You’re stuck on a high ridge, engulfed in a flurry of thick snowflakes. What began as an overcast October dayhike has become a whiteout, and you can barely see the trail as you stagger against the frigid wind. Should you have seen this coming? Will you survive the cold? The answers depend on choices you made hours ago.
WRONG: Set out with your standard summer dayhiking gear.
RIGHT: In addtion to the 10 Essentials (waterproof map, compass and/or GPS, headlamp, food, water, extra clothes, first-aid kit, matches, firestarter, and raingear), carry enough gear to survive a night in cold, wet, and windy weather, says Anderson. He packs raingear, extra insulating layers, and a windproof jacket on any shoulder-season hike. “Having just a few small things can really save your tail,” adds Brown. For winter trips, bring chemical handwarmers, a thermos of hot soup or tea, two different kinds of firestarter, a plastic sheet for an emergency shelter, and thick foil (or another container) to use for melting snow.
WRONG: Assume the forecast for the nearest city applies to the mountains, too–or don’t check the weather because the sky is blue.
RIGHT: Find backcountry reports at weather.gov or national park websites, or call the local ranger station. Research climate trends and read guidebooks for an idea of what to expect in a given month.