I know we have been having a more than mild winter so far, with very little snow and temperatures that haven't descended the point of, "why the hell do I live here?" levels yet we are all feeling nervous about the impending snow. However, even with this mild weather people are starting to pull themselves closer and closer to the couch for the long Saskatchewan hibernation.
Often people ask me if I hike at all in winter, and I always answer with an emphatic yes! I love being out in the cold, there is something about the freshness of the air, and the challenge of overcoming the elements that make it the perfect way to spend a day.
I know that not everyone shares my enthusiasm so I thought I would give you a few reasons on why you shouldn't be afraid to go hiking in the winter in Saskatchewan.
The satisfying feeling of isolation
When was the last time you were alone? For some of us that might have been years ago. Winter hiking can offer that feeling within a few steps on the trail. Since people aren't as brave as you, more than likely the trails will be empty of people. This means the trail will be yours to explore in complete isolation.
Stop and listen during a winter hike and you will be amazed at the stillness of it all. There will be no leaves rustling in the wind, you'll heard the odd crack of a tree groaning in the wind and maybe a chick-a-dee or two tweeting in the distance. There is no better stress-reliever than listening to the sounds of your feet crunch the snow as you walk through a hostile landscape.
Just because it is cold, doesn't mean you have to be as well
The right gear makes all the difference!
It amazes me how many people have lived in Saskatchewan their entire lives and still don't have basic things like winter boots. I can tell you that there is no better investment if you want to live here than putting some money into proper winter gear. You don't need to spend a fortune to be warm, but you should still make some smart decisions on what you wear.
Buy gear that you can layer with. During winter hiking you will be amazed at how hot and sweaty you can get once you start moving. Don't dump all your money into an $800 Canada Goose jacket that will be too warm to hike in, instead spend money on wool sweaters and shells until you get something that works for you. I comfortably go hiking in -30C weather often in gear that I have built up over the course of a couple years.
Also, if you are an adult - your feet have stopped growing. Spend a few bucks on a sturdy pair of winter boots. Your feet will thank you!
We all love the heat of summer and getting and out and taking advantage of it as much as we can, but you are missing out on a lot if you aren't exploring the places you love in the winter as well. Saskatchewan is vastly different between seasons and you are doing yourself a disservice by not fully exploring the province in all seasons.
You will be amazed at the difference of the landscapes and how they feel. I often revisit trails in both seasons as the experiences are completely different. I quite enjoy seeing how the world changes in such a short time.
It's easy to lower the risks
Winter campfires for a quick warm up!
Now, if you are heading out for the first time in winter there are a few things you need to do to make sure you are prepared for the elements. Risks do increase in winter as there are many different ways to get yourself in trouble, but if you are prepared you can greatly reduce the risks of winter hiking. Here are a few tips I recommend.
1) Make sure you let someone know where you are going and when you should return. This is a good rule for anytime you go hiking but even more so in winter.
2) Bring two forms of a way to start a fire. I always carry a BIC lighter and ferrous rod and knife to start fires. You never know when one form will fail you.
3) Keep your water inside your jacket and drink often. The cold will make it seem like you aren't burning water but you are. Make sure you keep it as a liquid by using your body heat and drink as much as you would on a summer day.
4) Bring food. You will burn much more calories winter hiking than you will in the summer as your body works to keep your core temperature up and you slog through deep snow. Make sure you have a few snacks with you.
There are many more things you should do but these are the basics to keep you happy and healthy on the trail
You Should Challenge Yourself
Pushing through deep snow can work up quite the sweat!
Like I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post - I love the challenge of winter hiking and trust me when I say that you will too. It is tremendously satisfying to spend a day out on the trail in winter and to come home to a hot cup of chocolate milk after a hard days work.
You could spend your Saturday all day on the couch mumbling about the cold, or you can head out and face it! You will start to find winter isn't as long and dreadful as you think!
What are your favourite trails to hike in the winter? Let us know if the comments!