How to Start Winter Trekking

Once you have a taste for hiking, you will soon find it hard to put those boots in the closet after the summer. And why would you? You can also go out in the winter in the snow. But how do you do that in a safe way? And are you not going to suffer a cold?


Tip 1: Choose a simple area and easy route to start with

Snowed mountain landscapes are very beautiful but a lot less accessible than in summer: the weather conditions are harder, paths are hidden under the snow cover, mountain sides and hiking trails are quickly too steep and the avalanche danger is lurking.
Build your experience systematically. Even if you went out in the Alps or the Pyrenees in the summer or did a hiking trip in Scandinavia and Iceland, in winter you start back from the beginning. From flat terrain, over the low mountain range to desolate areas or high mountains.

Tip 2: Do not plan long distances

The speed with which you walk strongly depends on the snow conditions, both with snow shoes and cross-country skis. And these can not be predicted, but will only be experienced on the site itself. Therefore, be modest in your planning. With lots of fresh snow, your speed can drop to 1 to 2 km / h, even if you are in good physical shape.

On average, a trip of 10 km (in an area with a lot of altitude) to 15 km (with flat terrain) is long. Also take into account the day length! The earlier in the season and the more north you draw, the fewer the number of daylight  hours! Work on your physical condition in advance (endurance and strength). In the winter the walking experience is much more intense, and you therefore have less need for kilometers and altitude meters. Even experienced hikers regularly adjust their route according to terrain and weather. Experience is key.

Tip 3: Invest in appropriate gear

In the summer you can set out with what you have in the cupboard, in the winter that is certainly not the case. Both for your comfort and your safety it is important to think carefully about the gear you need. As soon as there is a thick layer of snow, snow shoes or touring skis are a  must. Moving is a lot more efficient and in avalanche sensitive terrain it is also important for safety. You have to be able to protect your clothes from sometimes harsh conditions, and your camping equipment will be just that bit tighter and warmer.

Tip 4: Learn how to navigate with map, compass and GPS

In the winter the orientation is a bit more difficult. Many hiking trails are under a thick snow cover, along with the signage that is often placed on stones if there are no trees in the area. Map and compass are no longer unnecessary instruments. In the fog the sense of direction can completely disappear (the so-called white-out) and then a GPS is even necessary.

Only in popular hiking areas in Norway and Sweden winter routes are marked (via fixed beacons or branches that are placed between half and end of March). In all other areas there is no signage (except very local and short walks) and you have to fall back on your own navigation skills.

Tip 5: Do not underestimate the avalanche danger

Once you approach the tree line or go above it, you must always take avalanche danger into account. A snow cover can slide on a slope of 30 ° (and in spring conditions from 25 °). Even if your route is almost flat (such as in Scandinavia or high plateaus such as the Vercors and the Jura) you have to take into account steep slopes around your course. It might be recommended to take an avalanche course.

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