Tips for Cold Weather Hiking

Inspired by recent Outdoor Afro Facebook and Twitter conversations, Virgina State Parks let me know about a recent article they posted, written by John Gresham, about how to enjoy the wonderful changes in the weather — thanks VSP for allowing us to share such a timely post — read on:
For many people, the season to enjoy the state parks is over.  The thermometer barely hits 50 degrees on a warm day.  Snow is in the forecast as early as Thanksgiving in some places.  It seems that the best way to enjoy the outdoors over the winter is to watch ESPN on Saturday mornings.

But, have you ever noticed deer and waterfowl hunters?  Sometimes they come home empty handed and talk about what a great day they had.  There is a special beauty and peace in the solitude of outdoor winter activities.  As an outdoor photographer, I look forward to the colors of fallen leaves among evergreens, snow, and waterfowl that only visit us this time of year.  The key to having fun outside in cold weather is to stay warm, safe, and sensible.

Stay Warm:  Hypothermia (lowering of your body temperature) is the killer of the unprepared

  • Wear a hat or hood- 40 to 50% of your body heat is lost through your head.
  • Wear mittens, waterproof boots, and a windproof jacket- protect the rest of your body.
  • Wear wool or synthetic fabrics- when cotton gets wet, it pulls heat from your body.
  • When hiking, move slow enough that you don’t sweat- sweat is how your body cools off.
  • Don’t sit on cold rocks- they will draw heat from her body.
  • Eat high energy snacks- nuts and dried fruit will fuel your body’s “furnace”.
  • If you start to shiver, head for the closest warm place.

Stay Safe:  Guard against falling on slippery surfaces.

  • Be careful where you step- exposed rock or bare ground is far safer than packed snow or icy surfaces.
  • Don’t step on wet wood or icy, sloping rocks- you could slip and get injured.
  • Choose trails wisely- If a trail gets too slippery, turn back or take a different trail
  • Leave your dog at home- Dogs pull on their leashes and you.  This increases your likely-hood of slipping or stumbling.

Stay Sensible:  Your mind is your best safety and survival tool.

  • Drink water- to avoid dehydration.
  • Wear sunglasses- when the sun glares on snowy ground.
  • Bring a whistle- to use if you become injured or lost.
  • Stay alert- for signs of cold exhaustion in yourself or hiking partners.  Shorten a hike if necessary.
  • Hike with a partner- reduce your risk and enjoy the outdoors with someone.
  • Carry your map and car keys in a place where they won’t get lost.

Stay warm when hiking outdoors.  Stay alert too.  You never know what nature has to offer this season.