Outdoor Safety in Winter Weather

“There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing,” may be an old proverb, but it has survived the test of time for a reason. It’s one we all live by in the Fells, although we admit we’re all putting it to the test more than usual these few weeks. Please enjoy, observe, and help maintain the Fells year-round, but we recommend being prepared.

  • We often recommend some sort of over-the-boot traction device. Microspikes are a popular choice for the Fells if you’re hiking in snowy or icy areas. Most of the terrain is not so difficult you need full-sized crampons, but they are a bit hardier than what you might use for a quick neighborhood dog walk. Snowshoes are another good option.
  • Layer your clothes, keeping dryness foremost in mind.  Keep an eye towards warmth for the inner layer, insulation for the middle layer, and weather protection for the outermost layer.

  • Remember trails can be tougher to follow if they haven’t been busy since the last snowfall. The usual well-worn path may be covered up, and familiar environments can simply look different with leaves off the trees and boulders half covered.  Be extra mindful of signs and blazes, and bring your map.  
  • Tiredness, irritability, and confusion may simply be the sign of a grumpy companion on a moderate weather hike, but they are beginning signs of hypothermia, so take them more seriously on winter expeditions.
  • Be careful around bodies of water. It can be difficult to tell if ice is safe, and we recommend staying off of it unless you are with an experienced guide. 
  • Speaking of water, bring plenty. In cold weather, it can be trickier to sense when you feel thirsty. Tea, cocoa, or even brothy soups will still keep you hydrated and may seem more appealing in the chilly weather.
  • In addition to managing the woodlands, your hardworking and dedicated DCR staff are responsible for plowing the roads and parking lots. When snow is in the forecast, we occasionally have people ask why the gates at Sheepfold, Bellevue, and Long Pond are locked early in the day even if the snow is not predicted to fall until later in the day. This is because if you are out on the trail when the snow does indeed start, they cannot find you to ask you to move your car! Thank you for your patience, and consider walking or taking public transportation during snow-related parking restrictions.
  • If you find yourself in distress, or encounter an emergency situation, do not  hesitate to call 911. Lower level yet still-urgent concerns can be addressed through the DCR Park Watch Program.  If you are in need of assistance or encounter suspicious behavior, please call 866-759-2824 or 1-866-PK-WATCH.  More details on Park Watch protocol and other guidelines can be accessed at this link.

It’s not all prepping and checklists, though. There are plentiful opportunities for fun and learning. Cross-country skiing is permitted on all trails in the Fells. If you have children, consider pulling them in a sled. Stop and learn about the fascinating springtails, or “snow fleas” that may be all over the ground cover.  Learn about winter berries and evergreens.  Looking for animal tracks is different, and generally easier, in the snow.  Learn about Snowflake Bentley, and then take a magnifying glass and check out some snowflakes of your own.  And share your tips, ideas, and questions with us!