Winter hiking is one of the most rewarding ways to explore the natural beauty of Italy, particularly amongst the spectacular mountain ranges in the Northern regions of the country. The snow-capped peaks, bright sunny days and cold crisp air, all make winter hiking a truly magnificent experience that’s suitable for families, couples and groups of friends.
However, hiking in the winter comes with its own set of dangers and challenges that need to be aware of in order to ensure that your trip is safe and enjoyable! Fortunately, with modern equipment and accessories at your disposal, it’s never been easier to manage the cold and other difficult conditions that you might face while hiking in the winter.
Even so, before you set off you should be properly prepared with the correct equipment and the essential knowledge to keep yourself safe, regardless of what the weather throws at you.
Preparation Tips For A Winter Hike in Italy.
The following are some of the important things to be aware of before going on a winter hike in Italy:
Tell Someone Where You Are Going And When You’ll Be Back.
Before you set off for any hiking trip you should always tell somebody you trust at home where you are planning to go and when you expect to get back. You should also arrange to give your trusted person a quick call after you return, just to let them know you are okay and have got back safely. This is easy to do back home where we have a lot of friends and family. It might not be the case in Italy. But at least tell your neighbor about your plans or write a detailed plan and leave in your house where people can see.
This is an essential precaution to take because if you get lost in the mountains or have an accident and do not return on time, your trusted person can raise the alarm on your behalf. Although this may seem overly cautious, it could easily save your life in an emergency.
Never Go Winter Hiking Alone.
It’s never advisable to go hiking in the winter on your own. In fact, even the world’s best mountaineers never set off alone and always hike in groups. Ideally, you should go hiking with at least one other adult although it’s safer to go in groups of at least 3 or 4 people.
This is mainly because if one of you has an accident the others can assist and even carry the injured person back to safety. Another reason why it’s good to go hiking in a group is that you can all share your personal skills and experiences with each other, thus benefiting from your collective knowledge of the wilderness and camping techniques.
However, safety considerations aside, it’s also much more fun to go hiking with a group of friends or your family so you can share the adventures and build memories together!
Plan Your Route.
Carefully planning your route in advance is an important part of preparing for any winter hiking trip. When you are planning your route try to avoid dangerous areas, such as steep slopes and areas that are prone to avalanches in the winter. Where possible, you should check with local authorities as well to find out if there are any warnings in place so that you can avoid these parts of the region.
Remember, even if you’ve been hiking in the area during the summer it will be a completely different landscape when it’s icy and covered in snow. Other things to consider when planning your trip include frozen rivers and hiking trails that are closed during the winter months.
There are several apps that are available where you can plan your route and then share it with others. This will allow you to track the progress of everyone who is hiking with you and also allow others (including those not in your group like your friends) to track your progress.
Brush Up On Your Survival Skills And First Aid.
No matter where you are hiking in the winter it’s never a bad idea to brush up on your basic survival skills! You don’t need to be an expert but ensuring that you know how to do basic things such as lighting a fire, building a make-shift shelter and navigating, even in the snow, are things that you will never regret learning. It’s also useful to learn a few basic First Aid skills in case someone in your group gets hurt.
Great Practical Safety Tips For Winter Hiking In Italy.
Here are some important safety tips you should keep in mind during winter hiking in Italy.
Don’t Rely On Modern Tech To Navigate.
While a Smartphone or GPS can be an extremely useful tool to help you navigate while hiking it’s essential that you also have a hard copy map and a compass with you at all times. This is because your phone or GPS can run out of battery or, in some remote parts of Italy, you may find that you can’t get a signal.
This could spell disaster if you don’t have a paper copy of a map and a compass with you as well. Of course, it goes without saying that you should also know how to use a map and compass to navigate! Luckily, it’s very easy to read a map using a compass and only takes a couple of minutes to learn.
If you haven’t used a compass before, or just need a quick refresher, there are several YouTube videos that can provide you with a great rundown on everything you need to know; from taking bearings in the field to using your map and compass to find your way to your destination.
Remember, outside of the major metropolitan areas, very few people speak English in Italy. So even if you find someone who can help you, communication might be a problem if you do not have a decent understanding of Italian.
Dress In Layers.
One of the best ways to conserve warmth without overheating is to dress in layers. This means that as you’re hiking, and your body temperature increases, you can take off one or two layers so that you don’t overheat or start sweating too much.
It’s better to avoid sweating heavily while you’re hiking in the winter because not only will it dehydrate you but it also means that when you stop for a break you’ll quickly get very cold in the wind. This can lead to health problems such as getting a chill or even hypothermia in an extreme case – something you definitely want to avoid.
When you’re choosing your underlayers, try to wear moisture-wicking base layers, insulating middle layers and weatherproof outer layers. Avoid cotton because this doesn’t dry out quickly and always make sure you have a top quality wind and waterproof jacket and trousers with you at all times. Another great tip, particularly if you’re hiking in snow, is to wear gaiters. This will stop the snow, ice and water from getting into the top of your boots and making your socks wet.
Food For A Winter Hike.
When you’re hiking in cold conditions your body has to use up a lot more energy than normal to keep you warm. This means that you need to have plenty of high-calorie foods with you while hiking in the winter. For instance, you should take several bars of chocolate, energy bars, raisins and nuts with you to snack on throughout the day.
For your main meals in the morning and the evening you should eat protein-rich, high-calorie foods that are easy to heat up over the fire and require very little preparation. If you’re not sure what you should be eating for your meals then you can buy pre-made boil-in-the-bag meals that you simply need to heat up in a pot of boiling water.
