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Rear view of female mountaineer on snowy summit of Helvellyn mountains in Winter, Lake District National Park, Cumbria, England.

The Lake District mountains are stunning during the winter months, and make for a great hiking location. If you’re visiting the Lakes during this season and fancy trying some winter hiking, take a look at our tips below to ensure you stay safe on your adventures.

1. Check the weather forecast & plan ahead

One of the top tips for safe winter hiking is to plan everything in as much detail as possible! Check the weather forecast for your chosen dates, then keep checking again in the days leading up to your hike. Plan your winter hiking for dry days with good visibility. If the temperature is due to be low, plan for there to be ice and possibly snow on the ground. If the forecast takes a turn for the worst, it’s best not to risk it and postpone to another date instead. Always plan your route in advance too, and check the map closely – if it’s due to be icy and the route looks craggy, you’ll need to pack crampons or plan an alternative route instead.

2. Stick to main footpaths

When planning your winter hiking route it’s essential to stick to main public footpaths and way-marked routes. Even if you’ve done the hike before, it’s easy to get disorientated if an unexpected storm hits! By sticking to main footpaths it will be easier to check your position with a map and compass to ensure you get down safely.

Signpost by a stone wall pointing towards Bridgend, Patterdale in the English Lake District. Winter hiking

3. Set off early

When planning your winter hiking trip, don’t forget to allow for the shorter daylight hours. Set off early and give yourself plenty of time to complete the hike, taking into account that snow & ice might slow you down. Ensure you have a torch with you in the event that you do run out of daylight. Torches can also be useful to attract attention in emergencies.

4. Never go alone

When hiking in winter conditions, the old saying ‘safety in numbers’ really rings true! Even the most experienced mountaineers would agree that hiking alone in snow, ice and gale-force winds is a very bad idea. In the event that the weather turns, or you slip on ice and injure yourself, you’ll need to stick together with your hiking partner or group to help each other stay safe. Don’t let the group split up during your hike and always make sure you’re within sight of each other in case of emergencies.

4 Ice Climbers making their way across Striding Edge in the Lake District. Winter hiking

5. Wear appropriate clothing

One of the most important factors to consider for safe winter hiking is the clothing and equipment you take with you. It’s essential to dress in warm, waterproof clothing and layer up to trap in the heat. It’s best to be prepared than realise you don’t have enough clothing on top of a cold and windy mountain! Always take extra layers just in case, including spare socks and a second pair of gloves. If you get too warm when hiking you can always remove one layer at a time. Keeping dry is important too – take a good waterproof even if it’s not forecast to snow or rain, as conditions can change very quickly in the mountains. Sturdy walking boots with good grip are a must-have, along with crampons and and ice axe if you plan to do any rocky routes that may be icy.

6. Take eye protection

Many people mistakenly associate sunglasses being an accessory for the summer months only. In fact, they can be an extremely important item to take when winter hiking too. If there’s snow on the ground but it’s a sunny day, the light reflecting off the snow can be really harmful. Sunglasses offer essential protection from the sun’s glare, as well as offering some protection during a snow blizzard if the wind picks up.

7. Know your limits

When winter hiking it’s important to understand your own personal limits. If you find the going gets too tough, there’s nothing wrong with turning back and trying again another day. If you don’t feel comfortable hiking in deep snow or thick ice, don’t put yourself in unnecessary danger. Know when to draw the line and say no. It’s always best to get down off the mountain safely than push yourself to make a decision you will regret later on.

A hiker descending Helvellyn towards Striding Edge and Red Tarn in the Lake District, UK. Winter hiking

8. Be aware of hidden dangers

Winter conditions can completely change the look of the landscape. Even a place you know well can look unrecognisable under a thick blanket of white. Keep a close eye on the map and your location, keeping in mind that footpaths may be covered by snow. Stay safe if your footpath ventures close to cliffs or ledges too. Snow cornices can easily form where the wind pushes the snow into an overhanging, unstable ledge. These can continue to accumulate as further snow falls, making it hard to tell where the true cliff edge is.

Rear view of female mountaineer on snowy summit of Helvellyn mountains in Winter, Lake District National Park, Cumbria, England. Winter hiking

9. Pack plenty of food & drink

Don’t forget to pack plenty of water for your winter hiking trip to ensure you stay properly hydrated. Taking a flask with a hot drink is also a good idea for a nice treat on the top! Take enough food to see you through the day, plus extra in case the walk takes longer than you think. In theory, you should have enough supplies with you to last overnight in case of a real emergency, should you get stuck in a bad storm.

10. Call Mountain Rescue in an emergency

If you do happen to get caught out and find yourself in trouble, call your local Mountain Rescue Team by dialing 999. They will be able to reassure you over the phone, advise on what to do while you wait, and assist you off the mountain safely.

Winter hiking can be dangerous if you go unprepared, but by following these safety tips you can have many enjoyable adventures out in the mountains! If you’re heading out on a winter hike, share your photos with us on social media with the hashtag #MyLakesHoliday. Planning to do a few different walks? Why not use on of our Lake District cottages as a base for your hiking holiday!