10 WINTER HIKING TIPS FOR STAYING WARM ON THE TRAIL
Winter is here, and you have a couple of options. You can sit inside in front of the tv, or you can fully embrace the cold and spend your winter outside having fun. The key to having an enjoyable outdoor winter experience is being prepared with the right gear, clothing, and attitude. We’ve put together a list of 10 winter hiking tips to help you stay warm on your cold and snowy adventures. Hopefully, this advice for winter hiking gives you the inspiration and information you need to give it a try. If after reading this post you have more questions about the best winter apparel and how to layer, check out our winter hiking apparel recommendations and our blog post about what to wear skiing.
1) Bring Snacks You Can Eat without Stopping
Hiking in the winter, your body will need twice the calories it usually does, since your body is burning more to stay warm. Pack snacks that are high in protein to give you energy. It’s important that the snacks you bring winter hiking are quick and easy to eat while you are walking. Leave the sandwich fixings and picnic at home. Stopping for a long time to eat will leave you cold, and your muscles will have a harder time warming up again.
Here are some of our favorite cold weather snacks
2) Stay Hydrated
Use an insulating hose for your Camelback or an insulated bottle sleeve for water bottles when you hike in winter. This will prevent water in the hose from freezing if you are in extreme temperatures. If you don’t have a special water bottle, wrap your water bottle in some wool socks or in a beanie in your backpack to help insulate it.
3) Bring a Warm Drink in a Thermos
One of our favorite winter hiking tips is to fill up a big thermos or vacuum sealed mug, like this Stanley mug, with your favorite hot beverage. Hot cocoa, cider, Chai tea, or even soup broth is great for quick sips to warm you up. While we probably don’t need to say it, go without alcohol for serious cold weather hikes, as alcohol reduces your body temperature. You can enjoy that hot toddy once you’re back at home.
4) Hike With The Sun
In summer months, you want to avoid the sunniest part of the day when hiking. In the winter, it’s the opposite. For winter hiking, try to time your hike for when the sun is highest in the sky and the warmest. As soon as the sun drops behind the mountains and the trail becomes shady, temperatures can drop significantly. If you plan on catching the sunset, we recommend not being too far from the trailhead and make sure to pack extra layers.
5) Choose Trails with Some Uphill to get the Blood Flowing
Just like climbing stairs, the uphill sections of your winter hikes will get your heart pumping. This helps to increase your circulation and raise your internal body temperature, keeping you nice and toasty.
6) Have Basic Knowledge of Hypothermia
Hypothermia occurs when your body’s core temperature decreases to a level in which normal muscular and cerebral functions are impaired. Hypothermia can affect your ability to think clearly as well as your ability to evacuate quickly to safety. Before you go winter hiking, it’s important that you know the warning signs and are able to recognize them if you or a friend start to show symptoms of hypothermia.
Conditions that can lead to hypothermia
- Cold temperatures
- Improper clothing and equipment for changing weather conditions
- Fatigue, exhaustion, dehydration, inadequate food intake
- Alcohol intake also expands your blood vessels which can lead to increased heat loss
Symptoms of hypothermia
- Uncontrollable or violent shivering
- Slurred speech or inability to communicate
- Fumbling or lethargy
You can read more information on treating and preventing hypothermia here.
7) Know How to Layer & Be Material Smart
The key to comfort when winter hiking is staying warm AND dry. If you start to sweat and are wearing the wrong material, you’ll end up wet and cold.
When hiking in cold weather, you should have 3 layers – a base layer, an insulating layer, and a shell. You can always shed one if you get too hot. Avoid cotton and instead opt for synthetic layers that wick moisture and are quick-drying. For more on what to wear winter hiking and how to layer check out our winter hiking clothing guide.
Learn what to wear on your cold & snowy hikes.
8) Prevent heat loss from your head
You lose a significant amount of heat through the top of your head, so wearing a hat is one of the most important winter hiking tips. Check the temps and then bring a beanie that is of the appropriate thickness. Even if you don’t think you’ll need one, throw it in your pack just in case.
Here are some of our current favorite beanies for winter hiking
8) Wear Gaitors and Winter Boots
For snowy winter hikes, you’ll want a good pair of boots. Regular waterproof hiking boots will do, but if you are going to hike a lot in the winter, consider investing in a pair of insulated winter boots, like these winter Oboz boots. These kind of boots will keep your toes a lot warmer than regular boots or tennis shoes.
If it’s snowy, wear a pair of gaiters to prevent snow from getting inside your boots, and it’s also a not a bad idea to bring an extra pair of socks in your pack in case the pair you are wearing gets wet.
10) Use Crampons or Microspikes
Crampons or microspikes will prevent you from slipping and falling (which could make you cold if you fall in a big pile of snow). When Kim hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016, she quickly learned the value of crampons and microspikes. She saw some hikers have to turn back on trails because they didn’t have crampons to navigate icy sections. For hiking on snow-covered and potentially icy trails, Kahtoola MICROspikes and Yaktrax ICEtrekkers are great. They are super simple to use. Just slip them on over your hiking shoes and you have instant traction. When using these, it’s important that you keep your feet flat so all the spikes make contact with the surface to provide more traction. Keep one foot planted at all times and take small steps when you are you getting used to them.
What are your favorite winter hiking tips to stay warm on the trail? Leave a comment below and let us know!
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