However, make sure you buy the top quality boil-in-the-bag meals because otherwise, if you buy the cheapest options on the market, your dinner might well end up tasting like cat food! As well as buying some pre-made food, you can also bring other protein-rich items with you, such as bacon, that can be quickly cooked in a pan over an open fire.
Potatoes are another great food that are high in energy and super easy to cook using a fire. To cook your potatoes you simply wrap them up in aluminum foil and then place them beneath the burning embers of the fire. Allow them to bake for about 1 hour 30 minutes and you’ll have delicious baked potatoes!
To add a little extra flavor, you can add onions, cheese, ham and other tasty ingredients to the potatoes inside the tin foil and cook them as before. It’s great fun and so heartwarming to eat a hot baked potato while sitting in a mountain camp watching the sunset across the valley.
Neatly packaged, lightweight, easy to carry, food, drinks and supplements for sports and exercising are very easy to find in the United States. Every mall has stores that sell them. But this is not the case in Italy. So you have to plan ahead.
Water And Hydration.
Even though you’re hiking through snow, rain and ice, you can still become dehydrated surprisingly quickly. Staying hydrated is absolutely vital to remain healthy and full of energy on any hiking trip so it’s important that you have plenty of water with you.
Of course, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to bring all the water you need for the whole trip. This means that you need to bring water purification tablets so you can refill your water in streams, rivers and lakes and then purify it before drinking.
Remember, you should never eat the snow! Not only will this lower your body temperature but the snow is not always as clean as it looks. It’s also worth remembering that if you’re hiking in very cold conditions then you should keep your drinking water in an insulated bottle. This will stop it from freezing as you hike or during the night.
A great survival tool for safely drinking water while you’re hiking is the LifeStraw. This ingenious invention allows you to drink water directly from a river, or any other water source, without becoming sick.
The LifeStraw has been independently lab-tested and is shown to protect you against parasites, bacteria, dirt, microplastics and other toxins that may be in the water. Each LifeStraw can clean up to 4000 Liters of water; which is more than enough water for an individual to survive for several years, and definitely enough for your hiking trip!
Wear Good Quality Footwear.
One of the most common accidents that hikers suffer is a sprained or broken ankle. It’s easy to hurt your ankles if you’re walking on rugged and uneven terrain but it can even happen on a relatively flat path if you’re unlucky.
The best way to mitigate against this risk is to invest in a pair of good quality hiking boots. These will protect your ankles from being damaged if you slip but they will also keep your feet warm, and more importantly, dry, even in wet or snowy conditions.
When selecting a pair of hiking boots you should always check that they have sturdy soles with slip-resistant grips. This is essential if you’re hiking in the winter when the ground will be icy and much more slippery than usual.
Vital Things To Consider For Winter Hiking In Italy.
The following are vital things to consider before going on a winter hike in Italy:
Poor Trail Conditions.
During the winter the condition of the trails is often less than optimal! This means that when you’re planning your hike for the day you should always allow additional time to complete the route, even if you’re an experienced hiker. This is because snow, ice and bad weather will inevitably slow you down.
If you underestimate how long it will take you to reach your camp then you could end up being caught in the dark – something which can be very dangerous, especially in the mountains. So you have to understand and research the trail conditions before you get on the trail.
The United States has a very nice system when it comes to categorizing trails based on the degree of difficulty etc. We also have a lot of information that is available online that is updated constantly with reviews and things to look out for. In Italy this kind of information is much harder to come by.
Hidden Signs And Reduced Visibility.
If it’s very snowy then some of the trail signs might be obscured or even invisible. This means that you should avoid relying entirely on the signposts and always keep one eye on your approximate position on the map. This will stop you from straying off the path or taking a wrong turn by accident. The signs are also slightly different from that of the US.
Bad weather and cloudy conditions in the mountains will reduce your visibility, so it’s extra important to know roughly where you are on the map at all times. If the weather closes in, or you find yourself in a blizzard, then even if you can’t see more than a few feet in front of you, you can still use your map and compass to navigate!
Shorter Hours Of Daylight.
During the winter in Italy, the sun sets much earlier than it does in the summer. Therefore, you must plan with this in mind and always try to make your camp with plenty of time to spare before the sun sets.
Getting trapped out in the wilderness in the dark is not only dangerous but will make it much more difficult to set up your camp for the night. This is why you should also bring a flashlight with you, just in case you do get caught out by the setting sun.
10 Essential Items For Winter Hiking In Italy.
- High Quality Hiking Boots
- Layers of Clothing, Spare Socks, Gloves, Scarf and Hat.
- Wind and Waterproof Outer Jacket, Trousers and Gaiters.
- Up to Date Map, Compass, GPS and Smartphone with Google Maps.
- Water and Water Purifying Tablets and/or LifeStraw.
- High Calorie Food and Snacks.
- Safety Items – Whistle, Emergency Flares, Flashlight, Fire Lighting Equipment, First Aid Kit, Hand Warming Packets and Emergency Blankets.
- Multi-tool and Knife.
- 4 Season Sleeping Bag.
Preparation And Knowledge Is Important.
It’s essential to stay safe when you’re hiking but this is particularly important during the winter when cold temperatures and changeable weather can quickly become a real hazard to your safety. However, if you follow the advice above and constantly maintain an active sense of situational awareness, you can enjoy hiking without any worries, even in the depths of winter in the Italian mountains.