8 things to consider before hiking in deep snow

Hiking through deep snow, especially in remote locations where trails haven’t been packed down, is a great workout, but it can be frustrating. Here are a few things to consider before hitting the trails after heavy snowfall:

Staying afloat

Let’s start with the obvious. You’re going to sink down into the snow. There’s no avoiding that. But if you wear snowshoes, you won’t sink down quite as far as you would if you were just wearing boots.

Snowshoes come in all shapes and sizes. I prefer the snowshoes with traction spikes — also known as crampons — which help me gain purchase when climbing hills. When selecting snowshoes, keep in mind that different sizes of shoes are made to handle people of different weights. Heavier people will want bigger snowshoes. Also, if you’re dealing with deep snow, you’ll generally want bigger snowshoes because the increased surface area helps you stay afloat. (My MSR snowshoes have add-ons called “tails” for that very reason, so I can increase my snowshoes’ surface area during especially snowy conditions.)

Photo by Aislinn Sarnacki Aislinn Sarnacki and Derek Runnells meet up to discuss the trail on Great Pond Mountain in Orland on Jan. 6, 2012.

Photo by Aislinn Sarnacki

Don’t make it harder than it has to be

Why walk on two legs when you can essentially have four? In deep snow, it’s much easier to snowshoe if you use trekking poles, which will help you maintain balance and gain traction uphill. In addition, it’s important to put snow baskets on your trekking poles. Snow baskets are little round devices that fasten to the ends of trekking poles and prevent them from tunneling all the way down to the frozen ground.

Important extras to stuff in your pack

Snow had a tendency to sneak into your clothes and melt. Wet clothing can be dangerous because it saps warmth from your body. So bring extra clothes, at least for your extremities and head. Extra mittens, hats and socks don’t take up much room in your pack, and swapping wet clothes out for dry clothes can be a great way to refresh yourself mid-hike. Along those lines, chemical heat packs are also handy, lightweight and don’t take up a lot of room. If your fingers or toes are becoming cold, these are a quick solution.

1minhike021417-14Protect your feet

Snow also likes to sneak into boots. Gaiters prevent that from happening. If you’ve never seen gaiters before, they’re essentially a pieces of waterproof fabric that cover the top of your boots and wrap around your legs, bridging the gap between your boots and snowpants.

Don’t break your teeth

If it’s really snowy outside, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s probably cold, too. When selecting the snacks you’ll bring on your hike, keep this in mind. Don’t pack snacks that will freeze easily. I’ve learned that protein bars and granola bars freeze easily, while crackers, nuts and dried fruit are much easier to eat in the cold. And if it’s really cold out, you’ll want to insulate your water or pack it in a thermos. There’s nothing more frustrating than being thirsty and finding your water has turned into a block of ice.

Read the snow

The snow covers up a lot of interesting features in the landscape, but in return, it offers you insight into the wildlife in the area. Animal tracks are a lot of fun to study, and it’s easy to identify many of Maine’s critters by their tracks alone. Here’s a link to some of the common tracks you’ll find here in Maine: www.maine.gov/sos/kids/about/tracks.htm.


Underestimate yourself

If you’re used to hiking during the not-so-snowy seasons, you may be shocked at how much snow slows you down. A mile seems a lot longer when you’re breaking trail through a foot of powder. Don’t get discouraged; you’re getting a great workout, after all. I suggest underestimating yourself at first. Also, keep in mind that winter days are short. Carry a headlamp and go into your hike with a turn-around time so you don’t get stuck in the woods after dark (unless you want to).

You can hike at night

Winter is the perfect time to try night hiking during the full moon because the moonlight reflects off the snow and illuminates the landscape. A lot of land trusts and other outdoor-related organizations plan guided full moon hikes throughout Maine, and most of them are free and open to the public.

Sometimes snow can really slow you down.

Sometimes snow can really slow you down.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.