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Nine Essential Winter Hiking Tips

 
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Hiking in winter poses challenges that are very different from hitting the trail all other seasons of the year. Shortened daylight, lower temperatures, and quickly changing conditions may present obstacles, but they are all easy to safely navigate with proper planning. We sat down this week with Dan, one of our resident “hiking experts” at the Mast Store Asheville, for some valuable tips you’ll want to use as you plan your outdoor adventure in the coldest season of the year.

Stay up to date with the weather. If you’re planning to enjoy a hike off the Blue Ridge Parkway, check their website for weather forecasts and special alerts. Remember that elevation affects temperature and there’s usually a ten degree or more drop in temperature with each 1,000 feet gain. Factor in the wind chill and remember that the temperature drops quickly after sundown.
 
If you’re a novice hiker or haven’t hit the trail in a while, go with a friend who’s an experienced hiker. Not only can they share their favorite hikes and how to navigate them, seasoned hikers are full of great information like sharing tips for packing lighter.

alaina-drawdy-cox-winter-hike-tips-1.jpgStart small and work up to longer and more difficult hikes.  There are several reasons why this is a good idea: Smaller hikes provide adequate time to build your skill set and comfort level. Dan says, “Remember that you’re going to move slower in the winter. You may not be able to tackle the same trail in the winter in the same amount of time as you did in the summer.  Cold weather slows you down, so plan to adjust for it.”

Get a current and up-to-date map of your terrain. Books like The Appalachian Hiking Club’s North Carolina Hiking Trail can help you select the perfect hike. After you’ve chosen the section of wilderness you’d like to explore, the National Geographic Trail Maps are an excellent resource to keep you headed in the right direction.

Layer! Layer! Layer! Add or shed clothes as conditions warrant and keep your gloves, hats, vests and jackets easy to access.  Looking ahead, we’ll explore the advantages of down versus polyester fill and natural fiber versus synthetic. Dan’s preference? He prefers wool in the winter and summer.

alaina-drawdy-cox-winter-hike-tips-2.jpgDrink lots of water. It’s easy to forget to hydrate in the winter because the air is dry and you tend to sweat much less. “You don’t realize you’re thirsty and become dehydrated more easily in the winter. And don’t let your water freeze on those longer hikes. Make sure to keep it near your back where your body heat will prevent your water from turning solid,” shares Dan.

Trekking poles are a lifesaver in all kinds of conditions: slick leaves, rain, sleet, and snow. “Four legs are better than two,” says Dan. “You can extend and shorten trekking poles as the terrain changes. They also do much more than help you balance; they help reduce the load on your legs – especially the knees.” Mountainsmith’s Single Trek Pole is the perfect entry-level hiking device.

alaina-drawdy-cox-winter-hike-tips-4.jpgHave a fail-safe fire starter in your bag. Dan lives by the rule: “Always plan for the unexpected.” He says, “It’s easier to rough it for one night in August than in January.” Even if your plan is to take a brief day hike, it’s always wisest to plan for the worst case scenario. Waterproof Fire Sticks or a Magnesium Fire Starter don’t take up much room in your pack and weigh very little, but could be a real life saver. One of Dan’s homemade fire starter tricks is to smother a ball of drier lint or cotton balls in Vaseline and store them in a Ziploc bag with waterproof matches. This simple combo makes a perfect little fire.

Dan’s most important advice of all: Make a plan and let someone know your itinerary. Tell a friend where you’re going , when you’re leaving and returning home, and who you’re with. It’s always a good idea to make a check-in time for your return. At the very least, leave a note on your windshield wiper with your plan of action. And always take your phone. Most cell phones have a compass feature and GPS will help a park ranger find you in case you get lost or have an emergency.