Aside from a Polar Vortex freezing the country, you can have the time of your life hitting the snow covered trails with your kids. After a spring, summer and fall season filled with miles of fun hiking adventure, don’t let old man winter put a stop to your kid’s active outdoor lifestyle. Most parks have the lowest visitation in the winter which means you can avoid the stampede of hikers and bumper to bumper traffic, but you need to be prepared for the winter elements which increase your risk of exposure, hypothermia and frostbite. By adding some safety winter survival skills, proper gear, clothing, flexibility, and common sense, you can build fun winter hiking memories with your kids.
Winter hiking can have serious and fatal consequences without the right skills and gear. As I wrote this, news broke that three adult hikers were air lift rescued from the Great Smoky Mountains along the Appalachian Trail. They didn’t have shelter, proper clothing and winter survival skills; and they were treated for hypothermia. They are very lucky their cell phone even worked; cell phones are unreliable in the backcountry (WBIR.com; Citizen-Times.com). In November, 2013 a family with three young kids survived two days in snow covered subzero Nevada wilderness huddled in their overturned Jeep until rescuers found them. They used their wits and survived by staying together, building a fire and using their vehicle as a shelter. They had just gone out for a day of play with the kids in the snow (Reuters.com; RSJ.com). Unfortunately, many other situations don’t have such rosy outcomes.
Seasoned hikers carry the ten essential items recommended by the “Seattle based Mountaineers” and they know how to use the gear they carry. Overnight winter hiking requires a hearty soul and should be left for the seasoned hikers. Here are a few tips to keep your winter day hikes fun and safe.
Winter Gear Considerations:
There are detailed lists and guide books of recommended gear, clothing, food and water you should have whenever you hike. A big part of making a hiking adventure fun for kids is keeping them warm, dry, hydrated and fed. Here are a few items and tips to keep your winter family hike fun and safe in the extreme cold, snow and moist conditions. Some of these items are recommended elsewhere, such as the ten essentials:
- Bundle Up and Stay Dry: Make sure everyone is wearing layered non-cotton thermal clothing with hats, mittens, and a waterproof outer shell.
- Bring Shelter: Even if you’re just out for the day, pack along a shelter (tent, tarp, poncho, etc.) or brush up on how to make a shelter from your surroundings and your gear. If you get lost or injured, stay together and use the shelter to help stay warm and dry.
- Prepare to Make Fire: Be sure you have a method to make a fire and know how to use your fire starter kit.
- Map, Compass & GPS: Bring a topo map, compass and GPS if you have it and know how to use them. Snow covered trails can lead you off course. Know how to signal for help if you’re lost (three loud whistle bursts, bright colored clothing item placed in open clearing; etc.).
- Bring the stove and some Cocoa: Pack along a hiking stove, hot cocoa and soup packets. Most kids never turn down a cup of piping hot cocoa after a cold romp in the snow and this will also help warm your inner core.
- Pack Extra Snacks & Enough Water. You burn more calories in the winter and the added snacks will keep your kids energized. Be sure to bring your kids favorite foods to encourage them to eat. Stop often for water breaks.
- Winter Footwear Accessories: Ice Crampons will help your traction on ice covered trails and snow shoes will help hiking over deep snow. These items are costly and you may have difficulty finding sizes that fit your smaller kids. But, you may be able to rent snow shoes or find them at a used sporting goods outlet.