Hiking in cold weather can be a challenge, but there are many things you can do to make your hiking experience more enjoyable and comfortable. Cold weather hikes require preparation and some know-how about how to dress for winter hiking and what gear is necessary. The following tips will help you get ready for the next time you want to go on a hike during the cold winter months!
Cold Weather Hiking Tips
Layers are your friend – When dressing for a cold-weather hike, it is important to wear layers. This will allow you to adjust your clothing as you start to warm up or cool down. Always start with a base layer, and the best material for a base is merino wool. It is lightweight, wicks away moisture, and doesn’t itch. A good mid-layer will provide insulation and can be made of fleece or a synthetic material like a down jacket. The final layer should be an outer shell that is waterproof and windproof. Follow that layering for both your upper and lower body.
Mittens are better than gloves – Mittens keep your hands warmer than gloves because there is no space between your digits. To keep your hands dry, use waterproof tape on any seams that are likely to leak and bring along hand warmers when it’s really cold out.
Wear insulated winter boots – Make sure your footwear is made for cold weather hiking and is waterproof. Pair the right boots with a pair of thick, wool socks to help keep your toes warm. If you’re planning on hiking through deeper snow, consider wearing a pair of waterproof gaiters to keep the snow out of your boots. You can also use traction devices like crampons or snowshoes.
Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun and wind.
Carry the Right Things
Bring snacks – Bring along some snacks for energy such as trail mix or bars. Hiking will sap your energy, and the cold will drain you even more, so make sure you take in the proper amount of calories.
Carry emergency clothing – Cold weather hikes can be dangerous if you aren’t prepared for them. Always carry extra layers, mittens, a hat, and an emergency blanket in case you get lost or stranded.
Stay hydrated – Dehydration is just as much of a risk during winter hikes as it is during the summer. Make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your hike. The cold will make you not feel as thirsty, so it’s essential to self-regulate your water intake so you don’t get dehydrated. Don’t use a hydration pack that uses a tube, since this will freeze. Instead, carry an insulated water bottle inside your pack, as close to your body as you can, or inside a warm thermos.
Bring warm things to eat and drink, such as a hot beverage in a lightweight thermos.
Remember your sunscreen – Even though the sun’s rays are weaker in winter, they can still cause skin damage. Make sure to apply sunscreen before your hike and reapply it every few hours.
Bring hand warmers – Bring your own heat by sticking some hand warmers in your gloves and some feet warmers in your shoes.
The days are shorter – It sounds obvious, but remember that there is not as much daylight during winter. You should keep this in mind when you are choosing and planning your hike. Choose something a little shorter than you normally would to make you you are back well before sunset. Just in case, pack a headlamp.
Pick a south facing hike – hikes that are in the sun (typically a south facing aspect in the winter) will be warmer and sunnier, giving a little extra warmth from the sun’s rays.
Stay on the move, but not too much – Staying active and moving will help keep your body temperature up, but working too hard will make you sweat and can put you at risk for hypothermia. Make sure to regulate your layers as you move, so you can prevent yourself from getting too sweaty.
Keep batteries warm – the cold can kill batteries rather quickly, so keep electronics near your core to keep them warmer.
But most of all, remember to have fun. Follow these steps to properly prepare and appropriately dress, and you’ll be able to focus on enjoying yourself instead of worrying. If you’re new to hiking in the winter, consider starting out with shorter, more heavily trafficked trails so you can be near civilization and help. Always tell someone where you are going, or bring them along as a hiking buddy.
Is it okay to hike in the winter?
Yes! While winter hiking does present a unique set of challenges, it can be quite enjoyable as long as you are properly dressed and prepared. It is also an excellent method to stay in shape year round and get some fresh air.
How do you stay warm during winter hiking?
Make sure you dress in layers with an appropriate wind-proof and waterproof exterior layer. Pack hand warmers and toe warmers, and stay hydrated with warm water. Pick a sunny, warmer day, and choose a trail that stays in direct sun most of the day.
How cold is too cold for hiking?
This depends on your gear and where you live. People who live in colder climates or those who have appropriate winter gear would be more suited to hike in lower temperatures. If you decide to hike in the cold, the key is dressing appropriately and planning ahead.
Is hiking in cold weather bad?
Hiking in cold weather can be bad if you are not appropriately dressed, don’t plan accordingly, or choose to hike in poor weather conditions. As long as you take the proper precautions, hiking during the winter can still be an enjoyable experience.
About the Author
My goal with my writing and Know Nothing Nomads as a whole is to share my passions of hiking, camping, and a love of the outdoors with our readers. Making the difficult and uncertain feel more approachable to people that might not know enough to feel comfortable taking their first steps into the wilderness is a driving factor for me. When I’m not writing you can find me on a trail, in a forest, or next to a river with hiking shoes on my feet and a fly rod somewhere close by.