Safety Tips for Grand Canyon Winter Hikes

Visiting the Grand Canyon in winter has many advantages. Not only are there fewer visitors, the scenery is just breathtaking. While the North Rim is closed after mid October, the South Rim is a great place to be.

It’s obvious that a winter hike in Grand Canyon is much different than a summer hike, and there are few things you need to know to help make your hike an enjoyable and safe one. Your clothing, food, and shelter are all critical elements that can make or break your hike.

grand canyon winter safety hike tips

Clothing: Light but functional

Let’s start with clothing. Temperature and weather conditions can vary dramatically from the rim to the river. You are dropping nearly a mile in elevation as you trek down the trails. The difference between the temperature on the rim and at the Colorado River can range as much as thirty degrees. So on the rim, you may start with a thick fleece jacket, a parka, long underwear, a hat and gloves, but by the time you are halfway down the trail, you may be comfortable in just pants and a shirt. Lightweight and waterproof material is the key to ideal clothing. Although functional clothing has its price, the investment is well worth it.

The fiber content of your clothing is extremely important. You do not want to wear cotton. Once cotton gets wet, it takes a long time, which cools down the body temperature. Hypothermia is a very real threat during a Grand Canyon winter. Go with synthetic fabrics since they do not absorb water and dry quickly.

The right footwear is important

Before you start your hike, you need to purchase optimal footwear. Ill-fitting shoes can cause pain, blisters and a bad mood. Find a specialty store with a great selection and let the trained staff advise you. A hiking shoe for the winter should be waterproof with outer leather and breathable lining. The shoes should be as light as possible and not add unnecessary weight to your feet.

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Another important item to have while Grand Canyon hiking is instep crampons. The trails at the Canyon can be covered with slick ice. It is treacherous and scary to be slipping while walking on the edges of cliffs. The use of snow traction devices will allow you to enjoy hiking on the icy trail. Hiking sticks are also very useful when hiking in snow and ice.

Hiking in winter: The right preparation

A hike in the Grand Canyon is no child’s play. It is a challenge and requires a lot of the body and mind.

The following tips should be noted:

  • Water is essential for survival. Bring at least four liters.
  • Just as important as water is salt which your body loses through sweat. Salt helps the body absorb water better and prevents muscle cramps. Bring salty snacks such as chips and pretzels, but also some sweet snacks for extra energy.
  • Wear comfortable hiking shoes.
  • Plan your route so that you move around in the sun. This ensures warmth.
  • Wear sunglasses and slather your face with a UV protection. The reflection of the snow could otherwise lead to sunburn and eye discomfort.
  • Take breaks in sheltered places. Cold is much more extreme in the wind.
  • Never hike alone in winter.
  • Daylight hours are short in the winter. Begin your trip early in the day.
  • Leave a trip itinerary with a relative or friend who knows who to call if you are late.
  • Dress in layers and add and remove clothes to minimize sweating.
  • Know the signs of hypothermia and frostbite and learn how to treat them before you set out.
  • Eat and drink frequently. Dehydration speeds up the onset of hypothermia. Winter backpacking requires 4,000-5,000 calories a day.
  • Don’t set your goals too high – annually 250 hikers must be saved from the Grand Canyon.
  • Do not be one of them.

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