Winter is one of the best seasons to visit Zion National Park. Fewer crowds hit the trails. The soaring summer temperatures have long since faded. And the park’s higher elevations look particularly beautiful when topped with soft, white snow.
But just like any other season, winter comes with a few additional dangers that hikers and other park visitors need to be aware of. From snowstorms to icy conditions, being prepared is a must if you plan to hit the trails. Keep reading to learn how to pack a winter hiking emergency kit.
Snowshoes or Microspikes
If you’ve ever tried walking in heavy snowfall, you know just how exhausting it can be. Even if you plan to hike a trail without them, if you know that there is a chance that you’ll encounter heavy snow, it’s a good idea to bring along a pair of snowshoes.
If you find yourself needing to stray from the trail you planned to take, snow begins to fall, or you find heavier snow later on the trail than there was at the beginning, snowshoes can help you get back to safety fast, where the exhaustion of trying to walk through heavy snow might have left you stranded on the trail for hours.
Microspikes won’t help you cross the snow any faster. But if you encounter icy on a steep trail or near a drop-off, microspikes can be the difference between staying on your feet or suffering a painful slip or fall. Microspikes are available in a variety of styles. You can choose from chains that are designed to slip over your boots or plastic versions that fit over the soles of your shoes and feature removable metal spikes to improve your traction on slick surfaces.
Keeping your energy up on the trail can help you keep a steady head in an emergency situation and help you power through a hike. In fact, a high-protein snack is something you should always have along, even on shorter hikes.
Choose snacks that don’t need to be refrigerated. Nuts, beef jerky, trail mix, packaged tuna, and peanut butter are all easy to eat on the trail and packed with the protein you need to stay energized.
Map and Compass
Zion National Park isn’t all that large compared to other national parks. It covers just 229 square miles. By comparison, Grand Canyon National Park covers 1,902 square miles. Yellowstone National Park covers 3,217 square miles. And even those parks are small compared to the largest ones in the country. The Gates of the Arctic is 11,756 square miles, while Wrangell-St. Elias is more than twice the size, coming in first at 32,000 square miles.
Perhaps its relatively small size is why most visitors don’t think that there’s any chance of getting lost during a hike in Zion. But staying on a trail after dark, hiking in areas that you aren’t familiar with, or, during the winter months, getting caught in a blizzard can be incredibly disorienting. In just a matter of minutes, you can find yourself lost. And if you’re hiking a long trail or in areas of the park, like Kolob Canyons, that are more remote, it can be nearly impossible to find your way back to civilization without a little help.
Our smartphones or handheld GPS devices can be very useful on the trails. However, they shouldn’t be your only source of aid. Just in case you don’t have cell service or your GPS battery dies, it’s also a good idea to always have a map and compass along. And make sure that you know how to use them!
If you get lost on a trail, your main goal will be to find your way back. However, trekking through the night in freezing temperatures can be dangerous. If you get injured, even on the trail, you might also find yourself needing to wait for help to arrive. To prevent frostbite and hypothermia, you’ll want to be able to start a fire.
Having matches, a lighter, or flint and steel along, as well as a pocket knife to help you cut up kindling, can be lifesavers in this situation.
An Emergency Blanket
Fire can help you stay warm while you’re stuck on the trail. But if you struggle to get a fire started because of wet conditions or you’re unable to find wood, you’ll need another way to keep yourself warm. An emergency blanket is small enough to easily slip in a pocket of your pack but can help you raise your body temperature when the going gets tough.
First Aid Kit
Another essential item you should always have in your pack, regardless of the season, is a first aid kit. Packed with bandaids, sterilization wipes, gauze, and other important tools and supplies, your kit can allow you patch up blisters so that you can keep hiking comfortably or help you treat more serious injuries until you can get off the trail.
But having a first aid kit and knowing how to use it are two very different things. If you don’t have any experience treating wounds, you might consider taking a course on outdoor first aid. Or at least read up on how to take care of the most common injuries before your hike.
Headlamp or Flashlight with Extra Batteries
Unless you are properly prepared for a nighttime hike, it should always be your goal to get off the trail before sundown. Of course, accidents happen, or else we wouldn’t need to be writing this list.
Having a simple headlamp or flashlight can help you stay on the trail, signal for help, and more. Don’t forget to pack extra batteries as well!
Planning a Winter Visit to Zion
Now that you know the emergency gear you should have along, it’s time to learn some other tips for planning a safe winter hike in Zion. Check out this article next to learn the cold weather hiking tips you didn’t know you needed.