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Lace up the boots and hit the trail with these winter season hiking tips

Stay dry, warm, and safe with these winter hiking tips

Teton National Park in winter.
Trevor Hayes / Unsplash

When the temperatures dip, the spectacular autumn foliage fades, and the trees are bare, winter is right around the corner. It doesn’t mean you need to push the hiking boots to the back of the closet, though. Winter can be a fantastic season to be outdoors and the perfect time of the year to go hiking. Of course, winter hiking is a bit different than lacing up the boots for, say, a fall or spring hike. So, pack these winter hiking essentials for a scenic adventure and discover the wonders of a cold-weather hike.

winter camping hiking snow backpack gear
Background expert / Shutterstock

Winter hiking tips

The key to a successful winter hike is preparation. Hiking supplies for a cold weather hike differ from packing for other season hikes. Dressing correctly for the changing temperatures you encounter during a winter day is vital, as is being prepared for an emergency. Before heading out on a trail in winter, be sure to keep these winter hiking tips close at hand.

Stay warm and dry

You want to be cozy when heading outdoors in the cold, but the most essential rule of winter hiking is to stay dry. Wet and cold is a dangerous combination when hiking in the winter. So, make sure your hiking boots and gear are water-resistant. You also don’t want to overdress. Remember how mom sent you out into the snow dressed like the marshmallow puff man? Avoid the temptation.

Staying dry is essential on the outside and the inside when hiking in winter. Overdressing causes sweating. Instead, dress in lighter layers, starting with a thin bottom layer. Avoid cotton as a base layer since it holds in perspiration. Choice a base layer made of a moisture-wicking material. Next up is a middle layer, which should be your warmest, like a puffy jacket. You can also break the mid-layer into two pieces with a thicker fleece and a lightweight puffy jacket. Top off your layers with a water and wind-resistant shell. This will help keep you and your layers dry in the event of rain or snow. You may not need that top layer. It’s weather-dependent, but bring it just in case.

Layer up your bottom half the same way. Start with a lighter base layer made from a moisture-wicking material. Top off with a pair of winter hiking pants. Softshell winter hiking pants are a great option because the material is breathable. Remember you want to stay dry on the inside, too. Softshell winter hiking pants offer both wind and water protection and are more comfortable than wearing ski pants.

The best thing about layers is you can remove what you don’t need depending on how the temperatures fluctuate during your hike. So, be sure to leave enough room in your pack to store your layers so they don’t get wet. Keep your extremities warm and dry with hiking socks and gloves. Gloves should be water-resistant, too, and don’t forget a hat. Winter hiking boots are insulated and waterproof to keep your feet dry.

Bring a headlamp

Days are shorter during the cold weather months. A winter hike may start or end in darkness. Be prepared with a headlamp. It may not look particularly stylish, but headlamps are practical and functional. Plus, it frees up your hands. Pack extra lithium batteries for your headlamp, too. Lithium batteries do better in the cold than alkaline ones.

Keep hydrated

Water is an essential element of any hike, regardless of the season. Hikers new to winter hiking might think they won’t get as thirsty in the cold. Prepare for your hike by upping your water intake. Then, fill up your water bottle before hitting the trail and bring extra water.

Pack snacks

Snacks are important along the trail. Since you’re hiking in cold temperatures, pack snacks that won’t freeze. Tasty and smart winter hiking snack choices are nuts, dried fruits, beef jerky, and fig newtons. If you need something warm on your hike to snack on during a break, make ramen noodles or mac and cheese and put in a thermos. Have extra snacks in your backpack in case of an emergency.

Be prepared

No one ever thinks they will get stranded overnight in the woods when they plan to go on a hike. It’s rare, but it does happen. When you’re packing for a winter hike, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. Bring along a lightweight, waterproof pop-up tent or tarp. In the event you get lost or can’t make it back to your car before the trail closes, you have a shelter that will protect you from the elements until morning or help comes along. Slip hand and toe warmers into your pack, too. If the temps drop, it’s easy to slip them into your gloves or socks along the trail.

winter camping hiking snow mountain
Ahmad Raza Qazafi / Shutterstock

Hiking during the winter season

Once you have your hiking supplies in order, it’s time to plan a winter hike. If you’re new to winter hiking, start small. Head out to a local trail on an inviting winter day. Plan on starting early in the day. You really are burning daylight with a winter hike because the days are shorter. For your first winter hike, start with a beginner trail. As your skill and comfort level with winter hikes increases, you can try more challenging and longer trails.

Shenandoah National Park in winter.
Zach Josephson / Unsplash

Winter hiking

Just because the temperatures dip and the calendar says winter doesn’t mean you need to put away the hiking boots. By packing these winter hiking tips, you can enjoy a fun and scenic hike during those cold weather months. Hiking is a wonderful workout for the body and excellent for mental health. With these winter hiking essentials, you’ll be able to enjoy it all year long.

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Dawn Miller
Dawn Miller began her professional life as an elementary school teacher before returning to her first love, writing. In…
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