Hiking is a great way to get some exercise, all while enjoying the outdoors and spending time with family. Even in the depth of winter, many of us feel the call of the great outdoors. I myself love doing snowshoeing, which is basically hiking but… harder. But what I love about it is that you can see the same places that you like to visit in the summer in a whole new way when they’re blanketed in snow. It also allows you to get away from the crowds that congest your favorite trails in the summer.
There are, however, a few things you and your family should consider before going out on any hike, especially in the winter. Here are some key tips for smarter hiking with your family.
Research the trail.
First things first—be sure to do some research on the trail before you go. You’ll want to select a trail that you know you and your family members can all handle. Some things you’ll want to know beforehand:
- How to get to the trailhead
- Difficulty level of the hike
- Length of the hike (in both time and distance)
- Elevation of the hike
- Expected weather conditions
Check the air quality.
It’s also a good idea to check the air quality in the area you plan on hiking before you go. Have there been any forest fires in the area recently? What about inversion? Environmental experts and health officials do a pretty good job of alerting the public whenever low air quality is a concern. You can easily check your local air quality at AirNow.gov.
Bring the right gear.
The National Park Service recommends that all hikers bring these ten items on any hike:
- Water (both plain and electrolyte-infused)
- Food (especially salty snacks)
- First aid kit
- Flashlight or headlamp with spare batteries
- Spray bottle (to act as a personal air conditioning system)
- Hat and sunscreen
- Whistle and/or whistle mirror
- Waterproof clothing (such as a disposable poncho)
- Pack (for carrying all your gear)
- Warm weather gear
In addition to these suggestions, it’s also a good idea to bring bug spray, a compass, and water purification tablets. Be sure to wear comfortable clothing and shoes with tread as well. Layers are always a good idea clothing-wise because you can take them on and off as your body temperature changes.
At the same time, you want to be sure to go as lightweight as possible. A heavier bag may not seem to be much of a burden at first, but you’ll definitely feel it after a half hour or so of hiking. The heaviest items you pack should be food and water; look for travel-friendly versions of the other essentials listed above to make your load lighter.
Maintain a healthy pace.
As you hike with your family, it’s important to maintain a healthy pace that all of you can follow (even the little ones!) A good rule of thumb: if all of you can talk while you are walking, you are walking at the perfect pace.
Take a 10 minute break every hour.
A ten-minute break every hour will help you maintain a healthy pace throughout the hike, and it will help remove the metabolic waste products that build up in your legs while hiking. During this break, sit down and prop your legs up if possible. This is a good time to drink some fluids and eat a snack as well.
Replenish your body often.
Make sure that you and your family are all eating often and drinking frequently throughout the hike (even if you don’t feel hungry or thirsty). You should plan on eating and drinking before, during, and after your hike. Plan on eating twice as much as you normally would to ensure that your bodies are getting the nutrients they need. The National Park Service recommends drinking at least ½ to 1 quart of water for every hour you hike.
Assume it will take longer than you think.
Many people underestimate how long a hike will take because they do not account for breaks, slower hikers, and time spent enjoying the view. Assume the hike will take longer than you think and plan what you bring accordingly. Even if you think you’ll finish up a hike before sunset, for example, bring a headlamp or flashlight just in case.
Finally, be sure to enjoy nature and take advantage of the healing properties it has to offer! As this article details, for example, hiking can actually relieve stress and increase your overall sense of well-being. Take photos, take time to rest, do some yoga—do whatever helps you and your family focus on the beauty and simplicity of nature.