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Monday, December 19, 2016

Wonderland Walk: 9 Tips for Safe and Fun Winter Hiking

Photo by Francesco Doglio (Flickr)

There's something magical about winter hiking. The white snow, fresh air, and invigorating exercise excite and motivate my girls and me! We started enjoying wonderland walks when my girls were babies, and you can, too, with these tips to keep your entire family safe and comfortable.

Start Winter Hiking When Your Kids Are Small

Hiking with kids is more challenging in cold weather. I remember how long it took to get my girls bundled in their snowsuits and boots! The effort pays off, though, when you see their wonder at finding animal tracks in the snow or seeing a colorful bird along the trail. I'm glad we started hiking when my girls were young. Now, they've built their endurance and can tackle harder trails and see even more winter wonders.

Protect Your Baby

I'm convinced that my girls love hiking today in part because I took them when they were babies. We took three important precautions, though. First, they always wore a dry diaper and layers, and I covered their exposed skin with clothing or a blanket. Second, we used a baby carrier that kept them warm and allowed both of us to enjoy the sights. Third, we stopped every 20 minutes to make sure they were still warm and dry.

Pick a Route Carefully

One of our favorite summer trails crosses a stream and features several steep inclines. That trail is definitely unsafe and off-limits when it's covered in snow and ice. Instead, we choose trials that are safe for our entire family. I consider my kids' stamina, whether the trail is accessible to emergency personnel, and how much time we have to hike.

Tell Someone Where You're Hiking

Thankfully, we've never been stranded on a winter hike, but people get lost, take a wrong path, or suffer an injury while hiking every year. Plan for this possibility by telling someone where you'll be hiking, who's with you, and when you expect to return.

Check the Weather

Last year, my girls and I didn't check the weather outlook and had to finish a hike in a freezing rain storm. We learned our lesson! Now, I always check the forecast for expected weather changes, precipitation, wind speeds, and daylight hours. Remember to check how the altitude may affect conditions, too. It's totally OK to postpone your hike because of unsafe weather conditions.

Carry Life-Saving Gear

Be prepared! Assemble essential life-saving gear and have everyone carry a few items in their backpack.

Here's our list. You can adjust it to meet your needs.

  • Trail map and compass
  • Fire-starter and flares
  • Multi-purpose tool
  • Extra clothing
  • Flashlight or headlamp with lithium batteries
  • Food and water
  • Rope
  • First aid supplies including sunscreen, pain reliever, and bandages
  • Emergency shelter

Dress in Layers

My girls and I have learned over the years that layers and covering exposed skin are the keys to staying warm during cold winter hikes. We always wear these five layers to help us stay dry and prevent hypothermia:

  • Nylon or polyester wicking layer next to your skin pulls away moisture
  • Warming layer of wool, polyester, or nylon provides insulation
  • Waterproof layer protects you from rain, snow, and wind
  • Hat and gloves or mittens conserve body heat
  • Goggles or sunglasses prevent eye strain from sun and wind

Wear the Right Shoes

I learned a valuable footwear lesson the first year I hiked in the winter. My feet got cold because I wore only one pair of socks, and I kept slipping in the wet snow in my traditional hiking shoes. Now, I always wear two pairs of socks. The first layer pulls moisture away from the skin, and the second pair insulates your feet. Then, I wear boots that are designed for the trail and weather conditions. They should be broken in, too, so you don't get blisters.

Include Your Pet

Dogs love winter hiking as much as kids. I have friends who even take their dog on overnight winter hikes! If you decide to take your pet hiking, confirm that it's capable of a vigorous winter hike, and follow these etiquette and safety rules.

Verify that your dog is allowed on the trail, since some public parks do not allow dogs. Then, keep your dog on a leash and under control so your dog doesn't chase other hikers or wild animals. Carry water and food for your pet, too. You may also invest in a dog vest, coat, and boots that protect your dog from the elements.

Winter hiking offers your family an amazing opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors. With these nine tips, you can stay safe and comfortable and have fun. What other wonderland walk tips do you suggest?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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