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Fall and Winter Hiking Safety Tips

October 13, 2016 by Normand Richard, Certified Exercise Physiologist

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Fall and winter hiking gear and safety tips

Hiking is an excellent aerobic activity that can be done year round. Fall hiking offers stunning shades of orange, yellow and red coloured leaves, cooler temperatures, and fewer bugs. In winter hiking, it’s fun to spot wildlife footprints on snow and the sun’s reflection off snowy pines is breathtaking. Hiking is a fantastic way to exceed the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity per week. It helps with balance, plus it’s a great way to connect with nature.

Let’s look at some important equipment and information that’ll help keep you safe and sound. If you are planning a winter camping trip, this advice will come in handy too.

  • For hikes a bit more off the beaten path, always carry the ten essentials as a bare minimum year round.
    1. Flash light or headlamp with fresh batteries.
    2. Whistle or flares for scaring wildlife or attracting attention.
    3. Matches and a lighter in a waterproof container.
    4. Extra clothing (i.e., hat, sweater).
    5. Pocket knife (i.e., Swiss Army knife or Leatherman™).
    6. Shelter in case you must spend a night out (tarp or large garbage bag).
    7. Extra food and water (I carry an extra litre of water and high energy food like trail mix).
    8. First aid kit. Taking a wilderness first aid course is worthwhile.
    9. Map, compass and GPS. Don’t solely rely on GPS as electronics can fail.
    10. Cellular or satellite phone or GPS tracking device such as SPOT™ and trip plan.
  • Fall and winter hiking can present extra challenges like fewer hours of daylight, colder temperatures, and trekking through snow. For fall and winter I modify the above list. Firstly, I carry more food and a thermos of tea. Secondly, I pack a small square piece of foam (like those blue foam camping mats) for use as a seat (sitting on snow you lose body heat rapidly), as well as those little chemical hand warmers. Lastly, snowshoes make hiking in deeper snow more efficient.
  • Wondering what to wear winter hiking? I bring extra clothing (socks, sweater, spare mittens, and toque), to add to my 10 essentials. Layering is key for hiking in fall and winter. I go by the saying “be bold start cold!” After five minutes of walking you’ll warm up.
  • Buddy-up for fun and for safety. If you decide to go alone, make sure to tell a responsible person where you are going and when you should be back.
  • Remember the acronym STOP if you get lost or something happens.
    • Stop: That’s right, stop moving and stay where you are. When we are lost or hurt we can wander around aimlessly making the situation worse.
    • Think: Use your head; calmly and rationally think. Describe the situation out loud to yourself or your buddy.
    • Observe: Look around and look at your map and GPS. Is the sun low (i.e., will is set soon)? Are you near a landmark?
    • Plan: Make a plan. Staying put and waiting for help can be a plan. Another plan could be retracing your steps to your last known point.

Now you may be asking yourself, “how do I find hiking near me?” There are hundreds of hiking trails across British Columbia, plan your next trip here.

Hiking can be a very safe physical activity. I stay out of harm’s way by carrying the ten essentials and knowing my limits.

See you on the trails this winter?!

Related blogs

Hiking: Your Route to Adventure and Health
Let’s get outside and celebrate Canada’s Parks Day
Discover Your Winter Wonderland by Snowshoe

Recommended resources

BC RCMP: Hiking Safety
North Shore Search and Rescue: 10 Essentials

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