As summer turns to fall, the beauty of the Northwest only increases, and the cool crisp mornings attract us all back to the woods. However, with the change in seasons, it’s also time for a change in gear and planning. The cold weather skills that were fresh just last winter have now melted away with the heat of summer. Before we know it, it’s time to put the snow tires back on our cars, kick the rust off the chains, and dig out the warmest of our sleeping bags. It’s important to remember that weather is fickle during this time of year and what starts out as a cool crisp hike can quickly turn into a slog through early snow. Both being prepared on the hike and having your vehicle prepared for the inevitable snowfall this year will save both you and Search and Rescue time and heartache.

Some things you should bring on every hike in every season include; map and compass, sunglasses and sunscreen, extra clothing, headlamp, first-aid supplies, waterproof matches, candle, repair kit, extra food, extra water, and an emergency shelter. While these go a long way, they are the bare minimum for any outing, and the winter requires even more preparation and thought into the items you are bringing with you.  The extra clothes must match the conditions. While a sweatshirt may make a good insulation layer around the house, it is no match for the Northwest outdoors, a better substitute for fall and winter hiking would be a thick fleece or wool sweater.  For winter hiking, what you have in your car can be just as important as what you bring with you in your backpack.

As fall turns to winter and as snow becomes more likely, it’s important to realize that the changes in the weather could result not just facing trouble and challenges on your hike but also getting stuck in your car as roads become impassable. Imagine coming back from a beautiful day hike with light snow only to realize that the MINI Cooper you drove up the winding gravel road to the trailhead in now can’t get out of its parking spot. Luckily, there are tools that can help solve your predicament, if you bring them with you! Every car traveling in the winter should have a shovel in it. A shovel, in addition to good fitting chains or snow tires can go a long way in making snow travel safer and more reliable. In case you still get stuck, having extra food and water as well as extra fuel can make the difference between a bit of a hassle and a seriously uncomfortable time.

To sum up, ask yourself these questions before you leave:  if there is an emergency, can I expect a positive outcome with the equipment provided? Second, can I spend the night without great risk? If the answer to both these questions is yes, then have a great trip! As always, remember to tell a friend or family member where you are going and when you expect to return.  It’s important to pay attention changing weather conditions and being prepared for them. Taking the steps to be prepared can make the difference between having an exciting fall trip and having serious problems and needing help from Search and Rescue. If you do find yourself in a predicament remember, stay put, stay calm and prepare to sit tight for a while as you wait for help, rescue in adverse conditions can be a slow process. For more information on hiking in the fall or really anything outdoors, I suggest “Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills” written by the Mountaineers.

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