Winter is the perfect time to hit the trails. Crowds are nonexistent, the bugs are gone for the year, and nature looks extra spectacular with a fresh coating of snow. It may seem daunting at first (and cold), but with the right preparations, you will be exploring Mother Nature’s winter wonderland in no time.
Here are 9 tips for hiking in the winter that will keep you safe and comfortable.
1. Plan Ahead
Take the time to plan your route, study your maps, and locate the nearest emergency services (just in case). If you have family or friends who have hiked your chosen trails before, talk to them about their experience and see if they have any pointers. Most importantly, let someone know where you are going and when.
2. Wear Layers
The most basic rule of winter hiking is to stay warm and dry. Temperatures can vary greatly from the bottom of the trail to the summit, so it’s important you choose insulating clothing that will help you regulate your body temperature and keep you comfortable.
Your base layer, preferably long underwear, should be either synthetic or merino wool fabrics. These fabrics wick away moisture and dry quickly. Your middle layer is all about insulation and retaining your body heat. Consider a fleece or micro-fleece. The outer layer, often referred to as the shell, should be windproof, waterproof, and breathable. Stay away from cotton, it takes ages to try which can put you at greater risk for hypothermia.
3. Check the Weather
This might seem obvious, but it’s important to check and double check the weather conditions for your hike. Take a look at the wind speed, daylight hours, precipitation, and any avalanche reports that may negatively impact your safety and comfort while you’re out on the trail.
4. Start Early
A six-mile loop may be easy in the summer, but the deep snow and ice you may encounter on the trail will make your winter hike a bit more challenging. Keep in mind that the sun sets earlier in the winter so you’ll need to get started early if you want to complete a longer hike.
5. Pack Your Safety Gear
Always pack your safety gear regardless of if you’re doing a two-mile hike or a twelve-mile hike. Basic items you should always carry on a winter hike include a trail map, a compass, a first aid kit, hand warming packets, a headlamp, and a knife or multi-tool.
6. Bring a Buddy
In general, it’s usually safer to hike with a friend, but this is especially true in the winter. It’s even better if you can bring along a friend who is an experienced winter hiker. Plus, adventures are meant to be shared.
7. Wear the Right Boots
While it may be possible to get away with wearing regular hiking boots, you’ll probably be happier and warmer if you opt for waterproof footwear with good tread. Consider a pair of above-the-ankle hiking boots to help prevent the snow from getting to your feet.
8. Give Your Body Fuel
You burn more calories hiking in the cold, and if you’re wading through the snow, you’re going to be using nearly double the energy. Pack tasty snacks that will help you refuel. Avoid food that can freeze solid, like a power bar, and instead pack small snacks inside of your fleece jacket to keep them from freezing.
9. Stay Hydrated
There’s something about the cold weather that makes most of us less thirsty, but regardless of how chilly it is, you’re still sweating under all those layers. Every time you stop, take small sips, your body will thank you for it. To prevent your water from freezing, use an insulated bottle and keep it close to your body.
Looking for your next great winter hiking destination? Explore camping adventures or discover the perfect winter campsite on Camp Native.