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9 Tips for Adventuring Safely During the Winter



Deep, soft snow. Frosted pine trees. Cozy wool socks. The silence you only find after a snow storm.


It can be wonderful, magical and mythical - but it can also be cold, icy, disorienting and a tad bit scary. Luckily, if you know your stuff and understand how to explore safely, having a winter adventure can be a truly amazing thing.

Growing up in Colorado, we both had our fair share of winter adventures. From snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park to skiing some of the best resorts around to simply wandering around a quiet forest listening to birds and pretty much nothing else. There truly is something special about heading outside when snow is on the ground and the weather is cool and crisp.

But winters can also bring their own specific dangers and challenges. Icy roads, blizzards, roaring winds that cut at your face, and hidden trees and rocks that can scratch you up if you fall through the snow (we have way too many scars from this issue ourselves). It seems Mother Nature is at her harshest during the winter season.

Luckily, over time you learn a thing or two about how to handle the winter weather and landscape. Below you will find 9 of our top tips for safely adventuring during the winter, which we have learned through many years of trial and error. Hopefully, these tips inspire you to get outside even when the weather turns cold and the land goes white.

Foggy winter forest landscape.




1 | Be Prepared For the Worst

You know what they say: hope for the best but plan for the worst. And no truer words could be said about adventuring during the winter.

That is because in the winter if something goes wrong, it can go from bad to absolutely terrible in a short period of time. Weather, road conditions, the backcountry, all of these things can be more dangerous once the colder weather sets in.

So if you take one thing from this guide, have it be this: always prepare for the worst case scenario when adventuring outside during the winter.

Here is how:

| Pack extra layers of warm clothing, snacks and water and either leave them in your car, or take them with you when heading out to explore - especially if you are planning to check out the backcountry.

| Likewise, keep emergency supplies in your car in case you get stuck in the snow or if the weather turns really nasty and you can't drive home. Some of the best emergency supplies to have are warm blankets, flashlights, gear to help get your car out of snow (a shovel, cat litter, chains), jumper cables, an ice scraper, and a first aid kit.

| Always try to have a full(ish) tank of gas when heading out - just in case you get stuck and you need to keep the heat on.


2 | If a Trail (or Road) is Closed, Turn Around

During the winter, many trails and roads will close due to too much snow, ice or mud. If you come across a trail that is closed due to any of those three things - and especially mud - do NOT keep going and instead turn around and check out another trail that is open.

Many trails will close in order to protect the trails from excess damage. While it might not seem like that big of a deal for you to hike along it, if everyone followed your lead, the trail would eventually become eroded, damaged and not very fun to use. When a lot of people explore a muddy trail or road, they often begin trying to avoid the worst mud spots and instead walk along the side. This decision can have some really negative consequences - including damage to the surrounding ecosystem (especially to the plants).

Do your part to protect the trails during the winter by following all closures. More often than not, you can find other trails that are open and fine to use. While a closure can definitely wreck your current outdoor plans, think of it more as a way to keep that trail usable for many years to come.

3 | Follow all Leave No Trace Principles

No matter the time of year you are adventuring, it is incredibly important to follow ALL 7 Leave No Trace Principles.

In the winter, the biggest principles to follow are: packing out everything you brought in; including, all trash, gear, food and supplies. Remember, no matter where you are exploring, always try to leave it better than you found it. In fact, if you can, try to pick up any trash you find while out along the trail.

The second important LNT principle to follow during the winter is to make sure you are always sticking to the established trail. Never leave the trail - even if the trail is really wet and muddy. By hiking outside of the trail you are slowly causing erosion to the landscape - which of course is bad. The trails are there for a reason, so use them!

4 | Respect All Wildlife

Another thing that should go without saying is that no matter the time of year, you should ALWAYS respect any wildlife you come across while out exploring.

During the winter season in particular, make sure to look out for any animals that may be hunting or scavenging. Because it can be a lot tougher to find food during the colder months - especially if there is snow on the ground - it is really important to give these animals plenty of space so they can carry on with their business.

If you do happen to see wildlife along the trail, slow down or stop, let the animal know you are there (especially bigger ones like moose) and then allow the animal to move away. Or if the animal is staying where it is, you should give it a wide berth and slowly move away.

5 | Respect Other Backcountry Adventurers

When out exploring, make sure you are respecting all of your fellow adventurers - no matter what activity they are doing. This includes making sure you are keeping your noise levels down (please do NOT play music out loud), following all trail etiquette (like yielding for people going uphill) and keeping an eye on anyone coming downhill at a bit of speed (like backcountry skiers) so you can give them the space to keep going.

Likewise, if you are out on a popular trail and you see cross country ski tracks (which look like two perfect lines side by side) make sure to NOT snowshoe or walk along on top of the tracks. While it might not seem like a big deal, this is one of those common courtesy things that should just be followed during the winter (aka, don't be an a**hole).


6 | Know the Signs of Dangerous Snow Conditions

Before setting out on your winter adventure, make sure you do some research to know what dangerous snow conditions look like.

REI put together a great guide on avalanches - including how to know if you are in avalanche terrain and whether the snow beneath your feet is stable or unstable (there are many factors that go into figuring that one out).

➳ You can read their in-depth safety guide here.

Other common dangers you need to be able to spot while adventuring in the winter include snow cornices - which is an overhanging edge of snow along a ridge or the crest of a mountain that can easily break off (and send you sliding or falling) if stepped on with too much weight, snow-covered rivers and streams (the biggest danger here is getting your feet or body wet, which can lead to hypothermia and a whole lot of discomfort), and hidden ice that can be really slick and cause you to slide and fall (and maybe get seriously injured).

When out adventuring during the winter - especially if there is a lot of snow on the ground - you need to be even more aware of your surroundings. Pay special attention to possible hidden dangers like the ones mentioned above. Likewise, always have a plan in place if something would go wrong while out exploring (like a fall that leads to a serious injury).

Plan ahead. Stay aware of your surroundings. Know how to spot common dangers. These are the core things to keep in mind when outside during the winter.