Tips for Hiking in the Cold

After a very mild and warm December, southwestern British Columbia is about to be hit by a polar vortex, with low temperatures dropping well below -10 degrees Celsius in the city and much colder in the mountains. If you plan to hike in the coming weeks during the cold temperature, it is important to be well prepared with the proper gear and knowledge of the recent weather and avalanche forecasts.

This is a quick reminder of what you should do when hiking in the cold. If you are planning multi-day treks or venturing into more difficult areas, you should plan lots of research, take avalanche and backcountry courses, and ensure you’ve got excellent gear to be well prepared.

Pack Microspikes

One of the best investments you can make for your hiking gear this time of year is a pair of Microspikes. They are portable and easily pack away in your backpack, and they can be a lifesaver when it comes to slippery terrain. Even lower elevation trails will freeze and ice will form, making them extremely slippery and dangerous. Putting on a pair of microspikes can help you navigate this type of terrain. Snowshoes will be required for deeper or fresh snow, however it’s still a great idea to pack microspikes if you plan on hiking in any very cold conditions. 

Wear Proper Winter Clothes that are Warm

Temperatures can be much lower and the weather harsher on mountain trails than they are in the city. It goes without saying that you must prepare and dress very warmly for these types of conditions. Layered clothing is key. Begin with a moisture-wicking base layer to prevent your clothes becoming sweaty and causing hypothermia. Your outerwear should be waterproof and windproof to protect against the elements. 

With such cold temperatures, it’s important to protect your hands and also reduce the amount of heat loss by wearing a toque. Gloves should be well insulated and waterproof so that they don’t get wet on the inside.

Proper clothes can be quite expensive but the investment in good quality will ensure that those clothes last longer and protect you against the elements, making your outdoor experience much safer.

Shorter Days, Pack a Headlamp

During the winter months in Vancouver, the sun sets at just after 4pm, the light and visibility can become even less much earlier in the forests or on a snowy or cloudy day. Plan your adventure so that you have completed your hike well before sunset. Pack a headlamp and extra batteries in case you are still on the trail when it’s dark.

Check Weather and Avalanche Conditions

We highly recommend taking an avalanche course and backcountry safety course. Avalanche Canada maintains a list with a variety of courses throughout the year in various locations. The Mountain Skills Academy & Adventures in Whistler offers a variety of courses, from an introduction to the backcountry to various levels Avalanche safety.

Before you leave on your hike, check the avalanche conditions and local weather for any weather alerts:.

Avalanche Canada Conditions:
Environment Canada Weather:

Tell Someone Where You Are Going and When You’ll Be Back

Letting someone know where you are going and when you will be back greatly increases your chances of being rescued if something happens. With more that can go wrong during the winter months, letting a reliable person know your trip itinerary can help search and rescue if the worst happens and you become lost or injured.

Review and Pack the 10-Essentials

Review the 10-essentials List and pack all of the items relevant for winter hiking.

With the right gear and extra preparation, hiking in the cold weather can be a wonderful experience. 

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