Practice safety this winter when visiting national forests | TahoeDailyTribune.com
U.S. Forest Service

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Practice safety this winter when visiting national forests

With a variety of winter weather conditions occurring across Nevada and Eastern California, the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest would like to remind visitors to be extra careful while recreating this winter.

"National Forest System (NFS) lands can provide stunning scenery and recreational opportunities during the winter, but it is important to be aware of the dangers and risks associated with winter weather," Jamie Fields, recreation and wilderness program manager, said in a press release. "Snow storms, freezing temperatures, and prolonged exposure to cold winds are all concerns when recreating on NFS lands in the winter months."

Here are some safety tips to practice this winter:

Know Before You Go: Be aware of existing and impending weather conditions and check with the National Weather Service (www.weather.gov/) frequently for updates. Contact the local ranger district office for updates on forest road conditions and seasonal closures. If extreme winter weather is predicted please stay home.

Leave Detailed Plans: The plan should include times and dates of departure and return. It should also include estimated arrival at certain checkpoints. Alert your trusted person if plans change. In the event of a missing person, your trusted person will need to call 911 and the plan will assist search and rescue efforts.

Do not Rely on Phones and Map Apps: There are many places on NFS lands where cellular services or coverage still do not exist. A cell phone does not guarantee your safety. Have the appropriate navigation equipment and knowledge of how to use that equipment. Do your research before following map app directions and realize that just because a route is listed does not mean it is passable. Most U.S. Forest Service roads are not maintained in the winter.

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Accept Responsibility for Yourself: Always have emergency and survival gear with you. Essential items include fire starting equipment; flashlight with extra batteries; appropriate extra clothing; water; food; navigation equipment; pocket knife; shelter materials; sunglasses or goggles; a backcountry shovel, stove and fuel; and a small metal cup. If you become injured or lost, stay calm and seek shelter from the elements, but do not stray from your planned route and call 911 if possible.

Backcountry Users: If you are out in the backcountry in the winter you should acquire training and knowledge about avalanche safety and hazard recognition. Always carry the appropriate safety equipment including a beacon, probe, avalanche airbag system, backcountry shovel, and winter survival gear. You should never travel alone. Cell phones are valuable tools, but should not be relied upon in backcountry locations since cell coverage may be marginal. A satellite device might be a better communication tool option (e.g. satellite phone or SPOT device).

Dress Warmly in Layered Clothing: Layers allow you to easily adjust your clothes to regulate body moisture and temperature. Three types of layers are considered optimal: a liner layer against your skin (long-johns), an insulation layer (fleece), and a water- and wind-proof outer shell. Cotton loses its insulating qualities when it gets wet, whether it is from rain or sweat. Cotton also takes a long time to dry out. Wool or synthetic materials are much better suited for cold weather conditions. Boots should have a waterproof outer shell. Hiking boots alone are usually not adequate in deep snow conditions for extended periods of time. Protect yourself from heat loss through your` head by wearing a warm stocking cap or other winter hat. Make sure socks and gloves do not fit so tight that they constrict the blood flow, which keeps your hands or feet from warming up. Pack plenty of extra clothing in case the clothes you are wearing become wet. Hiking clothing or footwear that become wet not only makes movement more difficult, it also can contribute to hypothermia and other cold related injuries or illness.

Do Not Forget Food and Water: Keep yourself adequately nourished to provide fuel for hiking and for simply keeping your body warm. Food should be easy to prepare. Drink plenty of water even if you do not feel thirsty. Water is necessary for your body to generate heat. A good rule of thumb for checking hydration is the color of your urine. Urine will be light colored or clear if you are properly hydrated. Keep water bottles from freezing in your pack by putting them in a wool sock or insulated bottle cover.

For additional information on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, please visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/htnf.