Keep hiking in the winter with these 10 tips
If winter hiking has never been a priority on your hiking list, it should be. Hiking in the winter is like stepping into a winter wonderland fairytale, with snow-capped trees, fresh powder, and if you happen to be lucky, a bit of snowfall to make it a magical experience. If you're new to hiking in the snow, here are 10 tips to help you be prepared, stay safe and enjoy the snow even more!
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Tips for Winter Hiking
1. Worse-Case Scenario
Now I don't want to scare you off the bat but winter hiking can turn from a magical experience to a life-and-death instance in a minute. Every time you go out, always prepare for the worst-case scenario, which is having to stay overnight. Always carry extra layers and food (even if it's just protein/energy bars), a headlamp/flashlight, a sleeping bag or emergency bivvy and a fire starter (lighter/matches), and something to keep the fire going (8 hr tealight candles, vaseline coated cotton balls).
Bring enough layers that will keep you warm during the hike and if you have to stay overnight (down jacket, baselayer leggings, and top, fleece layer). With winter hiking, you want to start off cold. How cold? If you think you should add another layer when you're starting, that's what you should start as. You do not want to overdress at the beginning as you will warm up fast. You want to stay DRY when winter hiking. ALWAYS remove a layer when you get warm to prevent sweating as sweating can lower your body temperature. If your clothes are wet, replace them with dry ones or you will be cold for the entire hike.
DO NOT WEAR COTTON. It will not keep you warm and takes a long time to dry if it gets wet. Stick to synthetic (polyester) or natural (wool) materials as they dry faster, wick away moisture, and are good at insulating.
Always carry spikes with you regardless of the elevation. Well-used trails tend to be worn and icy and wearing spikes can be the difference between a safe hike and a dangerous fall.
4. Proper Clothing
What you wear will determine how well a hike goes. Winter has snow that can melt which can make you wet. Waterproof/resistant clothing is a must for winter hiking, especially your footwear. You want everything to stay dry, especially your feet. I highly recommend bringing a waterproof jacket, pants, gloves, and gaiters and pulling them out when you need them. Waterproof gear also makes for windproof gear that will help protect you against that icy wind.
5. Mess-free, easy-to-eat food
Stopping for long breaks will make you cold. You need food items you can quickly eat in a couple of minutes or eat as you go and possibly with your gloves on. Wraps/sandwiches, nuts, protein/energy bars or gels, presliced fruit/veggies, etc are some of my go-to's.
6. Downloadable Map
Trails become a lot harder in the winter to navigate, especially when it's new snow that covers the trail completely. Even though there are trail markers along the way, always have a downloaded map of the trail on your phone or a physical map. The amount of times I've had to pull that out and look at it is more than I would like to admit.
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7. Battery Pack
The cold will eat the battery on your phone like it's going out of style. You can go from a fully charged battery to 0% in an hour. Try to keep your phone warm and ALWAYS carry a fully charged battery pack.
8. Waterproof Containers
Keep your extra important things in waterproof containers/bags to prevent them from getting wet. I always carry a waterproof case for my phone/battery back and my extra layers/sleeping bag goes into a waterproof compression bag.
9. Your Safety
This is a mistake I see a lot of people make, relying on others to bring the appropriate hiking items to keep them safe. Your safety is your responsibility. You should always be carrying the 10 essentials, you should always be carrying extra layers, you should always be carrying extra food and you should always be carrying anything you would need to survive the night when hiking in the winter.
10. Protect Your Skin
Winter is harsh on your skin, especially your face. Sunscreen and hydration are important. Always apply a good moisturizer on your face before your leave, along with sunscreen. During the hike, reapply the sunscreen as needed to your face and also your lips. I always carry lotion and a hydration lip balm to prevent my face and lips from getting dry and cracking.
Hiking in the winter is one of my favorite things to do so before you decide to hang up those boots for the season, follow these 10 tips to enjoy hiking all year round.