Winter Hiking allows you to observe nature in a completely different way as opposed to hiking in the spring, summer, or fall months. The leafless trees, snow-covered trails, and increased quiet and tranquility help create a unique wonderland for you to explore. With cold temperatures and snow-covered trails, you need to prepare for a winter hike differently.
Before heading out to explore the woods, you need to contact a friend or family member to let them know what you're doing and where you're going. Provide the exact location of your hike, how long you expect to be out there, and an emergency number to call if you fail to return on time. Make sure to contact this person after your hike to let them know that you're safe.
Here are five other things you must have for winter hiking:
Layered Clothing and Accessories
Even though your first instinct is to stay warm when hiking outdoors, you also want to remain dry during a hike. If you
wear the wrong clothing, you will sweat while walking, which can cause your body to become wet and cold very quickly.
Avoid wearing cotton fabrics (even your underwear; choose synthetic or silk undergarments) as cotton absorbs water causing the material to stick to your body.
To avoid sweating, layer your clothing:
●Inner layer – Wear a long-sleeve wicking shirt made from synthetic, wool, or silk materials to help keep your body stay cool and dry.
●Middle layer – Select an insulated fleece or down jacket or vest that you can easily remove when hiking. During your hike, you may have to remove this layer and put it back on several times to prevent overheating.
●Waterproof shell - Choose a synthetic waterproof rain jacket as a shell. Don't wear a heavy winter jacket - this will cause you to become overheated very quickly during your hike.
Wear long synthetic or wool long pants to keep your legs warm and dry.
When hiking in winter, you may have to break trail, walk up and down angled terrain, cross over frozen water, balance on rocks, and walk for long periods. As a result, your body will grow warm from all the physical exercise.
In addition to layering your clothing, you should bring with you the following cold-weather accessories:
●Synthetic or wool hat
●Insulated gloves/liner gloves/waterproof glove shells – bring an extra pair of insulated gloves in case water saturates your gloves.
●Neck gaiter – wear a neck gaiter to keep your neck warm and dry. You can also pull a neck gaiter over your nose to protect your face from wind, rain, and snow.
●High gaiter – pull these gaiters over your boots to help keep out water.
●Balaclava – a fabric face mask, you can pull the balaclava over your entire face (it has eye and nose holes) to protect you from wind, rain, and snow.
●Synthetic/wool socks – bring one or two extra pairs of socks to change into if your socks become too sweaty or if your feet become exposed to water.
●Sunglasses/sun goggles – protect your eyes from wind, snow, rain, and sunlight.
Winter Boots for Hiking
Invest in a pair of good winter boots for hiking to keep your feet dry and warm. More than just a regular hiking boot, these hiking boots are made especially for trekking through snow, ice, rain, and other winter weather conditions. If you plan to be active in winter by hiking often, you should purchase a pair of cold weather hiking boots.
When looking for a boot, consider these features:
●Fit – A good pair of hiking boots should fit well, not be too snug or too loose. If possible, try on boots with the socks you plan to wear on your hike to make sure the boot fits correctly. Also, select a boot with a high cut to help keep your ankle safe when climbing hills and rocks. Lastly, make sure your hiking boots attach easily to your snowshoes and crampons.
●Insulation – Select a hiking boot with 400 to 800 grams of double-layer insulation. Many hiking boots feature inner liners that you can remove if the liners become wet. Look for insulation materials such as Thinsulate, Zylex, wool, and polypropylene. These materials help keep your feet warm without the added bulk.
●Breathability – Not all insulated boots provide adequate breathability. To prevent your feet from sweating, select a boot made from breathable, waterproof materials such as Gore-Tex, nylon, or split-grain leather. Select a boot with rubber lowers (heel and bottom) and waterproof uppers (part of the boot that protects your ankles) for the best breathability.
If you don't want to invest in expensive winter boots, and you're going on a short winter hike, purchase a spray coating to create a waterproof barrier for your regular hiking boots. Spray your hiking boots and wait 24 hours before wearing them. While not as effective in keeping water out as breathable, insulated winter boots, waterproof spray coatings allow you to walk through a light snowfall without issue.
