One of the biggest fears when hiking in the cold is the threat of the unexpected. What if you get caught in an unpredicted storm? What if you get stranded? Or what if you lose the trail? Following these tips can help prepare you for unexpected events and keep you safe.

Check … and then Re-check the weather

The weather can be extremely unpredictable in winter and can change within minutes. Check the weather – as well as any avalanche danger – as you plan for your hike, before you leave for your hike and when you get to your destination (if possible). It will ensure you’re informed of any recent weather changes that may affect your outdoor adventure.

How to Prepare for the Unexpected by Rebecca Hosley for Hike it Baby

Familiarize Yourself with ALL Possible Routes

You may have an epic hike planned, but Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate with your plans. If the weather quickly turns south in the middle of your hike, knowing which trails could lead back to the parking lot quickly could be a life saver! Carry a printed map and also take a picture on your phone so you have two options for keeping a map on you.

Inform Others of Your Plans

Inform multiple people of your plans and give them a copy of the trail map with your planned route. If possible, tell a neighbor of your plans so they can look out for your car if they don’t hear from you after your estimated return time. Another good option is to start a group chat via text or social media with family or friends who also hike. You can include the following information: your location details, estimated time of return, a photo of your trail map with your route marked and a message saying you have returned safely. This could also motivate others to join you on your adventure.

Sign the Roster at the Trailhead

Most trails have a roster located at the trailhead. These rosters have spaces for you to fill out that include information such as your name, number of people in your hiking party, your home address, phone number and your planned destination/route. These rosters are super important for rescue teams in case you get stranded or lost on the trail!

How to Prepare for the Unexpected by Rebecca Hosley for Hike it Baby

Keep an Emergency Kit in Your Car

Always keep emergency essentials in your car. You can buy an affordable pre-packed emergency roadside kit that contains many (but not all!) of these items:

  • Universal survival kit jumper cables, road flares and reflectors, small tool kit, blankets, duct tape, flashlight and batteries, non-perishable food, water (a gallon jug is a good choice), lighter and small candle/tinder, whistle, parachute cord or rope, extra gear (such as gloves, hats, boots and socks), plastic bags to use for wet gear, small fire extinguisher and a quality first aid kit
  • Extras if snow is expected small shovel (in case you have to dig out),windshield scraper/broom, tarp, sand/cat litter for traction if you get stuck, battery powered or crank radio, space blankets (which can be used as a blanket or as insulation around car windows to keep heat in) and hand/foot warmers

Essentials to pack for your hike

The following is a list of essentials that REI recommends should always be in your hiking pack. We added a few more items that have come in handy for us, especially in cold weather. While this list may look overwhelming, you likely already carry many of these with you on hikes. Most items on this list are very compact and shouldn’t weigh down your pack.

    1. The 10 Essentials Navigational tools, sun protection for eyes and skin, insulating layers, a light source, a first aid kit, fire supplies, multi-tool or quality knife, more food and water than you think you need, and an emergency shelter
    2. A few extras we recommend duct tape, hand and foot warmers, extra phone battery or portable charging device, and extra plastic/Ziploc bags

Invest in a Quality Pack

A pack that is either all-weather or has a waterproof cover can keep your gear clean and dry. Deuter makes quality and versatile packs. You can check out their website to see which pack will best meet your adventure needs.

How to Prepare for the Unexpected by Rebecca Hosley for Hike it Baby

How do you prepare for hiking in the cold? Share your experience with us in the comments below.

Learn more about the 10K Women Trail Project and how you can join our initiative to get 10,000 women and girls on trail in the coming year.

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Photos by Rebecca Hosley and Alex Wong.

Hike it Baby hikes are hosting by volunteers who have no professional training and are not experts to guide families on hikes. They are people who want to raise a generation to love the outdoors and they accomplish this by facilitating outings for all to join. Our tips are gathered from collective experience. As with any physical activity, please be sure to check with your healthcare provider and other experts when hiking with your children.

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