Top 10 Winter Hiking Tips
Summer is the most popular time to hike, and for good reason. Kids are out of school, the scenery is beautiful, and the weather is warm. However, winter can also be an amazing time to do some hiking, as long as you follow these important winter hiking tips.
1. Check the Weather Forecast
This first tip seems like a no-brainer, but it’s very important to know exactly what the weather forecast is for the day of your hike. In addition to knowing the temperature, you also want to have an idea of the forecast for the wind speed and precipitation.
Plus, don’t forget that winter weather can change quickly. Don’t check the forecast a week before your hike and never check it again. Keep checking it until it’s time to leave for your hike.
If the conditions look iffy, postpone your hike. The hiking trail will still be there on a day with better weather.
Related: 50 Best Fall Hikes in the U.S. With Spectacular Views
2. Start Early
It’s important to remember that the sun sets earlier in the winter, so you’re not working with as much daylight as you have in the summer. That means you’ll want to start your hike early in the morning to take advantage of as much daytime as possible.
Also, keep in mind that you’ll want allow yourself plenty of time to complete your hike. While you might have no problem doing a 10-mile hike in the summer, deep snow or ice can seriously slow down your speed and cause your hike to last a lot longer than usual.
Related: Best Hiking Trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
3. Stay in the Sun
When you’re hiking in the summer heat, your goal is to stay in the shade as much as possible to keep cool. In the winter, you have the opposite goal. You want to stay in the sun as much as possible to stay warm.
Not only will staying in the sun keep you warm, but it can also help you avoid slipping and falling on dangerous icy spots that might be hiding in the shade.
4. Bring a Warm Drink
When you’re hiking in the winter, it’s imperative you stay warm. One great way to do this is by bringing along a warm drink in a big thermos. You can bring coffee, tea, hot cocoa, cider, or soup broth.
When you’re on the trail, you can stop every so often to take quick sips of your drink and warm up from the inside. Just make sure whatever you bring doesn’t contain alcohol, since alcohol can actually lower your body temperature.
Related: Best Winter Hiking Pants for Women
5. Stay Hydrated
It’s very easy to forget to drink water when you’re hiking in the winter. However, just because you don’t feel like you’re sweating as much, that doesn’t mean you can take it easy sipping on the water.
If you’re worried that your water might freeze when you’re on the trail, you can use this insulated sleeve to keep your bottles protected or this insulated CamelBak reservoir and this insulated CamelBak tube.
Since you’ll likely want to pack some extra wool socks in your backpack in case your feet get wet, you can also use them to wrap around your water bottles for some extra protection.
Related: The Best Water Filters for Hiking
6. Pack Easy-to-Eat Food
When you’re hiking in the winter, you’re actually burning more calories than when you hike in warmer weather. That’s because your body is burning calories when you walk AND to keep you warm. That means you’ll want to snack more often on winter hikes than you usually do.
However, you want to make sure your snacks are quick and easy to eat. Each time you have to stop to eat, your muscles will cool down, and it will be that much harder to get going again. If you can snack and walk at the same time, you’ll stay warm and keep up your energy.
In addition to the usual trail mix, here are some delicious, high-protein snacks that are easy to eat and give you energy:
7. Wear Layers
One of the most important winter hiking tips to remember is to dress like an onion. In other words, you need to wear layers. Hiking in cold weather is tricky for a number of reasons.
Related: The Best Leggings for Hikers
First, the temperature at the bottom of a trail can vary significantly from the temperature at the summit of a mountain. Also, as you’re hiking, you’re going to warm up and start sweating. But that sweat can leave you feeling wet and cold.
When you wear layers, you can easily remove or add clothing as necessary to make sure you always feel comfortable.
Related: The Best Winter Hiking Pants for Women
For your base layer, choose moisture-wicking long underwear for women or moisture-wicking long underwear for men. This will pull sweat away from your body.
For your next layer, consider a lightweight workout shirt and waterproof hiking pants. For your final layer, choose a waterproof snow jacket.
Related: The Best Winter Hiking Pants for Men
Don’t forget to get some midweight wool socks for your feet, lightweight waterproof gloves for your hands, and a winter beanie to keep your head warm.
Related: The Best Hiking Socks for Winter Hikes
8. Choose the Right Footwear
Once you have your clothes situated, it’s time to take a look at your hiking boots. If your regular hiking boots are waterproof, they should be able to stand up to the snow and ice. However, if they’re not, you’ll definitely need to invest in a pair of good waterproof hiking boots.
Related: Must-Know Tips for Hiking in the Rain
If you know you’ll be doing a lot of hiking in the winter, you might want to consider investing in a pair of winter hiking boots. These XPETI Thermator hiking boots are a great option for women, and these Merrell Moab Polar hiking boots work well for men.
Do you need more help choosing the right pair of hiking boots? Then be sure to check out this guide on the best hiking boots for women and this guide on the top hiking boots for men.
Plus, since winter hiking means tackling snow and ice, you should wear traction cleats over your hiking boots to provide extra grip and keep you safe on the trail.
Related: How to Quickly Break in Hiking Boots
9. Pack Winter Safety Gear
There are certain survival essentials you should pack no matter what season you’re hiking in. However, since you’ll be doing winter hiking, there are a few additional pieces of safety gear you should include in your backpack.
- Extra Batteries– Cold weather tends to deplete battery life faster, so make sure you bring extra batteries or charging packs to keep your devices functioning properly.
- Hand Warmers– Not only can you stick these hand warmers in your gloves to keep your fingers nice and toasty, but you can also put them in hiking boots to warm your toes.
- Knee-High Snow Gaiters– If you think the trail you’ll be traversing will have some ungroomed sections, a pair of knee-high snow gaiters will help prevent snow from getting inside your boots.
- Extra Socks– Once again, I can’t stress the importance of packing some extra socks. Nothing will ruin your winter hike faster than cold, wet feet. Since socks are small and lightweight, consider tossing in one or two extra pair so you know your feet will always stay dry.
10. Watch the Trail Carefully
One of the final important winter hiking tips to remember is that snow changes the way trails look.
It can hide trail markings, completely cover the trail, and even conceal obstacles like rocks, logs, and drop-offs. That’s why it’s always important to carry a trail map and know how to use it.
Also, keep in mind that you might be the first person to use a trail after it snows. This means you’ll have to break the trail, or be the first one to create a path.
Not only is it tiring to hike through deep snow, but it will also slow you down. If you’re hiking in a group, take turns being the person in front so one person isn’t expending all their energy breaking the trail.
Related: The Best Trekking Poles for Winter
Important Winter Hiking Tips
Snow on the ground doesn’t have to mean your hiking season is done. Instead, winter provides a unique opportunity to explore a different and more serene side of nature. Thanks to these crucial winter hiking tips, you can stay safe and warm when you’re hiking in winter.
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