Winter is well on its way, which means temperatures are going to drop and snow is going to fall. But you don’t have to cancel your hiking plans, because we’ve got the best winter hiking tips you can follow to hit the trails all year long!
Winter can be a dangerous time to be outside, with risks of frostbite and icy conditions. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend the whole season inside hibernating under a blanket.
Hiking in the winter is actually a wonderful experience. The snow-covered trees and frozen waterfalls set a beautiful backdrop to enjoy.
Get outside and enjoy the crisp air with this essential advice for hiking in the winter.
7 Essential Winter Hiking Tips to Prepare for the Cold Season
Hiking in the winter can be just as fun as hiking on a hot sunny day. You just have to know the right steps to take to prepare.
Don’t get caught off guard by something that you could have easily overlooked. Even the most expert hiker can forget something from time to time.
Follow these essential winter hiking tips to make sure all your bases are covered.
1. What to Wear Winter Hiking
Wearing the right clothing is essential to staying comfortable on the trails. It’s important that you stay warm, but you don’t want to be so warm that you’re uncomfortable.
There are three essential layers you need to keep yourself at the perfect temperature for your winter hike.
Firstly, you need a base layer. This helps keep moisture off your body. If too much moisture touches your body, you could lose heat and put yourself at risk for hypothermia.
Your second layer is your insulation layer. It should ideally be a fleece material, which will provide the most warmth.
The third and last layer is your outer “shell” layer, which is essentially your jacket. It should be waterproof and have a hood for protection. This layer is for protection from the wind as well as any snow or wet weather you might run into.
Other essential winter hiking clothing you should have includes hiking boots built for the snow, as well as a hat, gloves, and a scarf. It also doesn’t hurt to throw an extra pair of socks in your backpack.
The most important winter hiking rule of all is this: don’t wear cotton. Cotton does not keep you insulated because it does not absorb moisture. You will be at high risk for hypothermia if you wear layers made from cotton!
2. Watch the Weather
This is an important rule to follow on any hiking trip, regardless of the season. But in the winter, it can be extra dangerous if you’re not aware of any incoming snowstorms or blizzards.
Before you head out, check both the long and short term forecasts. If there’s anything on the radar, consider re-scheduling your trip.
You also want to pay attention to the previous weather in the specific area you’re going to. Is this area notorious for bad weather and avalanches? Take extra precautions.
3. Find the Right Winter Hiking Trails
Your route is going to be a little different in the winter compared to one you’d take in the summer.
Avoid any steep hills. Whether you’re climbing them or just getting too close to them, they aren’t safe in the winter. You could easily slip and fall.
Save the drop-offs for the warmer weather, when you can see the ground and it’s not frozen.
It’s also worth nothing that you should avoid getting too close to, or climbing over, rocks. The snow that sits on rocks is often much softer than the other snow. This is because it sits in the direct heat of the sun.
4. Use This Winter Hiking Gear List
Hiking poles should be at the top of every winter hiker’s list. They’ll help you keep your balance, especially when the ground could be slick or icy.
A flashlight, headlight, or other type of light is essential, even if you’re going out during the day. In the winter, it gets dark so early you could risk being stuck after the sun goes down.
Sunscreen and sunglasses are one of the most commonly overlooked items you should take in the winter. Sometimes, when you reach a clearing along your hike, you’re exposed in the direct sunlight.
You can absolutely get a sunburn in the winter, and when your skin is already sensitive from the wind and cold this could cause you a lot of pain. Snow is also highly reflective, which can put the sun right into your eyes and damage your vision.
You should also have a map or GPS with working batteries, a first aid kit, and something you can start a fire with, just incase.
If you’re planning on going on a longer backpacking trip, consider bringing a winter tent with you. This will help to protect you from the elements in the case of an unexpected wind or snow storm.
5. Pack The Right Food
In the winter, your body needs more nutrition when hiking because you burn more energy hiking in the snow. Not only is your body working to power your hike, but it’s also working double time to keep you warm.
If you’re not prepared for an emergency it could spell disaster for you and your group. Make sure you pack enough snacks incase you get stuck somewhere or end up being out longer than you planned.
The right hiking snacks provide you with enough energy to keep you going. Look for high protein content. Whether you’re buying some beef jerky from the grocery store or making your own trail mix, focus on the fuel.
6. Stay Hydrated
Sometimes, when we’re out in the cold, we don’t feel as thirsty and overlook our hydration.
The truth is, you’re at just as high of a risk as becoming dehydrated in the winter as you are in the summer. This is precisely because we overlook drinking water due to the cold.
But underneath all those layers, you’re still sweating and losing body fluid. It’s important to stay on top of replenishing it.
To avoid your water bottle freezing, keep it close to you in a pocket. You can also invest in an insulated water bottle for extra protection.
7. Try Snowshoeing
Snowshoeing is a versatile activity that can be tons of fun. It’s a classic, traditional way of getting around in the winter and it’s been around longer than skis.
Try using snowshoes for hiking. They’re very maneuverable and can give your winter hike more of a twist from hiking in the summer.
They’re also useful for staying safe and maintaining balance when you’re navigating through the snow.
Before you head out on your snowshoes for the first time, make sure you understand the techniques and how to use them.
Find the Perfect Winter Hiking Trails With Book Your Site
Looking for your next winter hiking destination? Choose from the thousands of parks across North America on Book Your Site.
We take all the work out of picking your next adventure, so you can focus on gearing up for your trip. Staying local or traveling over state lines is a breeze with our featured parks.
And don’t forget to search for the latest deals, coupons, and other ways to save!
Download Book Your Site today, available on your computer or your smartphone.