by Diane Spicer
These winter hiking tips are going to make you one smart winter hiker.
Why not extend the hiking season when cold winds blow?
There's no reason you need to retreat into your warm winter woollies and gaze longingly at your backpack hanging in the gear locker.
How to hike in the winter adds an entirely new skill set to your hiking resume.
Let's get started with a question.
If you answer yes to these additional questions, then you can safely say YES to winter hiking.
*Is your hiking clothing up to the task of blocking wind, shedding snow, and insulating you in layers?
*Is your gear waterproof, lightweight, pliable and easy to get on and off when you're bundled up?
*Do you have a sturdy pair of winter hiking boots?
*Are you easily chilled, even when indoors?
*Can you navigate when familiar landmarks and trail signs are buried beneath snow?
*Are you on board with why carrying the hiking ten essentials is important?
*Do you agree that leaving a hiking itinerary with someone trustworthy at home is non-negotiable?
If you're still reading, you're a winter hiker.
Winter hiking tips, coming right up!
Hiking in the winter means a lot of benefits will flow your way:
And many, many more joys of winter hiking.
I grew up where the snow piled up higher than a car two months into the winter season, and the wind howled in below zero temperatures for weeks.
So I know my way around winter hiking, and am delighted to share these winter hiking tips with you.
Let's start off with some winter hiking clothing tips to answer your questions about what to wear hiking in winter conditions.
Humans aren't hairy enough to stay warm without the aid of winter clothing.
But promise me that you will ditch fabrics that won't keep you warm and dry. That means no cotton, no matter how cosy it feels at home.
Instead, choose polyester, merino wool, and other fabrics which draw your sweat away from your body.
Dress for the worst possible scenario, and be able to peel off layers easily.
Avoid tight fitting or binding sleeves or pants. You want all of your hot core blood circulating freely to keep you warm.
To give you an idea of how serious your hiking clothing layering system needs to be, here is what I wear when hiking in winter (and snowshoeing):
For details on all of this womens hiking clothing, go here.
More winter hiking tips are waiting for you here.
In addition, I carry some winter hiking equipment to keep me safe.
One example: traction devices for my boots, for the same reason car owners who drive over wintery mountain passes use studded tires and carry tire chains: enhanced gripping ability on slippery or uneven surfaces.
For hikers, increased stability and safety on snow packed and icy surfaces translates into more confidence and a smaller chance of injury.
Carry snowshoes and switch over to them when trail conditions and terrain make them necessary.
Additional weight on your pack?
Yes, but you'll be able to go places that would turn you back without snowshoes.
Your footing will be more solid, too.
Having a pair of poles in your hands gives you the ability to probe ahead for trail hazards, and so much more.
Read all of the ways you can use hiking poles to keep yourself safe and stable here.
There are plenty of things you can do to stay safe on a winter hiking trail. Let's take a look.
Yes, it's great to have a sunny day for your winter hike.
It's possible to get a doozey of a sunburn on a winter hike, so carry sunscreen, too.
Factor in much shorter daylight hours when you plan your destination.
Bring more food than you think you will need.
The extra weight in your pack causes you to work a little harder than on a summer hiking trail.
But the peace of mind you have with extra food (which is fuel for your internal furnace) is priceless.
Eat fast, easy to digest carbohydrates with a bit of fat and protein for staying power.
Some winter hiking menu suggestions:
Dehydration is possible even when you don't think you're sweating or thirsty.
Winter hikes are not the time to lounge around at a (probably windy) viewpoint.
And if you're working hard breaking trail or navigating, you'll be wet with perspiration.
You need to prevent your body temperature from plummeting by continuing to move your large skeletal muscles.
Keep your hands and feet warm at all costs.
To keep your feet in top shape on cold weather hikes, use these tips.
Prevent cold hands with these tips.
Use technology to give yourself a wide margin of safety:
Always have your hat and gloves ready in an outside pocket of your backpack or jacket, and whip them on whenever you take a break from forward motion.
It's easier to stay warm than it is to get warm.
Know the signs of hypothermia.
Ditto for frostbite.
Avoid hazards with conservative decisions.
Don't lean or sit on wet surfaces.
These 7 habits make all the difference!
The way you think about winter hiking needs to be adjusted from your default summer settings, in terms of navigation, distance, elevation gain and pacing.
Winter hiking is harder than an easy summer trail, and will demand more from you.
Here are some winter hiking tips that I've learned the hard way, and would like you to consider before you head out into the cold.
Navigating in dim light on cloudy winter days gives your depth perception inaccurate information.
Ditto for a winter hike in brilliant sunlight: the terrain gets washed out and can lead you literally over a cliff.
It's also easy to think distances are shorter than they appear, so double check your mileage on a map.
Don't try new routes on a winter hike unless you're rock solid with your navigation skills.
Double check your route on a topographical map before heading over terrain that might lead you off the edge or downhill at a steep angle.
Gaining elevation might be harder than expected, but so is losing elevation in deep snow or icy conditions.
Pace yourself according to conditions and hours of daylight left.
Accept that your pace will be far slower than on a summer hike.
Keep track of the passing hours and be firm about your turn around time.
If weather conditions deteriorate, turn around without regret.
Be prepared to feel more tired, and much hungrier, than on a summer hiking trip.
If you hike long enough on winter trails, you're going to go down.
If you feel yourself sliding or slipping, resist the urge to fling out your arms and hands to break your fall.
Instead, fall on your back or side if at all possible.
Here are two of the most valuable winter hiking tips I can offer you:
Don't let less than ideal weather stop you from winter hiking, but be respectful of Mother Nature.
Always be prepared to spend a night outdoors.
Winter hiking is not the time to cut corners or take chances.
Always be prepared to take care of yourself.
Don't rely upon cell phone coverage to bail yourself out of a dicey situation. Instead, carry a personal locator beacon.
And a special word to solo winter hikers.
Think long and hard before leaving for a solo winter hike.
Although I never hesitate to hike by myself in the other 3 seasons, I pause when considering hiking solo in winter.
There is a razor thin margin of safety if you become hypothermic or injured, even when carrying a personal locator beacon.
For solo hiking considerations before you head out alone on a winter trail, read this.
If your summer gear is water repellent, it's time to up your game to water proof coatings.
And if your gear is dirty, it's time to clean up to give yourself every chance of staying warm and dry.
I rely on NikWax for this, for both my clothing and my gear.
Realize that these coatings need to be reapplied after hard usage or with the passage of time.
It's also good hiking practice to go over your gear before you attempt a winter hike, looking for torn fabrics, holes, pulled apart seams, or too much wear and tear at failure points like zippers.
When you get home from a soggy, cold winter hike, be sure to empty your pack and hang up your gear away from direct heat sources. This is one of the best winter hiking tips to heed!
After all of these winter hiking tips, I certainly hope so.
Hiking in the winter, early to late, is one of the best ways to find solitude and silence.
It demands more from your body and mind, but it delivers a whole ton of advantages over summer hiking.
Fight the urge to curl up under a blanket, and use these winter hiking tips to conquer a new frontier: hiking when Mother Nature shows you her less friendly side.
Feeling really adventurous?
Any questions about these winter hiking tips?
I'd be delighted to kick around some winter hiking approaches for your upcoming hiking trip.
And if you have some winter hiking tips to share from your winter hikes, please post them here for all of us to enjoy!
Read all of the reasons why winter hiking is a skill you can develop to keep you on the trail year round!
Winter Hiking Tips
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About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She’s been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for nearly five decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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