Winter hiking is a beautiful, peaceful beast waiting for its unleash into your outdoor life. So many people forget about their natural roots when the darkness grows longer and the temperature drops, but if you’re anything like me, you crave that organic connection to mother nature. There are so many reasons to hike this winter, and we don’t want you to miss out on a single second of the cold, crisp sunshine!
Let me Convince You…
If these three reasons to get outside and hike this winter don’t convince you, nothing will.
1. Trails are often desolate; few people want to brave the cold temperatures or own the proper gear to do so. Some of the busiest landscapes become barren beauties at first snowfall.
2. Your senses will be surprised by new smells and sights on the same ‘old’ trails you usually hike! Snow and biting temperatures vastly change your favorite trails making them seem almost brand new.
3. Bug phobia? Fear of woman-eating animals? Don’t sweat it under winter conditions. Enjoy the lack of bug deterrent, bear spray and bug bites when you hike during this season.
Find the Perfect Outfit
When winter hiking is brought up, especially in the snowy parts of the world, many people’s first response is “But it’s cold.” Although they’re not wrong, proper layering is a beautiful thing that can make or break your adventure. Here’s what you need to know when it comes to apparel.
Let's start from the bottom up.
FEET: Insulated, waterproof winter hiking boots are an absolute must alongside wool socks (pack a spare pair!). I prefer my boots have ample ankle support since I’m often snowshoeing to my destination on winter hikes or worrying about the dreaded sneaky post-hole. And seriously, toe warmers are a woman's best friend. As an individual with terrible circulation, toe warmers have been the key to my winter hiking success.
LEGS: A bottom wicking layer, usually leggings made of synthetic fabric for this chick, help to pull the moisture away from the skin. Depending on the temperature, you may choose to go straight to hard-shell water and windproof pant OR add a soft-shell fleece layer in between. I own a great pair of Eddie Bauer hiking pants that are water and wind resistant and fleece lined; these are my favorite for winter hikes.
TORSO: The top half is very similar to the bottom. A wicking layer first (wool works well on top or any synthetic fabric that pulls moisture from the skin) followed by fleece and finally a wind and waterproof outer layer or shell. I find that for a challenging ascent in decent winter temperatures, a base layer, a fleece, and my Cotopaxi windbreaker do the trick until I descend! I also carry a packable down jacket for extra warmth on the summit or overlook; wearing a vest over your mid-layer (weather dependent) is also an option I fall back on for warmer days but ALWAYS pack a full outer layer just in case.
HANDS: I prefer mittens for my hands so I can put my hand warmers in with my fingers since my circulation is awful. Always pack two pairs of gloves; I wear a lighter pair for the more strenuous part of the hike such as a mountain ascent and save the hard-shelled, warm and toasty pair for the return trip. While you’re working hard your extremities won’t feel as cold but after a few accidental hands in the snow, or hard earned sweaty palms followed by potential downtime on a windy summit you’ll want a quick change.
HEAD: Wear a warm hat as well and be sure to pack an extra for when the original cap gets sweaty. Fleece lined caps with ear flaps can be an absolute lifesaver. Other items I like to wear or bring along include a buff to cover my nose and mouth but still allow for airflow; sunglasses or snow goggles to protect your eyes from wind and the UV rays off the bright white snow are very helpful as well.
Don’t Leave Home Without This Gear!
Camp Blanket/ Emergency Reflective Blanket
First Aid Kit
Snacks, and Lots of Them
Headlamp(s) (Spare Batteries!)
And a Comfortable Pack to Throw it All in!
A Few Additional Tips
Remember to be up to date on weather conditions; as you climb in altitude, the climate completely changes and is often colder, windier and less forgiving.
Always tell someone where you’re going to be and what route you plan to take; check back in with them at the end of your hike, so they know you’re okay! Similarly, make sure to sign into and out of all appropriate trail registers.
Look up and be aware of trail conditions. Water crossing dangers and other less than ideal winter conditions should cause alarm and potential rescheduling. Your favorite trails will look entirely different when they’re barren of leaves and full of snow; be sure to brush up on your navigation skills!
Don’t ever be afraid to turn back! It’s always better to be safe than sorry.