Hiking safety tips for the cold months ahead

Ryan Tougaw

‘Tis the season – the leaves are changing color, Mother Nature cannot decide if she wants it to be 25 or 75 degrees Fahrenheit and midterms are upon the Colorado State campus, which can only mean one thing: fall. 

Fall means that the ski slopes many students have been waiting patiently for are no longer a distant daydream, and that colder weather is rapidly approaching.


For some, though, the chilly weather puts a damper on mountainous excursions and can make it difficult to plan a trip. There are many ways to overcome Mother Nature’s obstacles, assuming the proper provisions are obtained.

Reghan Cloudman, a public relations specialist for the United States Forest Service, gave tips on how to ensure hiker safety. These tips may also apply to those skiing or snowboarding in snow-covered mountainous areas. 

Cloudman said to check the weather conditions for where the preferred trail is located, which sounds self-explanatory and easy, because it absolutely is, but it is also one of those things that, if forgotten or neglected, can be disastrous. Check the weather a week before, a day before and the day of the trip, just be sure, bring what is necessary and dress safe. 

Surprisingly enough, sunscreen was also a pertinent recommendation from Cloudman.

“UV rays are doubled in intensity at 10,000 feet compared to sea level,” Cloudman said.

Hiking may occur at higher elevations than 10,000 feet, so plan accordingly.

After it snows and the clouds part, snow reflects sunlight and, because of this, sunglasses are a tool to bring to make sure it is not too bright to see. Foot protection, not including Birkenstocks or Chacos, is a also critical piece of cold weather hiking.

“Depending on the time of year and elevation, some trails will require snowshoes or cross-country skis. Other areas may be muddy; so be sure to stay on the trail,” Cloudman said.

It is also a good idea to understand the signs of hypothermia and frostbite if it is especially cold.

“Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposures to very cold temperatures. When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it’s produced. Lengthy exposures will eventually use up your body’s stored energy, which leads to lower body temperature,” according to the Center for Disease Control website.


Signs of hypothermia include: shivering, exhaustion, fumbling hands, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. If any of these signs are noticed, act. Get off the trail and do everything possible to warm up.

A thermometer is not a bad tool to bring on the trail. If these signs are noticeable in someone, take their temperature. The CDC website says if it is below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, the situation is an emergency and to seek medical attention immediately. 

The other cold weather affliction to be aware of is frostbite. Characterized by grayish color in the skin, unusually waxy feeling on the sin and numbness, it is imperative to check one’s skin, because victims usually are not aware of frostbite until someone else points it out.

If frostbite is detected, get into a warm area as soon as possible. The CDC also recommends to limit damage if it all possible by avoiding surface contact with potential afflicted appendages.

Bear in mind that if frostbite is apparent, check for signs of hypothermia as well. Hypothermia is a more serious medical condition and should be taken very seriously.

In terms of clothing, which can help to prevent hypothermia, Cloudman said layers are key.

“As for clothing, definitely layers and remembering that wool and synthetic clothing can help you stay warm even when wet,” Cloudman said. “Make sure you have appropriate footwear and have extra socks as your feet are the mostly likely to get wet (and increasingly) cold.”

Finally, bring lots of water on the trail. The body is working hard to stay warm and dehydration is not something to add to the laundry list of things that could potentially go wrong.

Collegian reporter Ryan Tougaw can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @rjtougaw.