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Backcountry Weather

Mountain weather can change rapidly and frequently. While you're taking photos on that sunny peak, a weather system can roll in from seamingly nowhere and dump rain on you - even if there were no clouds in the sky when you started the hike. Make sure you're prepared for all types of weather before heading out.


Wearing layers helps when dealing with cold weather hiking. When you start the hike you may feel cold, but when you get moving you'll become warmer in no time. If all you have is one warm jacket, it may be too cold to take it off completely. But if you have an outer shell and a fleece layer, you could take off the fleece and still be protected from the chill in the air.
One of the mistakes most beginner hikers make is to start the trail on a warm, sunny day and decide not to bring any warm clothes. The problem with this is that you start to sweat (a lot sometimes!) while hiking, and even a small breeze can suck the warmth right out of you. The most common case is on or near a mountain summit. You'll get to the top and want to enjoy the view, have a snack, and take photos, but it's a rare occasion not to have a little wind at the top of a mountain. Make sure to bring a windbreaker or sweater, even on a warm day.


On every single hike, overnight or day trip, some sort of water repellent jacket is a necessity. You can bring a full-out Gortex rain jacket or simply a plastic poncho, as long as you bring a layer that keeps you from getting soaked. Moutains have a big effect on clouds and weather systems, and even a bright sunny day with no clouds can give you rain after a couple of hours into a hike. Getting soaked is uncomfortable, but more importantly it can be dangerous if a wind picks up and gives you a chill.
Don't let a little rain stop you from doing a hike though. A decent rain jacket (preferably breathable) and some rain pants will keep you dry for the day. It sometimes becomes uncomfortably warm under rain gear when it's not cold out. Jackets with pit-zips can help let some steam out and breathable jackets claim to let some air exchange. Otherwise just take more breaks so that you can cool down. Rocks become slippery in the rain, so take extra caution on rocky terrain.


A white carpet of fluffly snow completely alters the trail environment. It adds the fun of being able to wear snowshoes or skis, but brings the dangers of avalanches. The first thing to assess before going for a hike in the snow, is how much snow is there? If there is just an inch or so, you may be able to get away with wearing your summer hiking shoes. With more than a couple inches, you'll have to switch to a winter alternative, like winter boots or waterproof hiking shoes. Depending on the height of the boots/shoes you wear (ie. if they don't come above your ankle), you may want to consider wearing gaiters or waterproof pants. In deep snow, waterproof pants are essential for keeping you dry and keeping snow out of your boots.
When snow meets rock, it can be extremely slippery. Hiking poles are essential for keeping your balance as you navigate up steep sections or on rocky terrain. And just because you were able to get up that slippery rocky section without poles, does not mean you will be able to get down - so keep a pair attached to your backpack anyways.
Walking in snow is real exercise. Each step in deep snow is like (at least!) 3 steps on solid ground. Especially going uphill. Breaking trail can be a tiresome event, so switch off with a parter or the rest of the hiking party before you start to get too tired. Following each other in single-file eliminates the need for more than one person to have to break trail.
Snowshoes are great when the snow is more than a couple inches deep. Although you will still sink into the snow, you won't sink as far because your weight is distributed along the base of the snowshoes. You also create a larger track size, so your followers won't have to carefully step there way through an obstacle course of deep, skinny, boot tracks. Some snowshoes also have metal crampons on them - some have them on the sides of the snowshoe, some directly under your foot, and some have a combination. The crampons allow you to hike up steeper sections without slipping. Some snowshoes also have a heel lift, which allows you to walk more naturally uphill.


On those hot summer days of high 20s and 30s where the sun is beaming overhead, you just can't help but get outside. But hiking in hot weather can take its toll on you. The combiniation of the hot weather and physical activity means a lot of sweating, which means a lot of water loss. Make sure to bring more than enough water and to drink it regularly. On a really hot day in the summer, even 3 litres per person would not be overdoing it for a day hike.


The higher in altitude you climb, the more intense the sun's UV rays become. Bring 100% UV protection sunglasses to shield your eyes from UV rays and so that you can see without constantly squinting. Make sure to apply sunscreen, even on cloudy days. Being outside in the mountains without sunscreen can leave you with a nasty sunburn, can damage your skin, or even give you skin cancer. Bring a little container of sunscreen so you can reapply after you sweat most of it off on the trail.
The sun beating down on your head can give you sunstroke or heatstroke after a couple of hours. Make sure to wear a hat to protect your head from the heat of the sun. When you stop for breaks, try and stop in the shade so that you can cool down and minimize your time under the sun.