Hiking can be exhilarating and rewarding any time of the year and in just about any type of weather. Make the most of your winter by getting out in nature on a cold weather hike, but do it right so you don’t lose your piggies. Read ahead for eight helpful tips for hiking in the cold!
1. Dress Consciously.
The first, and most important, tip for successful cold weather hiking is dressing correctly. You’ll want to dress in a three-layer system that will give you the best odds when it comes to hypothermia, which happens when moisture lays on the skin and becomes frozen.
The base layer should consist of moisture wicking elements like Nylon and Polyester workout gear that pulls sweat and moisture away from the body. The mid layer should be an insulation layer that prevents the cold from getting close to your skin–think like a Patagonia fleece pullover or a thermal sweater. The outer layer should be a shell coat that prevents the elements (the cold, the rain, the snow, etc.) from getting in.
The quality of your layers matter more than the quantity, though. Stay clear of clothes made from cotton–opt for materials like wool and synthetic fabrics.
PRO TIP: Consider investing in gaiters, which will protect your boots and socks while you’re hiking in snow.
2. Don’t Forget Your Extremities.
Your extremities–like your feet, hands, and head–are the most vulnerable body parts in terms of hypothermia. It should go without saying that you need a hat and gloves for cold weather hiking. However, you’ll also want to invest in some sturdy wool socks that you can layer inside your hiking boots.
For extreme weather conditions, you’ll also want to consider scarves or even face masks so you can keep your nose, lips, and cheeks out of the cold.
3. Keep Your Water Bottle Warm.
If you’re hiking in the cold, there’s always a chance that your water bottle can freeze. Other than the fact that this can be super annoying, it can be dangerous if you go too long without proper hydrating yourself.
Before you head out on your winter hike, invest in an insulated water bottle or an insulated water bottle sleeve. Either will suit you just fine, but a sleeve (which can be found on Amazon for like $8) is a little more versatile.
When you fill up your water bottle, you’ll want to fill it with room temperature water. While it’s not quite as satisfying as cold water, room temperature water won’t freeze quite as fast as cold water. Trust me, it’s science.
While you’re hiking, you’ll want to store your water bottle inside your pack rather than in the convenient outside pouch of your pack. This should seem pretty obvious but the threat of dehydration should trump over the slight inconvenience of reaching inside your pack for a drink.
PRO TIP: Place your water bottle inside a part of your pack that has direct contact with your body. The little bit of heat coming off your body will go a long way in keeping your water bottle from freezing.
4. Pack Mobile Snacks.
It’s pretty easy to stay warm on winter hikes because you’re moving and keeping your heart rate up, which creates heat under your layers. However, when it comes time to eat a snack in order to keep your energy levels in the green, you risk losing all of that heat by stopping and standing still. You’re also likely to create tension in your muscles if you stop for too long because the cold temperatures make it harder for them to warm up once you get moving again.
In order to stay as warm as possible, you’ll want to eat while you walk. Pack snacks that you can eat while you’re moving (and preferably while you still have your gloves on lol) like beef jerky, protein bars,and portion packs of trail mix that you bag ahead of time.
5. Don’t Forget the Sunscreen.
Guys, the sun will works in the winter. In fact, some of my most wicked sunburns I’ve ever had have come from sun rays that were reflected off of the snow. With that being said, you don’t want to leave your sunscreen behind on winter hikes.
The only parts of your body that will be exposed during your hike will be your face and maybe your hands if it’s warm enough to take your gloves off. It’s important to keep your skin in the best condition possible because skin that’s damaged (from sunburn or anything else) is at higher risk for hypothermia.
6. Be Mindful of the Shortened Days.
If you’re hiking during the winter, you can count on having less daylight hours than you would if you were hiking during the summer. It’s just a fact of life and it shouldn’t stop you for taking on longer hikes.
However, you’ll want to leave yourself with more than enough time to get in and get out before the sun sets. Not only do you have less hours in the day during the winter, but the sun sets a bit quicker during this time of the year. The best way to prevent this from happening is to be at the trailhead as the sun is rising.
The temperatures at this time will be colder than what they will be during the day, so you’ll want to be extra bundled up at this point. But you’ll be able to count on the fact that it will warm up as you’re hiking.
7. Keep a Map on You at All Times.
Cold weather doesn’t always mean snow, but it certainly can if the conditions are right. Snow can easily cover a trail, which can make it awfully difficult to navigate if you’re the first and/or only person on the trail at the time.
If nothing else, keep a detailed topographical map on you of the trail you’re exploring. Even if the trail itself gets covered up, these types of maps will be able to help you find your way based on the landscape alone.
Or, you can invest in a GPS system like the Garmin inReach. These things are incredibly advanced and offer breadcrumbing technology that can help you get back to the trailhead even after the trail has been covered with snow. This system also offers an SOS button function that can get you help from anywhere in the world if you need it.
DISCLAIMER: This is not a paid advertisement for Garmin lol. I have one of these things and it has seriously changed my hiking game.
8. Always Tell Someone Where You’re Going.
This is more a general hiking tip than specifically a winter hiking tip but always tell someone where you’re going. Whether you’re hiking alone or with a small group, always keep someone not on the hiking trip in the loop of your plans.
Tell someone exactly where you’re going, how long you plan to be out there, what you’re taking with you, and what the weather conditions are predicted to be. If something were to happen, they can alert the proper authorities and get you the help that you need.
Enjoy the Winter Views!
Winter is one of the most beautiful times of the year and should be cherished. Enjoy your next cold weather hike!