There are few better ways to enjoy the magic of winter in the mountains than to head out on a hike. However, trekking on ice-covered trails presents its own challenges, and the thought of having to maneuver your way down slick, icy paths can be enough to make you want to stay home.
But that raises the question: How do you hike on ice?
The best way to hike on ice is to subtly stomp your feet into the ice with each step while using both proper footwear and traction devices like Microspikes, YakTrax, or even crampons. This will ensure that your feet get a good grip on slick winter trails. Additionally, if you’re hiking on ice, you should come prepared with trekking poles for added stability as you walk.
If you’re new to winter hiking and you’re feeling a bit uneasy about the thought of having to trek over icy trails, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’re going to discuss the ins and outs of hiking on ice so that you have the knowledge and skills you need to head out on your next winter adventure.
How To Hike on Icy Trails
Hiking on icy trails is just as much about the trekking skills that you have as it is about the equipment that you use.
That said, there’s really not much of a difference in how you walk when hiking over ice when compared to walking over rocks and dirt. But you need to feel confident enough on your feet to be able to navigate through uneven terrain.
If you’re comfortable up and down rough hiking trails, you probably have the physical coordination and body awareness that you need to walk on icy paths, too.
However, even the best hiker in the world won’t get far on an icy trail without the right equipment. Regular ol’ hiking boots and trail runners generally won’t cut it when a thick layer of ice covers the path ahead.
Rather, when hiking in the winter on icy trails, you need to have both sturdy winter walking shoes and some sort of traction device for your feet, such as Microspikes, YakTrax, or even crampons.
You will want to practice stomping your traction devices into ice and learn how they grip. In addition, practice balancing with trekking poles and use them to stabilize yourself in situations of incline and decline which is when you will be most likely to take a fall.
A pair of sturdy walking boots will give your feet the support and structure they need to effectively stomp your feet into the ice. Meanwhile, the YakTrax, Microspikes, or walking crampons that you wear on your boots are what will give you the grip and traction you need to avoid slipping on ice.
Do keep in mind that hiking in YakTrax, Microspikes, and walking crampons can take some getting used to. Additionally, while these traction devices will provide you with, well, traction, as you walk, they won’t do anything to help you balance.
Therefore, if you’re serious about wanting to avoid slipping as much as possible on ice, you’ll also want to get yourself a reliable set of trekking poles. Trekking poles can help you find your balance and you can use them to test how stable the ice is in front of you before you take your next step.
Long story short, the best way to hike on icy trails is to come prepared with the right trekking poles, shoes, and traction devices so that you can get a good grip underfoot as you walk.
Is it Safe to Go Hiking in the Snow?
It is safe to go hiking in the snow, but only if you have the skills and equipment for the job.
If you’re planning on hiking in the snow, it’s important that you have enough clothing, food, and water to help you stay warm and comfortable as you walk. It’s also important that you have waterproof clothing with you so that you can avoid getting wet and cold in the snow.
Additionally, if you’re hiking in very deep snow, you’ll need to either use snowshoes or skis to prevent yourself from sinking into the snow itself. If you try to hike on deep snow without snowshoes or skis, you’ll quickly sink into the snowpack and start post-holing, which is when one or both of your feet get buried in the snow.
Post-holing is incredibly exhausting and it damages the trail for other users. Therefore, anyone who wants to hike in snowy environments needs to have the right snowshoes or skis for the conditions that they’ll face on the trail.
Finally, it’s worth noting that hiking in snow requires a winter-specific skill set. Navigating in the snow—especially in whiteout conditions—can be very difficult. Keeping yourself warm and dry while trekking in the winter can also be a challenge.
So if you’re new to hiking in the snow, it’s highly recommended that you first join experienced friends or a guided group so that you can learn the ins and outs of winter hiking safety before you venture out on your own.
Can You Use Snowshoes on Ice?
No, you generally can’t use snowshoes for hiking on very icy trails.
Snowshoes are primarily designed for use on snow-covered trails because they help you float over soft powder. They can be used as an alternative to skis in moderately deep snow packs and they’re a great option for hiking on narrow, steep trails during the winter months.
However, even though some snowshoes now come with built-in traction devices underfoot, they’re still not ideal for use on very icy trails. The traction that you get with snowshoes is highly limited when compared to the grip that you could get from Microspikes, YakTrax, or crampons.
In other words, if you expect a lot of snow and minimal ice during your hike, snowshoes are probably okay. But if you think the trails will be mostly ice with relatively little snow, you’d be better off with something like Microspikes.
Hike on Ice Like a Pro This Winter
Hiking on ice is all about being confident in your own trekking ability and having the right gear for your adventures. If you want to hike on ice, you should come prepared with trekking poles, quality boots, and a set of traction devices to ensure that you’re not slipping and sliding down the trail.
But always keep in mind that hiking in the winter is a bit more demanding than setting out on a short summertime walk. If you’re new to trekking in the colder months of the year, consider signing up for a guided trip or a group hike first so you can get the skills you need to adventure all year long.
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David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.