The Stupid Thing I Did Winter Hiking, Tips Not To Be An Idiot Like Me

Winter hiking can be a breathtaking and exhilarating experience, with snow-covered landscapes offering a serene and pristine beauty. One of the best things about it is that you are more than likely to be alone. Most people don’t go out into the cold and snow. However, it also comes with its fair share of challenges, including the potential for sudden weather changes and the risk of injury. In such dire circumstances, knowing how to take shelter in the snow can be a lifesaving skill.

I’ve since moved south but grew up in the northeast of the USA most of my life. I loved hiking in the winter and after a snow. The views are amazing, and there’s solitude. There’s also nothing like the sound of a light snowfall in the woods.

But hiking in the winter can be very dangerous. It’s easy to get disoriented during a snowfall. Whenever I would go for a day hike in the snow, I would carry what I would need to survive the night just in case. Usually, a couple of emergency blankets, my flint with a magnesium block, kindling, my Arkansas toothpick (big knife lol), snacks, water (always), a canteen holder (heating up snow to drink safely), a flashlight, and of course my Life Straw. If I was going for more than a day hike, I would never go alone and obviously would be carrying more gear.

I would always tell my wife where I was going and what time I should return, just in case.

Besides some of the tips we provided below I wanted to share a little story of something stupid I did and witnessed.

I had a great hike at one of my favorite trails that is very challenging especially with the snow pack we had. As I hiked up to an overlook of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania about a mile from my position, I saw a man walking 1/3 of the way out onto the mainly frozen-over river. I couldn’t believe it, the river is a flood river, it flows pretty fast, is pretty wide, there are rocks, and it’s controlled by a series of dams. All I could think was if that guy fell through, someone should at least witness it and call the authorities. So I decided to hike down his to his location. When I got there, I stood at the bank and waited for him to walk back.

At one point he was almost clear out to the middle when I heard the ice crack. The man said hello as he got back to the shore and wondered why I was standing there. I said in case he went under, I wanted to make sure someone knew, and he just laughed. Then we parted ways because I needed to get back. Light was going to become an issue as I had now gone further than I had planned (you can already see where this is going).

What I did have going for me was I knew was incredibly familiar with the trail and was in great trail shape. So back up the overlook and down the other side, I went as I started working back to my car.

Yes, Murphy kicked in, and it started to snow as evening approached. Now, I’m in a draw which means light is going to disappear faster and I had to pick up the pace. Not going to lie it was beautiful, but I was smoked, to get out of the run it was a mile straight up, and I was sliding all over the place. When I finally made it to my car the sun was setting, the snow was falling, and the temperature was dropping. What I did next was incredibly stupid, and if I wasn’t at my car, it could have put me in a bad way.

Due to the snow, and the light situation I had picked up my pace. Normally, I pace myself and watch how wet I get in the cold. If I get too hot, I either shed a layer or loosen a zipper, maybe slow down. Well, because I was feeling the pressure, I didn’t do any of those things and was dripping with sweat when I got to my car. I started the car, went to the trunk to get my snow brush, and (here’s where I screwed up) took off all my layers except the under-armor shirt I was wearing. Within a couple of minutes as I was brushing off the snow I was shivering uncontrollably (so stupid). Lucky for me, I was at my car that was running, and the heat was beginning to get warm.

Yup, I gave myself hiker hypothermia, and I knew better.

After pushing it, not paying attention to my body, I let my guard down when I got to “safety,” and pre-hypothermia kicked in swiftly.

Going out in the snow is great, but be careful, and don’t be stupid like me or the idiot on the ice.

Yes, despite having the heat on I shivered a good portion of the way home.

Below are some helpful tips:

  1. Stay Calm and Assess the Situation

The first and most crucial step when you realize you’re trapped in a snowstorm is to remain calm. Panic can lead to poor decision-making, and your ability to think clearly is essential for your survival. Take a moment to assess your surroundings and make an informed plan.

  1. Inform Someone About Your Plans

Before embarking on a winter hike, always inform someone you trust about your plans, including your intended route, estimated return time, and emergency contact information. This can significantly expedite the rescue process if you find yourself in trouble.

  1. Check Your Gear

Proper gear is crucial when hiking in winter conditions. Ensure you have the following essential items with you:

a. Warm clothing: Dress in layers to trap heat and prevent hypothermia. Wear wicking gear if you can.

b. Navigation tools: Carry a map, compass, and GPS device to help you find your way even in whiteout conditions. Know where you are!

c. Light source: Pack extra batteries and a headlamp or flashlight to ensure you have reliable illumination. The cold wreaks havoc on batteries.

d. Food and water: Bring high-energy snacks and enough water to stay hydrated.

e. First-aid kit: Carry a basic first-aid kit to treat minor injuries.

f. Fire-starting materials: Matches, a lighter, and fire-starting tools are essential for staying warm and signaling for help. If you see me in the woods and check my bag there is a flint hooked to a magnesium block in a bag with some kindling. It’s the best $1.99 you’ll ever spend.

  1. If the weather forces you to hunker down find or create a shelter

If you’re trapped in a snowstorm, it’s vital to find or create shelter to protect yourself from the elements. Here are several options:

a. Natural shelters: Look for caves, rock formations, or overhangs that can provide some protection from the wind and snow. Avoid areas prone to avalanches or falling rocks.

b. Snow caves: If you have a shovel or other digging tools, consider digging a snow cave. Find a snowdrift or pile and hollow out a small cave-like space that you can crawl into. Make sure to create an air vent to prevent suffocation.

c. Snow trench: If digging a full snow cave is not feasible, you can dig a trench in the snow, large enough to lie down in. Cover the trench with branches or your hiking equipment to insulate yourself from the cold.

d. Emergency shelters: If you have an emergency shelter, such as a space blanket or bivy sack, use it to create a quick shelter. These are lightweight and can help retain your body heat.

  1. Know the weather.

If you are going to go out in and there are chance of strong snow squalls best to go another time. Also, understand the weather patterns where you are hiking, mountain weather can be different then what a forecast says from a news source (ask me how I know, lol).

  1. Stay Warm and Hydrated

Once you’re inside your shelter, it’s essential to stay warm and hydrated. Here are some tips:

a. Keep your clothing dry: Change out of any wet clothing to prevent hypothermia. Wet clothes lose their insulating properties.

b. Use insulation: Sit or lie on your insulating materials, such as sleeping pads or backpacks, to prevent heat loss through contact with the cold ground. Put as many layers between you and the ground as possible if you have to spend the night.

c. Stay active: To generate body heat, do light exercises and stretches while inside your shelter.

d. Conserve food and water: Consume food and water conservatively to make your supplies last longer.

e. Keep the shelter sealed: Close the entrance to your snow shelter to retain warmth. Only open it periodically for ventilation.


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