Cold Weather Hiking Tips
The cold weather is here. For many, this means saving hiking and camping for next season and shutting themselves indoors for months on end. However, this doesn’t really have to be the case. Hiking is just as fun in the winter, and because the scenery is so different, it might even be a bit more interesting to those who haven’t tried it.
All that said, you will definitely want to be fully prepared before jumping into hiking in cold weather. It’s important that you know what you’re doing and have all the winter hiking essentials so you can stay warm, comfortable, and safe during your chilly adventures.
Wondering what you need to know and what kinds of winter hiking gear you might need? Read on to learn our favorite cold weather hacks and what things you might want to add to your winter hike checklist.
Clothing Tips for Cold Weather Hiking
When hiking in the cold, clothing is quite possibly the most important thing to have. Of course, you will want to ensure you have the right kinds of clothing in order to stay nice and warm despite the cold weather.
Unfortunately, since most people don’t hike when the weather is chilly, they have only a vague idea of what to wear while hiking in winter. Let’s use this section to discuss cold weather hiking clothes so you know exactly what to put on before you hit the trails this cold season.
Start with a moisture wicking underlayer, add an insulating mid-layer, and top it all off with a shell layer to keep wind and moisture out. Add and remove layers throughout the day to stay comfortable, and make sure to remove and replace wet or sweaty layers.
Skip the Cotton
Cotton takes a long time to dry. Skip items made from cotton, choosing wool or synthetic materials instead.
Cover Your Face
Any exposed skin is prone to frostbite. This includes your face. Therefore, you will want to ensure your face is covered with a neck gaiter or mask.
Wear a Hat
Heat escapes through the top of your head. Keep it in by wearing a good winter hat. Choose one that will cover your ears to protect them as well.
Grab Some Gloves
Gloves are super important. Choose warm fleece gloves that can be worn with a waterproof shell. Be sure to pack extras in case of moisture.
Choose Socks and Shoes Wisely
Your usual cotton socks won’t cut it when winter hiking. Instead, choose synthetic or wool socks that fit well, but not tight. Waterproof boots that similarly fit well without being tight are also incredibly important. You might also consider insulated boots, and you will definitely want to carry an extra pair of socks.
If you’ll be trekking through snow, gaiters are a must have. These will keep snow out of your boots, ensuring your feet stay dry. Breathable waterproof gaiters are what you need.
Avoid a Tight Fit
Make sure nothing you wear fits too tightly. Snug-fitting clothing can cause poor circulation—something you always want to avoid, especially in cold weather.
How to Prepare Your Backpack for Cold Weather Hiking
What about your hiking backpack? The list below includes all of the cold weather hiking gear you’ll need to carry. Of course, you may need to add things to the list, depending on the type of hike you’re taking, but these things will get you through a basic day day long cold weather hiking trip safely:
- Sunglasses or goggles
- Lip balm
- First aid kit
- Lighter or matches
- Emergency shelter
- Emergency blanket
- Food and water
- Extra clothing
- Hand warmers
Put Batteries in a Pocket
Another tip is to pack anything with batteries in an inside pocket of your coat or jacket. Keeping batteries warm against your skin will ensure they continue to work throughout your hike. If you think your devices are becoming too cold, consider adding a hand warmer to the pocket.
Food Tips for Cold Weather Hiking
Food is always important when hiking, but is even more so when hiking in the cold. This is because winter hiking burns so many calories. A full day of hardcore winter backpacking can burn between 4,000 and 5,000 calories! Since you will need to replace the calories you burn in order to keep your energy levels up, food becomes especially important during these cold hikes.
Here are our best winter hiking food tips.
Choose High-Calorie Foods
High-calorie foods are the best option for winter hiking. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting plenty of carbs and protein, and maybe even a little sugar. Peanuts, cheese cubes, and Ritz crackers are all good examples of things to eat on the trail.
Pick Things You Like
Since you will be eating so much, it’s incredibly important that you really like the foods you choose. Otherwise, it can become difficult to force yourself to eat more, leading to a lack of energy to finish your hike
Don’t Stop for Lunch
It can be tempting to stop and rest and enjoy a mid-day meal. Unfortunately, stopping means you’ll cool off, meaning you might just be feeling horribly cold by the end of the meal. Therefore, we recommend eating on the go and packing food in such a way that makes that easy to do.
Skip the Bars
Many people like to turn to granola bars and energy bars for hiking. This is fine most of the year, but in winter, these bars freeze up as hard as rocks. For this reason, it’s best to skip them until spring arrives.
Avoid Cold Foods
You’ll also want to avoid cold foods, as they are likely to chill you, making you feel even colder.
Invest in an Insulated Bottle
If you want a hot meal while you hike, an insulated bottle can be a great investment. Fill it with hot soup or chili to enjoy later.
Pack a Stove
Of course, if you’ll be hiking for more than a single day, packing soup to enjoy later won’t cut it. In this case, we recommend packing a small stove so you can cook a dehydrated or freeze-dried meal at the end of the day.
Hydration Tips for Cold Weather Hiking
Hydration is easily as important as food, and during winter it becomes a tricky thing. Water freezes easily in many containers, and it can be hard to find running water in winter. Additionally, many people find they don’t ever actually feel thirsty when cold weather hiking, meaning they have to remember to drink even though they may not feel the urge.
Fortunately, there are ways around all of these problems.
Start hydrating before your hike ever begins. Start the morning with a couple cups of tea or cocoa, as well as a large amount of water.
Try Hot Beverages
If you’ll be hiking for more than a single day, try making yourself warm teas, soups, and cocoa in the mornings and evenings to up your water intake and keep yourself warm.
Pick Wide-Mouth Bottles
When packing water for a cold weather hike, choose wide-mouth bottles to keep the necks of the bottles from freezing.
Insulate and Store Upside-Down
Insulate your bottles using insulated water bottle sleeves and store them upside-down to ensure the lids don’t freeze shut.
Make Drinks Easily Accessible
Keep a water bottle close at hand at all times, and get into the habit of taking drinks regularly, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
Melt Snow for Water
Instead of searching for a running water source to refill bottles, melt snow by boiling it over a fire or stove, and fill your bottles with the melted snow.
Cold Weather Injuries
A big part of winter hiking safety is making sure you’re prepared for emergencies such as injuries. Frostbite and hypothermia are common problems for winter hikers to run into, and slipping is much easier on ice and snow.
Use the following tips to ensure you’re prepared for any injuries that may come your way.
Always Hike with a Partner
Never hike alone, especially in winter when things can go from good to bad so very quickly.
Start with Day Hikes
If you’re an inexperienced winter hiker, start with simple day hikes in areas you already know. Get to know what works and what doesn’t, and educate yourself before heading out onto more difficult trials and into unknown territory.
Carry Everything Mentioned Above
Pack your bag with everything mentioned above. The emergency shelter and blanket and the ability to start a fire will keep you warm in case of injury. Meanwhile the first aid kit will allow you to take care of injuries on the trail.
Learn About Hypothermia and Frostbite
Make sure you know the signs of both frostbite and hypothermia, as well as how to treat each. This is a good place to start.
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