Don’t let the cold weather stop you from enjoying Canada’s beautiful nature year-round. Our country offers diverse terrain—from mountains to forests to plains—and the weather varies immensely. With a little preparation and advance planning, you can be comfortable, safe and warm wherever you hit the trail this winter.
Winter weather can change quickly, so share your plan before you depart
Anytime you head out into the wilderness you should let someone know your planned route, including when you expect to return. In many of Canada’s provincial parks and wilderness areas, you can’t depend on a reliable cell signal to call for help if you get into trouble. So make sure either the park’s head office or a trusted friend or family member has your plan in hand before you leave. This is important year-round, but is especially important in winter, when the weather could quickly become dangerous and impact your ability to return to base.
Dress for the weather
In Norway, there’s a saying: "There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing." You can hike throughout the entire Canadian winter—if you dress for it. This means hardy, waterproof hiking footwear and moisture-wicking layers.
First off, footwear is key, so make sure you invest in a pair of hiking boots that were made to keep out precipitation while allowing your feet to breathe.
As for clothing, make sure you layer up. The base layer next to your skin should never be cotton, which gets very cold and soggy when wet. Instead, you should opt for Merino wool or polyester, which dries quickly and wicks away sweat, keeping you warm and dry. Your next layer should be a material that traps warm air to keep you insulated against the cold, such as a synthetic fleece or wool. And the final outer layer should protect you from the weather itself, such as snow, wind, rain and sleet.
It’s easy to remove a layer if you start to work up a sweat, but you can’t add an extra layer for warmth if you didn’t bring one. Stash your layers in your day pack as you hike, as you may need to put them back on if you stop for a break. Don’t forget to top it all off with a warm hat, gloves and neck gaiter/warmer to trap the heat in and keep the weather out. And, even though it’s winter, make sure you’re wearing sunscreen since you can still get a sunburn.
Plan for extra time and inclement weather
Anyone who has walked the same trail in both July and January knows that when you factor in snow and ice, you need to add more time—and with the sun setting earlier, you already have less of it. Depending on where you’re hiking, weather conditions can change quickly, especially if you are in a mountainous region. Always check the weather the day before you go, as well as right before you leave. Allow extra time in case you need to slow down your hike if the trail is covered in ice, or you find yourself suddenly in the middle of a snow squall. Always carry a map and compass, a flashlight, and a first aid kit. Make sure your cell phone is fully charged before you head out.
Bring (and consume) snacks and water
Many people don’t feel as thirsty when they hike in the winter as in the warmer months but staying hydrated is absolutely essential. Bring at least half a litre of water per hour you'll be hiking in your day pack and schedule breaks to make sure you’re drinking it regularly. Pack extra calorie-dense snacks, such as Cliff bars or trail mix, just in case your hike takes longer than anticipated and you get hungry along the way.
Don’t forget special ice/snow gear
If you’re planning something a little more difficult, consider getting a pair of crampons to make sure you don’t slip and fall. These days, most crampons will fit over top of your hiking boots and are easy to throw in your day pack if you’re not sure you’ll need them. Hiking poles with spikes can also help you get some extra stability on your walk.