Winter Hiking: A Safety Checklist

There are two kinds of people in this world when winter rolls around — the ones who daydream about mugs of hot chocolate by the fireplace + the ones who get giddy about tromping around in the snow. If you’re the latter you’re probably stoked about the upcoming season. We’re right there with you! There is something magical about hiking in a silent forest blanketed in snow.

This winter wonderland also comes with a new layer of risk when you’re outdoors. Risk doesn’t need to keep you outdoors, but you should definitely take into consideration what you’re headed out into. Let’s go over a few ways you can prepare for an upcoming winter hike.

Ten Essentials

You will *always* want to have your ten essentials with you. As the weather changes you’ll want to adjust what you pack slightly, but this list outlines the basics:

  • Hydration
  • Nutrition
  • First Aid
  • Insulation
  • Illumination
  • Navigation
  • Shelter
  • Fire Starter
  • Avalanche Gear [if necessary for your hiking route]

We go into further detail of exactly what you’ll want to pack along for winter adventures in our Winter 10 Essentials article. Check it out + head outside prepared!

Avalanche Knowledge

There is a chance you’ll be venturing into an area that doesn’t require any avalanche knowledge or gear. However, if you’re headed into a mountainous region when there is snow on the ground there is probably a chance you’ll encounter avalanche terrain.

Avalanche terrain is any area that could avalanche or be in the path of an avalanche. Even if you’re not the one starting the avalanche it can have devastating effects on your adventures. This includes driving along mountain roads that say “Avalanche Zone No Stopping”. We don’t want to deter you from getting outside in the snow, we simply want you to be properly prepared.

If you’re looking to get more information on avalanche safety check out our articles on avalanche safety for hikers + consider taking an avalanche course to further your knowledge.

Mental Preparedness

Winter adventures comes with an added level of risk, as we mentioned. They also offer up new ways to see the world…as well as new ways to be miserably uncomfortable while outdoors. Once again, we definitely don’t want you to think you need to stay inside with this dismal fact. It’s the opposite — we want you to head outside prepared the FIRST time you venture into the winter wonderland so you keep going back again + again.

Once you have all of your gear ready to go there is one last thing you need to get ready — your mindset! When you head out there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • You will travel slower through the snow + over the ice
  • It will get dark sooner, so leave early + pack a headlamp
  • Weather changes quickly + white out conditions are extremely difficult to navigate
  • The trails will look much different in the snow, navigate carefully
  • Once you get cold or wet it is much more difficult to get warm + dry
  • Frozen lakes/ponds/rivers are often hidden + may pose the risk of falling into the water

If you’re thinking about those things when you’re getting ready to head outside you’ll be more than prepared for the adventure! Be gracious with yourself + focus on your crispy white surroundings rather than the distance you’re traveling!

About the Author


Heidi Kumm

Heidi Kumm is a trail runner, world traveler, mountain climber, and all around adventure enthusiast. She is so stoked on adventure that she has made it her career as the owner of Adventure Feet First, a travel company that focuses on getting people outside to explore the world around them. Over the past years Heidi has spent months living abroad, volunteering around the world, living out of a van/car/truck, and finding new ways to explore on foot, by bike, or with a backpack. She has learned the ins and outs of self propelled exploration the hard way, so she's here to help us learn from her mistakes and to help us become more informed on how to make your own mistakes, safely.