADVENTURE TIPS





 

(MORE) PACKING ESSENTIALS FOR A WINTER ADVENTURE


  • Reusable water bottle: we love LARQ water bottles since they are the world's first self-cleaning water bottle and water purification system. Plus, they are rechargeable!

  • Eco-friendly sunscreen: we love MadHippie sunscreen because it’s cruelty-free, vegan, broad spectrum, and reef safe. And even better, they donate $1 for every purchase to conservation efforts.

  • Allbirds shoes: comfortable shoes can make or break an adventure or travel day, these eco-conscious and cozy shoes from Allbirds have been our faves for years.



 


STAYING SAFE & PLANNING AHEAD


  • Roadtrippers: want to plan that epic road trip across the USA? Then head to this easy-to-use site to plan the perfect route. And check out our Road Trip page for even more inspiration.

  • Backcountry: find all the best outdoor gear at can’t beat prices. No matter what adventure you are looking to have, Backcountry has the stuff to get you out there.

  • WayAway: this flight aggregator helps travelers find the best rates on airline tickets around the world - including in the USA.

  • Rentalcars.com: check out the world’s biggest online car rental service that is available in over 150 countries worldwide.



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