|Whitetail Deer bedded down during a snowstorm|
Of course, the key to successful wintertime hiking is planning up front. Creating a gear list that includes everything you need to bring, and nothing that you don't have to, is essential. For instance, don't bring snowshoes for a hike in three inch snow. But on the other hand, don't forget to bring duplicate essentials such as gloves, a hat and dry socks.
If you are planning a day trip, you won't need to bring much camping gear, other than possibly a survival blanket, but you still should items such as the first aid kit, high energy snacks, water, waterproof matches, cell phone, GPS unit, sharp knife and some parachute cord in case you have to rig up a survival shelter or limb splint.
The key to enjoying winter hiking is obviously staying warm. As I wrote in a previous post about staying warm outdoors, successul hikes are all about staying dry and warm. In the winter, if you are wet, you are cold, that's just the way it is. Additionally, hypothermia occurs much faster in a wet hiker than a dry one. Dressing in loose, layered clothing is essential and cotton should be avoided at all costs. Other materials are much better at producing insulating layers and wicking moisture away from your body. The layering concept doesn't just apply to your torso, but should also be considered when covering your hands, feet, legs and head.
When you are winter hiking, be sure to hike along with a friend or if that isn't possible, let someone know your hiking route and the time you expect to be done. If they haven't heard from you by that time, they will know to possibly contact authorities as well as where to begin looking for you.
With just a few precautions, winter hiking can be an amazing rewarding activity. It helps build fitness, avoid the winter weight gain so common in some of us, but it is just refreshing to get out in the crisp air and snow.