Hitting the trails of Southern Utah during the winter season is a great way to experience them in new and exciting ways. Plus, you’ll get to enjoy views that few visitors ever see. However, with the cold and snow comes unique dangers that every hikers needs to be prepared for.
Thinking about hiking this season? Keep reading for some cold-weather first aid that every winter hiker needs to know.
NEVER HIT THE TRAIL WITHOUT A FLASHLIGHT
While this isn’t necessarily a first aid tip, it is something that every hiker needs to remember during the winter season. Even if you’re only planning on taking a short hike and start your trek during the middle of the day when there’s plenty of sunlight, it’s a good idea to bring along a flashlight.
Darkness falls much, much earlier during the winter. Add in mountains or tree cover blocking the sun, and you could find yourself in near total-darkness hours earlier than you might have expected. In addition, sudden winter storms or harsh conditions on trails may make for slow going, and leave you stranded.
A flashlight will help light the way so that you can get off the trail, fast. With darkness comes dropping temperatures. Even if you think that you’re prepared, it’s a good idea to try to get back to safety and a warm car as fast as possible. If you do get caught in an unexpected snowstorm or if you need to stop on the trail after dark, you can use your flashlight as an emergency beacon to alert other hikers or emergency crews of your location.
Don’t forget that cold temperatures can zap your battery power. Stow your flashlight deep in your pack, preferably wrapped up in clothing or other insulating materials. If you know that the inside of your pack isn’t going to be well insulated, consider stashing your flashlight or headlamp in an inner pocket of your coat instead.
CARRY EXTRA WATER
Unless you’re hiking a steep trail and wearing extra layers of insulating clothing, you’re probably not breaking a sweat on most winter hikes. But just because you aren’t sweating doesn’t mean that your body isn’t getting a good workout. In fact, because our bodies have to warm the air that we breathe before it gets to our lungs, you’re actually burning even more calories than you would during your average summer hike.
The result of all of this extra work is that your body dehydrates faster. However, when you aren’t sweating it out under a hot sun, you might not realize that it’s happening until it is too late.
To combat this, it’s important to continue hydrating yourself throughout your hike. Keep your water in tightly sealed containers. And on days when the temperature is below freezing, put your water bottle inside of your pack or in an inside pocket of your coat to keep it from freezing.
A lack of sweating on a hot, difficult hike is usually one of the first signs of dehydration to watch for during the summer. In the winter, you’ll need to rely on other indicators. A headache is one of the first signs, but also one that’s easily overlooked because it can be blamed on other things. Other signs include a lack of appetite, nausea, dizziness, and dark urine.
CANNED FOOD COULD BE A LIFESAVER ON A BACKWOODS HIKE
For the same reasons that you should always carry a flashlight, even if you think that you’ll only be on a trail for a short time, it’s not a bad idea to pack a few cans of food, either.
Canned food is easy to carry, has a long shelf life, will pack well in your backpack, and can be eaten without cooking it or even warming it up. High-protein foods like canned tuna, chicken, or beans are some of the best options.
But canned food doesn’t just have to be for emergencies. These are also easy items to pack for trail snacks. Staying energized will help keep your body moving in cold, difficult conditions.
KNOW THE SIGNS OF FROSTBITE AND HYPOTHERMIA
Hypothermia and frostbite are common conditions that hikers need to be ready to contend with if they plan to hit the trails during winter. Knowing the signs of both can help you take action before you or a fellow hiker gets into a serious emergency situation.
Besides feeling cold and exposed, some of the earliest signs of frostbite include waxy, pale skin, tingling or numbness in the affected area, and skin that is unusually hard. After fingers, toes, or other areas have begun to warm, blisters may develop if frostbite has occurred.
The first signs of mild hypothermia include shivering, clumsiness, and slowed thinking or confusion. If left untreated, the shivering will become more intense. The affected person may visibly struggle to stay upright, and they may become irritable or unusually forgetful.
As soon as you notice the early signs of either condition, it’s important to warm up the affected person. You should also cover any exposed skin as quickly as possible.
NEVER TRY TO “TOUGH IT OUT”
When you’re hiking in snow or on a cold day, you might be hesitant to complain if you’re feeling very cold or tired. Or you might notice your skin feeling raw, but assume it’s just from the wind. You might tell yourself that if others aren’t experiencing the same symptoms, your discomfort must not be anything serious.
But the cold affects each person in a different way. And depending on your gear, you may be more exposed and susceptible than other members of your group.
If you’re feeling very cold or uncomfortable on the trail, you should never try to “tough it out.” Speak up. Then, do what you can to get warm or hydrate yourself as quickly as possible. If you are feeling okay, pay attention to the other members of your group. Watch for signs of distress.
Cold weather hiking can be a wonderful way to explore parks like Zion in a whole new environment. But just like during the summer, hiking any trail requires care and preparation to stay safe during your adventure.