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Safety tips for getting out in the winter months

Safety tips for hiking in the winter

Winter recreation is fun and exciting. It can also be challenging and dangerous. Whether you’re going for a hike, a bike, a paddle, or fishing, Hike Smart NY can help you prepare with a list of 10 essentials, guidance on what to wear, and tips for planning your trip with safety and sustainability in mind. Learn about best practices, preparedness, and the Hiker Responsibility Code. Discover trails less traveled and visit sites when trails may not be as busy.

Check the Weather: Check the National Weather Service for current conditions and forecasts for the locations where you plan to recreate. Check both daytime and nighttime temperatures. Expect conditions to be cooler and more exposed on mountain summits.

Manage your time wisely: Keep in mind that it gets dark early. Be mindful of sunrise and sunset times, and plan accordingly. Start long hikes early to maximize sunlight hours, and always bring a headlamp in case you are out longer than expected.

Essentials for Winter Hikes

  • Waterproof hiking boots with wool socks
  • Traction devices, as there may be snow and ice on mountain summits
  • Warm layers, including a hat and gloves, to prevent hypothermia; wind protectant layers for open overlooks and summits
  • Gloves and a hat
  • Headlamp with extra batteries- even if you plan to be down in the daylight
  • Plenty of food and water
  • A thermos of hot cocoa, coffee, tea, or soup to warm up or in case of emergencies
  • First aid kit
  • Emergency essentials you should always have in your pack:
                  o Space blanket
                  o Matches and fire starters
                  o Pocket knife
                  o Paracord or rope
                  o Iodine tablets or a water filtration system
                  o Extra batteries
Avoid Hypothermia

Hypothermia is a well-known risk during extremely cold weather, but it is also a danger during cool, wet weather. With variable weather in the forecast, keep in mind that hypothermia can occur at almost any temperature if you fail to keep yourself warm and dry. Hypothermia is the result of your body losing heat faster than it can produce it. 

To prevent hypothermia, dress in layers that will keep you warm and dry, and change into dry layers if you sweat through clothes or get wet. Drink plenty of water and eat high-calorie, high-protein foods to maintain your energy. Being tired, hungry, or dehydrated makes you more susceptible to hypothermia.

Know the warning signs of hypothermia:
  • Shivering
  • Exhaustion or feeling very tired
  • Confusion
  • Fumbling hands
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness
Hypothermia is a serious medical condition. If someone in your party begins to show signs of hypothermia in the backcountry, act immediately. Warm the person by getting them to shelter, lighting a fire, or wrapping them in a space blanket or bivy sack (a weatherproof cover for your sleeping bag with a breathing hole). 

Remove any wet clothing and replace it with warm, dry clothing. Warm the center of their body – skin-to-skin contact can help. Warm drinks will also raise core temperature, but do not give the person alcohol. Seek proper medical attention as soon as possible.

View the DEC's pdf on Winter Hiking Essentials. This document also contains emergency numbers for DEC emergency dispatch.

As always, be sure to visit their Facebook page for updates and to view their Facebook Live offerings. From adventures at fish hatcheries and nighttime hiking, to Q&As about black bears, there is always something to see and learn.



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