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These hiking tips for cold weather are designed to keep you out of trouble, and comfortable, when Mother Nature decides to show her chilly side.
Let's get right to it, by breaking the tips for what to wear and what to eat in low temperatures into three possible cold weather hiking scenarios.
Hiking in the cold requires some advance preparations in terms of the hiking gear you're carrying, the hiking clothing you're wearing, and the hiking food in your backpack.
Read about the effects of cold temperatures on your body here.
In cool, calm conditions you can get away with minimal preparations, and make it back to the trail head in good shape.
What do I consider the bare minimum you'll need when hiking in cool, calm conditions? This is adequate cold weather hiking gear:
1. The hiking ten essentials, which include extra clothing and extra food. More on that next.
2. Layers of outdoor apparel that can be adjusted quickly when the sun comes out, and then disappears behind the clouds. These include:
Because we're talking about calm conditions, there's no need to bring waterproof layers. But to be safe, carry them stashed in your backpack.
3. Two pairs of socks, an inner pair to wick moisture away from your skin to prevent blisters, and an outer pair to keep your ankles and lower legs warm.
Your calorie requirements will be a bit higher in cool weather, but don't overdo it by eating heavy, hard to digest hiking food.
Wind really takes it out of you, especially if you're faced with a constant stiff breeze that chills your head and hands.
Wear all of the hiking clothing suggested above, and add these:
Only the upper portion of my face has to deal with the cold wind coming off Mt. Rainier during a clear but windy winter hike, as you can see in the photo above.
Bring extra food, and eat it at regular intervals. Your goal is to keep yourself warm, and that requires the fuel molecules in your food, especially fat.
Not used to carrying high fat trail food? Change your tune, and bring nuts, nut butters, chunks of cheese, and dark hiking chocolate as palatable, easy to eat snacks.
Time to break out the waterproof hiking clothing!
A jacket with a hood is a great thing to have, because when the clouds lift for a few moments you can throw back the hood and take a good look around.
To keep showers, whether rain or snow, off your head, consider carrying a hiking umbrella.
If you're on a day hike, use a backpack with a waterproof detachable cover, like this one.
If you're backpacking, consider investing in a waterproof backpack to keep your food, clothing and camping gear as dry as possible in cold, wet conditions.
Read these tips on cold weather camping to get into the proper mindset to handle temperature extremes.
And don't spare the calories in your hiking menu!
Snack often on high fat foods like nuts, cut back on salty snacks that will force you to ingest cold water, and listen to your hunger signals.
Don't bring cold or crunchy food that takes a lot of effort to eat and digest.
If you're headed out into cold conditions, take some time to ensure your safety.
Here are few more hiking tips for cold weather hikes:
1. Read accurate local weather forecasts, and don't hesitate to change your hiking plans if a storm is blowing in.
2. Go through your gear and look for worn out or inadequate items. Replace them, or mend them, before you head out into the cold.
3. "Don't get wet" is your new hiking mantra. This is not the time to rely on cheap, water "resistant" clothing or gear. Go for the good stuff: water proof and durable.
4. Hypothermia strikes cold, wet hikers. Know the symptoms, and what to do, to help yourself or your trail buddies, by following that link.
5. Keep your body warmth by using all of these hiking tips for cold weather, in order to keep your wits about you. If you're cold as well as tired, stressed or distracted, odds are that you are not going to make good decisions.
6. Cold, wet weather is associated with shorter day lengths.
Stick to your turn around time, or cut your hike short, as the short days of cold weather take a toll on your body. Be sure you have a functioning head lamp, and the materials to start a fire, in case you miscalculate your trail mileage.
7. Don't sit on the cold wet ground for breaks. If you absolutely must sit, put your pack between yourself and the cold surfaces of rock, wood or dirt.
8. Keep moving as much as possible, at a reasonable pace, to keep your muscles happy. Stiff muscles slow you down, and could lead to cramps that delay you even further from reaching your destination.
9. Retain your grip on a good attitude. Yes, you're cold. But look on the bright side! No biting insects, no sunburn, no hot weather hiking hazards.
If you need some winter hiking tips to keep yourself comfortable and safe in snow and ice, read them here.
Life can be good when hiking in cold weather. Now go out, apply these hiking tips for cold weather, and prove it to yourself ;)
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