Trail guide and cell phone and water in bottles.
Flashlight in case your hike is a waste of time,
Energy snacks secured with laces.
These are some of our essential things… (Can’t you hear Maria von Trapp’s voice?)
A walk through a pine forest on crunchy snow can be a dream, however, your snowy paradise can quickly sink if it’s missing important elements.
Being prepared with a few essentials in your bag will help keep you safe on your adventure. Here are six items that should always be in your backpack on a winter hike:
1. Something to light the way
The days are shorter in winter, which means it gets dark earlier.
Always plan to leave the trails before dark, but be prepared in case the trail takes longer than expected or an injury slows you down.
A headlamp or flashlight allows you to safely get off the trail. Getting stuck on the road after dark is a major safety hazard and a common rescue situation in the winter season.
Always carry plenty of water.
When it’s hot, people are more likely to remember water for their hike, but you can also easily get dehydrated on a winter hike.
Bottles with straw systems can be vulnerable to freezing if temperatures are cold enough. Instead, try insulated bottles to keep the water from freezing too much (or add a thermos with something hot to warm you up halfway!).
3. Energy-rich snacks
Hiking in winter usually requires a little more fuel.
Walking on snow creates more resistance and cold temperatures can burn energy faster. That’s why it’s a good idea to carry extra energy-rich snacks in your backpack.
Trail mixes, beef jerky, and energy bars/balls are great options to keep you energized while traveling.
4. Telephone or punctual unit
Before hitting the road, it’s a good idea to let a friend or family member know where you’re going.
It’s also a good idea to carry a phone or detection unit in case you run into trouble along the way.
Service can vary from park to park, but most operators post coverage maps on their website so you can check them before you go. Other types of devices, such as spot units, are more reliable in areas with little or no service.
Remember that your phone may not work well if it gets too cold, so keep it in an insulated place or close to your body to keep it warm.
5. A trail guide and/or map.
If a trail guide is available, carry a copy with you during your hike.
Some parks do not have trail guides available in winter, but may post maps at the trailhead. If you have a phone, you can take a photo so you’ll have a digital copy to take with you (but a physical copy is always a good idea in case your phone can’t handle the cold).
Some parks also have PDF versions of their hiking trails on the park page.
6. Additional layers
Pack some extra layers in case you get cold or wet. Extra gloves and socks are always a good idea!
Some other considerations:
- A waterproof cover for your backpack can help protect what’s in your bag if it snows during your hike
- Carrying a few packets of hand warmers in your bag can really make a difference. You can even use these packs on your boots!
- Matches or a fire starter are great for your safety gear, especially if you’re going on a longer hike.
Have a fun and safe time on the trails!
Remember: If you don’t have much winter hiking experience, it’s a good idea to start with a shorter trail (2 km or less).
Trails take longer to complete in winter and you will exert more energy. Start with a shorter trail and work your way up.
For more information about your local provincial park, check out our winter webpage.