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Winter Backcountry Safety


Winter Backcountry SafetyTravelling during the winter in the backcountry can often be more dangerous hiking in the summertime. Avalanches are often caused by heavy snowfall followed by slow warming and rain, progressively loading and stressing many buried weaker layers.  Avalanches can be dangerous to even the most experienced backcountry skier, hiker, or snowmobiler.

Planning ahead is quite important for hikers and snowshoers they should take every precaution before heading out on the trails in winter months. Here are some tips for safer backcountry exploration in winter:

Always check avalanche conditions

Choose your destinations wisely

If there is a guidebook available, consult it to find a low risk trail.  Remember that there are other snow risks beside avalanches - getting stuck in a tree well (the hollow in snow at the base of a tree) is a surprisingly common cause of injuries and fatalities in winter recreation.

Let someone know where you are going

Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return (and call them when you do return!).

Always pack these ten essentials & a few extra winter ones on any hike

The ten essentials include a topographic map, compass, extra food, extra clothing, firestarter, matches, sun protection, a pocket knife, first-aid kit, and flashlight.

Some of these are extra important for winter hiking and snowshoeing:


  • Adequate extra clothing - plenty of layers made of materials such as wool or polypropolene that wick sweat and moisture away from your body.
  • Headlamp or flashlight (and extra batteries) are especially important in the winter, since days are short and night comes quickly.
  • Plenty of extra food - snowshoeing requires hard work, so bring along plenty of extra food and keep your energy level high.

Snowshoeing requires more energy than hiking, so turn around if you find yourself in conditions that are beyond your skill level or your energy level is low. A few extra items to put in the winter backpack include:


Plenty of water - keep hydrated by drinking often.


  • Emergency shelter and/or sleeping bag - seriously consider carrying these in case you have to spend a night out there.
  • Portable shovel - a critically important winter survival tool, which will assist you in digging snow caves in which you can survive a bitter, cold night.  And, it's nearly impossible to dig someone out of an avalanche without a shovel.
  • Avalanche beacon - in avalanche country, consider carrying an avalanche beacon. And know how to use it properly.


Bring navigation skills

Make sure you are traveling with maps and compasses.