Survival Gear: Winter Prep
Preparing for unexpected issues such as an injury, frostbite, or losing your way in the woods is necessary when embarking on a long winter hike. Test all of the items you plan to add to your survival pack before going on a hike to ensure these items work as they should. After every winter outdoor adventure, replenish the items in your survival pack so you never run low on them.
Create an emergency pack that includes:
●First aid kit/personal medications – You can purchase first aid kits that include a wide variety of bandages, medicines, and other items you might need to use in the event of an emergency. Add a pain reliever such as aspirin to your first aid kit as you may get a headache or experience sore muscles while on your hike.
●Lighter/matches/firestarter – Learn how to build a fire beforehand so you can easily and quickly start one.
●Compass – Learn how to use a compass properly before you venture outside.
●Cell phone/personal identification/insurance card – bring a little cash and a credit card with you as well.
●Chemical hand/toe warmers – Use these items for emergencies or to stay warm during your hike.
●Contractor grade garbage bags – these multi-use bags can serve as a makeshift tent, water-resistant clothing shell, or you can use these bags to help keep your gear from becoming wet
During a summer or fall hike, you probably don't bring much emergency gear with you. When on a winter outdoors hike, you need to be prepared for all sorts of emergencies because:
●Snow-covered terrain creates additional dangers – You could twist an ankle, break a bone, experience a head injury, cut yourself, or slip and fall.
●Fewer hikers in the area mean fewer people will be available to help you and your hiking companions if there's an emergency.
●It gets much colder at nighttime during the winter than it does during the rest of the year.
●It is more difficult to find shelter during a snowstorm or rain event than it is during the summer or autumn months.
Don't go hiking in winter without a winter prep survival pack. Purchase a waterproof backpack that can hold your gear securely without causing heaviness or bulk. Use this pack to carry extra food and drinking supplies with you as well.
Each hiking companion should carry their own survival pack in case anyone becomes separated from the group. If you're staying overnight, make sure you pack an insulated sleeping bag and sleeping mat, personal tent, and gas stove for cooking.
Regardless of the type of winter hike you plan, when active in winter, you will probably need snowshoes to trek over the snow. Select a pair of snowshoes to suit the snow conditions you plan to hike in:
●Flat terrain - provides basic traction and has a basic binding system for trekking over mostly flat areas.
●Rolling terrain – provides a medium level of traction with an easy binding system that's usually adjustable. Use these snowshoes for hiking over hills and slopes.
●Mountain terrain – provides advanced traction for walking over heavy snow and ice. These snowshoes have a binding system to handle large, heavy hiking boots.
You will need to calculate your weight along with the added weight of clothing and survival gear, as snowshoe sizing is based on your total weight during a hike. If hiking over compact or icy snow, select a smaller snowshoe to provide yourself with more control when crossing the snow. To walk through the powdery snow, choose a bigger shoe, so you don't sink into the snow.
Other winter prep hiking accessories you might need during your hike include:
●Microspikes/crampons – Attach these spikes to your boots for climbing slick or rough terrain. Make sure that microspikes and crampons can be attached to your boot before your hike.
●Probe – A thin stick that allows you to determine the depth of snowdrifts
Food for Hiking/Camping
Even for day hiking in winter, you should pack some food to stay energized. Having food and water available makes dealing with an emergency a little more manageable.
Food to bring along with you on your hike includes:
●High protein energy bars
●Fruit – bananas, oranges, apples, etc.
When camping overnight, bring food that you can cook on a gas stove. Hearty foods like chili, stews, and soups provide a nourishing meal with very little preparation.
Besides bringing food for a day hike or overnight camping trip, you should also pack extra food in your winter outdoors survival gear in case of an emergency. For example, pack freeze-dried or dehydrated food that you can easily add water to and then eat. You can also bring canned foods and other non-perishable food that you can quickly open and eat.
Now that you know what to bring with you for your next winter hike, it's time to get out there and be active in winter! Be sure that you always bring the necessary clothing, footwear, survival gear, hiking accessories, and food with you in case of an emergency.
If you want to hike in a new area, hire a guide or go on a hike during the warmer months, so you get a better idea of the terrain and the surroundings. Always make your safety the number one priority when hiking so you can have an enjoyable experience exploring the beauty and majesty of nature every time you venture outdoors.