So you’ve been hiking in the summer, and now you’re wondering how to transition this into an all-year hobby. While many aspects of hiking remain similar from season to season, there are a number of additional considerations for winter hiking.
First are closures. Many roads in Kananaskis close between December and May, so make sure you do a little extra research before hiking to ensure your hike is accessible in the winter months. With this research it is also a good idea to check recent posts or comments from other hikers (AllTrails often has an up-to-date comment section). Read up on the recently reported trail conditions before you head out to the mountains.
Second, daylight. The daylight hours are considerably fewer in the winter months, and the sun will disappear even quicker in the mountains. Give yourself plenty of time to get off the trail before sunset. You may also want to consider the length of the drive and how comfortable you feel with highway driving in the dark. This is a very personal decision, as some people find driving out of the city at night more stressful than others, but make sure you take this aspect of the hike into consideration when you plan.
Along with shorter daylight hours, you may find hiking in the winter takes longer than in the summer. The times you may be used to on dry trails will probably not help you in the snow. Make sure to over-budget your time at least the first few times you hike in the winter, until you get a better idea of your pace.
Finally, there is gear. Summer hiking requires layers of course, but not as many as winter hiking. As you move, you are likely to sweat and get too warm for your initial layers, but make sure to layer up as soon as you stop moving, so you don’t get a chill. Wear athletic materials as much as possible, so their moisture wicking qualities will help keep you dry. I personally always bring an extra pair of socks, even in the summer, as hiking in wet socks is miserable, but it is even more important when hiking in the snow. You may want to bring an extra pair for the car as well, just in case. In fact, a change of clothes to keep in the car is probably a great idea, in case you slip and get wet in the snow or simply feel the need to change out of sweaty layers. Sunscreen is also important in the winter! Though it will not feel as warm, the sun’s reflection off the snow can burn you just as badly, if not worse than in the summer.
Gear to keep on your person (in your backpack or to wear), includes a toque (warm hat), mittens/gloves, warm socks, 1 to 2 pairs of pants (long underwear is not a bad idea!), shirt, sweater/fleece, and a jacket. If you have a tendency to run cold, bring more layers! Wear waterproof shoes, ideally hiking boots. If you have gators (to keep snow out of your boots), these can be helpful! I always bring my poles, but they can be especially helpful on slippery trails as they provide another point of contact with the ground. Micro-spikes (sometimes called crampons) are also a good addition, especially if you are hiking on potentially icy/slippery areas. These just slip over your boots and give you additional grip. The photo below is an example of Kahtoola brand spikes. These are a sufficient size for hiking. Mountaineers and ice climbers will wear more heavy duty crampons, but these are unnecessary for hikers.
Now you’re ready to get out and hike! Winter hiking can be gorgeous, with the snow sparkly on the mountains. Some of my favourite easy trails for winter are Chester Lake, Heart Creek Trail and I can’t wait to do Johnston’s Canyon! Comment your favourite winter hikes 😊