by Diane Spicer
Any hiker who ventures forth in cold weather needs the best frostbite prevention tips.
These Hiking For Her frostbite tips also will keep you out of trouble when you are kept out in the cold due to storm damage, natural disasters, interrupted transportation, and other events beyond your control.
Extremely cold temperatures damage the tissues of your body in exposed areas, which means dressing appropriately for the weather is a top priority before you set foot on the trail (or break trail, in snowshoeing).
There are other words used for tissue damage due to below freezing temperatures:
On this page, let's stick to frostbite, defined as reduced blood flow (with its associated body heat) to vulnerable body parts.
Also be aware that prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, especially when skin becomes wet, can land you in trouble.
This is a likely scenario for a hiker who sets out in the morning for a winter hike in near freezing temperatures, but gets caught out in nasty weather conditions.
Cold wind and higher altitudes will also set you up for problems unless you take appropriate precautions.
As with thermal burns, frostbite is categorized by degrees, to indicate the depth of tissue which has been damaged.
Obviously, our aim on this page is to prevent, or to spot and reverse, frostbite before it advances into deeper tissue layers.
For a more clinical approach to all cold weather injuries, this book does a good job.
Frostbite sounds painful, doesn't it?
Instead, watch for changes in sensation as you grasp your hiking poles or dig something out of your backpack:
All of these are symptoms: subjective feedback from your body that only you will notice.
Your body is telling you that the areas experiencing these symptoms are being starved of oxygenated blood flow, and they don't like it!
Another way to notice frostbite creeping up on someone: extremely red skin (light skinned hikers) or darkened skin (with darker skin tones) on face, neck and ears.
Alternatively, the skin may appear white or gray as frostbite advances.
These are signs (objective information, like a big red stop sign) that the blood flow to the periphery of the body is being diverted to the core, in order to preserve the functioning of vital body systems.
These photos of frostbite will help you spot trouble.
None of these frostbite prevention tips is more important than the others.
Use every one of them to keep yourself safe during cold, wet, windy, higher elevation outdoor time.
If you've resisted the hiking mantra of "layer up", change your ways!
Layering doesn't mean wearing tight, constricting clothing, however. Be sure there is adequate room for full movement.
Make sure your outer layer is waterproof.
Keep moving. Your skeletal muscle contractions keep blood circulating, and generate heat trapped in your clothing layers.
Pay special attention to your footwear.
The boots you wear for three season hiking are not going to cut it for winter hiking or snowshoeing.
See my suggestions here. And be sure they aren't too tight or press on areas of your feet.
Wear absorbent socks to wick perspiration away from your skin.
Don't allow yourself to become hungry or dehydrated.
Not much of a hat or glove wearer? Suck it up! Protect your skin from cold injury from the first moment of your cold weather hike.
Keep an eye on yourself and everyone else in your group.
You already know the signs and symptoms to watch for (see above).
Now I'm giving you permission to be nosy:
People who are most vulnerable to cold injuries include:
For frostbite, practice prevention, because the treatment is not anything you want to go through.
I sincerely hope you will take these frostbite prevention tips to heart, and make yourself as invulnerable to trouble as you can before you set out on your winter outdoor adventures.
Lots more cold weather hiking tips for you right here!
Let's all stay safe out there when Mother Nature gives us the cold shoulder :)
Frostbite Prevention Tips
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She's been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for 5+ decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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