By Cory Lee

Adaptive hiking is a great hobby that provides hikers with the opportunity to enjoy a natural landscape. If you’re new to hiking, it is always best to start in the warmer months so you can learn what you’ll need to bring with you and what trail difficulty is best for you. Once you’ve hiked a few trails and consider yourself a hiker, adaptive hiking in the winter is the next step to continuing your hobby and increasing your skills.

There are a few tips and tricks to help make sure your first adaptive winter hike is a success. Adaptive hiking in the winter is certainly a bit more difficult than warmer-weather adaptive hiking. With the right approach, equipment, and preparation though, you will be ready to hit the trails and enjoy the winter weather.

Start small and during the daylight.

Most adaptive hikers who want to try winter hiking already have a background in warmer-weather trail hiking ranging from day hikes to multiple-day trail hikes. The best option for getting into winter adaptive hiking is to start small and during the daylight. Wheelchair hiking can be difficult on the best day and hiking at lower temperatures or during snowy days can make it even harder.

Starting small may mean hiking a trail you’ve hiked before (in different temperatures or weather), as you’ll already know what to expect from that trail. The previous hike would have given you insight into how the hike was for you, how long it took, what to expect, and how difficult it was. By hiking that same trail in the winter, with colder temperatures or snow, you’ll get an opportunity to test your winter skills before branching out into larger trails you haven’t yet hiked.

Use the right equipment.

Adaptive hiking in the winter differs from adaptive hiking or wheelchair hiking in the warmer months because you need to make sure your wheelchair can handle the terrain and the weather. Warm-weather hiking can often be done on smooth trails that most wheelchairs can navigate easily, while winter hiking may require trekking through snow-covered paths, uneven ground, and wet weather. Make sure your wheelchair can handle the trail before you get out there or consider purchasing an off-road wheelchair, such as the GRIT Freedom Chair.

Winter-weather wheelchair hiking also requires more layers and cold weather gear such as jackets, hats, and gloves. It’s important to stay warm on the trail, but also to regulate your temperature so you don’t get too hot or cold. Using the right equipment to keep you comfortable during your hike will allow you to enjoy the activity and ensure you can make it home safely.

Research the trail and the weather.

Preparing for a wheelchair hike in the winter can be pretty straightforward with the right skill level and equipment, but the weather plays a big role in how your hike will turn out. The first step here is to research the trail, as some trails may not be accessible or available during the winter months. Some places receive early snowfall, may be icy, or the park may be closed to the public during winter months. Researching the trail—hopefully, one you’re already familiar with—will ensure your destination is available when you choose to hike. Other hikers share information about trails online and this will be useful for planning a winter hike.

Tracking the local weather as well as the location of the trail will help you prepare for your hike. Having a good idea of temperature and precipitation will help you dress in the right gear and know what to bring in your pack. The forecast before your hike will help you know what to expect on the trail, from snowfall to average temperatures and ice formations, which impacts the gear you choose to wear and bring.

Monitor your body temperature.

One big piece of adaptive hiking in the winter is that you’ll need to monitor your body temperature throughout the hike. This basically means to be aware of your core temperature and how you feel when you start, as you hike, and near the end.

This is important because if you wear too many layers, you can get hot and start to sweat. Sweating in the winter can be dangerous because you then take off layers, which allows the sweat to cool, but your base layers are damp and will not dry in the cold weather. Damp clothing during a winter hike introduces the risk of hypothermia.

Winter hiking is a delicate balance of staying dry because you have to stay aware of the weather and how your body is reacting. The best way to keep your body comfortable is to wear layers and remove them before you start sweating. This allows you to cool naturally with the air and will help keep your base layers dry. Wearing a hat helps keep the heat in and can make it easier to feel comfortable, especially when you remove your outer layers as needed.

Prepare for emergencies.

Lastly, as with any hike, you should prepare for the event of an emergency on the trail. This can be done by hiking with a friend or two, so you can navigate the trail together, and letting someone know of your hiking plans before you leave. 

On the trail, it’s a good idea to bring a first-aid kit, a phone with GPS to know your location, and the necessary supplies to refuel on the trail and stay hydrated. Lastly, you should always hike within your skill level and your limitations. Never hike alone if you are unfamiliar with the location or the trail, as this can be the perfect storm for an emergency.

Adaptive hiking in the winter can be a great way to increase your hiking skills and provide new experiences during the colder months. With the proper preparation and base knowledge in adaptive hiking, you can have successful hikes all winter long. Remember to stay warm, plan ahead, and you’ll be well on your way to fun in the snow.

About the Author: Cory Lee

Cory Lee is the award-winning accessible travel blogger behind Curb Free with Cory Lee. He hopes to inspire others to roll out of their comfort zone and see all of the beauty our world has to offer.