Living in Norway gives plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities and the Norwegians tend to head for the mountains all year round. But the weather can be very unstable and precautions are necessary, even for shorter hikes or skiing trips.
The Norwegian Mountain Code (called “Fjellvettreglene” in Norwegian) has been developed by Den Norske Turistforening (The Norwegian Tourist Association) and Norges Røde Kors (Norwegian Red Cross) based on years of mountaineering and hiking experience, in order to ensure your safety. You can find the Mountain Code here.
Be physically and mentally prepared
Prepare yourself mentally and physically for your trip. Train your strength and stamina and practice hiking or skiing with a full pack in all kinds of weather conditions. Test the equipment you plan to use on your trip. Many local hiking associations throughout the country organise practice hikes and other activities in the community.
The length of your journey should be adapted to your physical and mental shape and your experience. In addition, you must of course adapt the length of the trip according to weather and road conditions when you are on the go. If you plan on hiking for several days in the mountains, start with shorter hikes and gradually increase the length.
Consider the route you have chosen: Can I cancel the trip earlier than planned if there is bad weather or conditions? Can I change the route along the way? Can I afford to have a day of rest?
Leave word of your route and if you decide to change it
Always leave information regarding your planned route with someone at home and also in your accommodation premises. Many cabins, hotels and other lodgings have tour notification boxes in which you may put written notice of your route. If you decide to change your route, be sure to update your home contact and leave updated information in your accommodation premises. In an emergency, the details left by you will aid search and rescue operations and ensure that you get help as soon as possible.
Mobile phones may not be reliable as there might be little or no coverage in most of the mountainous regions.
Respect the weather and the weather forecasts
An old adage says that you should always heed bad weather forecasts but do not rely completely on good weather forecasts. Regardless of the forecast, you should be prepared for bad conditions. Even a fresh breeze combined with sleet or frost can produce frostbite. The weather forecast is often general and applies to a larger area. Despite forecasts usually being right, it’s difficult to predict exactly when the weather will change. So you should check forecasts in adjoining districts as well as in the mountains, and closely follow weather changes.
Be equipped for bad weather and frost
When you see a storm approaching or if the temperature drops, immediately dress yourself appropriately. It is important that you put on your waterproof outer layers before you get wet and cold. A roomy anorak, long wind trousers, waterproof mittens and warm headgear are good outer layers to have on in the winter. In the summer, rain gear combined with a warm sweater, light woolen beanie and woolen gloves serve as good protection. Cold and wet fingers, wind and ice have often made it impossible to put on extra clothes. Stand with your back to the wind and help others put on their clothing. Use a survival bag for additional protection.
Medium backpacks of of 50-60 liters is best suited for hut to hut trips in summer and winter. These bags are suitable for loads of up to 12-15 pounds. If you have many supplies or a large sleeping bag you may need 65-75 liters, and even greater if you have a tent. Larger backpacks (from 70 to 100 liters) can handle loads of up to approx. 25-30 kg, while the frame backpack is best suited for the heaviest and biggest burdens. Place heavy items close to your back. Pack a rain cover for your backpack or place your contents in plastic bags to keep them dry.
Learn from the locals
Local people (such as the staff in your accommodation premises, people you meet along the way, etc) can often tell you about the peculiarities of the weather and the terrain in the area which will be useful information for you.
Use a map and compass
Always have and know how to use a map and compass. Ensure that your map is the latest edition. Before departing, study the map and plot your route carefully. Follow the map, even when weather and visibility are good, so you know where you are at all times. When visibility first deteriorates, it can be difficult to determine your exact position. Read the map as you go and take note of landmarks you can recognize. Trust the compass. Use a transparent, watertight map case attached to your body so that the map will not be taken by the wind. Take bearings between terrain points on the map that can guide you to your goal. Use the compass to stay on a bearing from a known point.
Don’t go solo
For one, a trip is often more pleasant with some company and should an accident or injury occur, your mates can help you or get external help. Ensure that safety equipment, food and clothing is distributed evenly to all members of the group such that no one will lack necessary equipment should the group separate.
Do note however, that there isn’t always safety in numbers. Trekking in a large group is inadvisable, especially if its members are unequally fit and experienced. The group is only as strong as its weakest link. Keep contact with the group, if you decide to trek ahead alone.
Turn back in time; there is no shame
Should weather conditions deteriorate such that you are in doubt about attaining your goal, turn around and return. Do not attempt to defy the weather – if you need rescuing, other people may have to risk their lives to save you. Be sure then to notify the staff at the next cabin that expects your arrival. If you start a trip in windy, uncertain weather, go against the wind. Then it will be easier to go back if need be.
Conserve energy and build a snow shelter if necessary
The stronger the wind, the tougher the trekking. Adjust your trekking speed to the weakest member of the group and avoid sweating. If you trek in a single file, turn often to ensure that the others are still there. Remember to eat and drink often. Physical activity increases the body’s need for liquids, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Insufficient food and drink lead to lethargy, and you can become discouraged.
Do not wait til you are exhausted to start building a snow shelter; you might need a few hours to build one. It is advisable to practice building a shelter, or at least learn the techniques of doing it, before embarking on your trip. Learn also to look for suitable “blank” as you go. Absolutely perfect is a snowdrift is sheltered from the wind, between 2 and 5 meters high. Higher crests may cause danger of landslides. The depth to the bedrock should be preferably 3 feet (pole length + arm length).
If you go into the mountains with the right equipment, you should not have trouble spending a night or two in the snow shelter or other emergency shelters. It’s not as cold or uncomfortable and may be cozy under safe circumstances.
If there isn’t enough snow, a survival bag can provide emergency shelter but can be cold if you remain still for a long time.