Kentucky has some of the best hiking trails in the country. Whether you decide to take a trip down the road to the Raven Run Nature Sanctuary in Fayette County or head out to the Red River Gorge or Daniel Boone National Forest, a hike in the cool, crisp air can be great exercise and fun.
But there’s a serious side to preparing for and making those hikes. Here are some things to remember when hiking during the fall and winter.
Dress in layers
When hiking in the fall and winter, remember that temperatures can vary significantly from the bottom of the trail to the top of the peak. It pays to dress in layers, including an outer layer that is wind and waterproof. Start with lightweight long underwear, a cotton shirt, light fleece or soft shell jacket and a heavier windbreaker. Fleece lined pants and a pair of wind and rainproof pants finish off your wardrobe. Unnecessary layers should be light enough to put away in a backpack.
Don’t forget to layer socks and keep an extra pair in your backpack just in case. Layer gloves or mittens as well. One layer for insulation and warmth and one for waterproofing. Make sure shoes or boots are well broken in. Take snowshoes and hiking poles if snow is in the forecast or on the ground.
Remember to wear a hat. You can lose heat quickly from your head and exposed ears if they’re not covered. And don’t forget the sunscreen. Even though the days are shorter, sun can reflect off the snow and you can still get sunburn/snowburn.
And don’t forget your sunglasses.
Start early and easy
Be reasonable about what you and your hiking party can do reasonably. Better that you start early and end early than run out of time and energy when you have another hour to go to get back to your car. Remember that a long hike during the spring or summer may be much more difficult when the weather conditions are less favorable. Make sure the trail you pick is open and clear throughout. You don’t want to have to make the last mile of your hike through hip-deep snow or through fallen trees.
Remember, too, that the sun sets early, so plan to end your hike by 4pm to allow for unplanned delays and rest periods.
Make sure you include the basic hiking gear, including trail maps, a compass, a good pocket knife or multi-tool, hand warming packets and a fire starting kit. Just-in-case items include headlamps, sleeping bags, down parka, cell phone and backup battery, a small tarp and sleeping pad.
Remember that cell phone service may not be available on trails in valleys or away from major highways. If you regularly hike, you might consider getting a satellite messenger radio. These devices can send and receive text messages via satellite, not mobile phone networks. They’ll work just about anywhere and have built-in GPS receivers. They’re not inexpensive – between $300 and $500 plus a monthly access fee. But when you need to send an SOS and there’s no cell service, reliable communications are a must.
Stay on the trail
If the weather is nice and you’re feeling energetic, you may be tempted to leave the trail and head out on your own. Don’t. Just don’t. It’s easy to get lost in unfamiliar territory and turn an adventure into a disaster, emergency or worse.
And don’t ignore fences, railings or warning notices – especially ones about dropoffs and cliffs.
Check the Weather
It’s important to know the weather forecast anytime you’re heading out, but especially during the late fall and winter months. Snow squalls and severe weather can happen quickly. Visibility can quickly go from several miles to whiteout conditions. Check the weather forecast before you leave for your hike and keep track of changing weather conditions. Most areas are in range of a NOAA All-Hazards radio station. A portable receiver can keep you up to date on severe weather warnings and watches. They’re less than $30 and can be a live saver.
Take a Friend
While you may want to be by yourself for a while, hiking along isn’t a good idea. It’s more fun to share the experience with someone else and you’re less likely to get lost or misdirected. Having a friend with you also means you have additional supplies, food and water. Don’t forget to tell another friend or relative that you’re headed out for a hike and tell them again when you’ve returned. Make sure they know what to do if you DON’T call back.
Food and Hot Drinks
Even when it’s cold, you can get dehydrated during a hike. When it’s cold out, a small camp stove is good to have so you can heat water for tea or hot chocolate. A warm drink beats barely warm water, plus you’ll get a little extra energy. Remember to pack some high energy snacks as well. Carry water bottles in an inside pocket of your jacket so they’ll stay a little warmer and they’ll boil quicker.
When in doubt, turn around.
It may be weather, a trip and fall or something more serious. Especially during the winter, you don’t want to “tough it out.” What you think you can do is likely much less than you really can do. You don’t want to get stuck on a trail in the dark without any cold weather gear or sleeping bag.
Taking some time to plan ahead, let a friend or relative know that you’ll be out and stay warm and well hydrated. Those and these other tips will ensure that you have a good hiking experience.