10 Tips for Safe Winter Hiking in Vancouver

Two people snowshoeing at Grouse Mountain in Vancouver

Snowshoeing at Grouse Mountain. Photo: Destination Vancouver/Kindred & Scout

With snow in the mountains, winter is a magical time to hike in Vancouver. But cold weather and short days mean you need to take some precautions. Follow these tips for safe winter hiking.


Pack the Essentials

AdventureSmart recommends bringing a backpack with essential safety and first aid gear on every hike. Read through the full list of equipment on their site for a great run-down on the things you need to bring to have a safe and fun hike.


Leave a Trip Plan

If you get lost or hurt, will anyone know to look for you? Leave a trip plan so someone knows where you are going and when you will be back. Using the AdventureSmart Trip Plan App makes it easy.


Check the Weather Forecast

Near sea level, Vancouver’s winters are mild with temperatures usually between 3 and 8°C (37-47°F). Winter is fairly rainy, but we also have plenty of cloudy days and a few days of beautiful sunshine.

However, winter in the mountains is a lot different. The temperature is usually just below freezing and all that rain falls as snow. Use the weather forecast for a nearby ski resort to get a better idea of how cold and wet it will be at higher elevations.


Bundle Up

Cold and wet conditions are a reality in the winter, even in good weather. Dress in layers with a warm base layer next to your skin, insulating layers in the middle, and waterproof layers on the outside. Add or remove layers to adjust to changing temperatures.

Choose clothing made of polyester, nylon, fleece, and wool. Avoid cotton which absorbs water, which will make you cold.


Wear Waterproof Shoes

No one likes wet feet. And once you add in the cold temperatures of winter, wet feet can be dangerous. Choose waterproof hiking boots that will keep out the rain and snow.


Bring the Right Gear

While it rarely snows at sea level, Vancouver’s mountain trails are covered in snow and ice each winter. Check trail conditions on park websites, trail apps, or social media before you go to find out what to expect.

For packed snow and ice you will want to bring a traction aid such as microspikes. They fit over your shoes to keep from you slipping. In deep snow, bring snowshoes to help you float over the snow rather than sinking in.


Beware of Avalanche Terrain

Once they are covered in snow, summer hiking trails can become serious avalanche terrain. Visit Avalanche Canada to learn more about avalanche safety.

If you don’t have avalanche safety training, stick to patrolled snowshoe trails at ski areas. Or avoid the snow altogether and hike near sea level.


Plan for Less Daylight

The days are short in the winter. In December, the sun can set as early as 4:15 p.m. Research how long your hike will take and make sure to start early enough to complete it well before dark.

And always carry a flashlight or headlamp just in case – the flashlight on your phone isn’t very bright and will run down your battery quickly.


Bring Water and Snacks

It’s easy to get dehydrated in winter as you may not want to drink as much when it’s cold out. Bring an insulated water bottle or Thermos to keep your water from freezing. Better yet, bring tea, coffee, hot chocolate or soup.

And don’t forget the snacks. Bring food that is easy to eat on the go in case it is too cold to stop.


Keep Your Phone Warm

The cold can kill your phone’s battery. This is a pain if you want to use it to take photos, and can be dangerous if you use it for navigation or need to call for help.

Keep your phone close to your body in an interior pocket to keep the battery warm. It’s a good idea to close all apps you aren’t using and put your phone in airplane mode to save your battery life.


Vancouver Winter Hiking Ideas

If you want to hike in the snow, check out our list of beginner-friendly snowshoe trails. To skip the snow, hike close to sea level using our picks for the best snow-free hikes. Or dig into our Vancouver hike of the month archives to find even more hike recommendations.

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