5 Crucial Winter Hiking Tips That You Should Know

Rilor Staff
Update: November 9, 2021
Table of Contents

Summer hiking is a blast, but winter hiking can be just as rewarding, and sometimes even more so! Come out and enjoy the snow-covered vistas, fresh air, and a new, invigorating challenge. Winter hiking provides a unique opportunity to experience the best that Mother Nature can offer. 

But of course, there are things that you need to do to ensure that your winter hike is safe and comfortable. You can't underestimate the outdoors when the temperatures are low and the surroundings are white and icy. 

In a nutshell, having adequate preparation and knowledge for winter hikes is essential for those who want to try it. 

Essential Winter Hiking Tips

The average hiker can easily deal with spring, summer, and fall. However, that doesn't mean winter is a walk in the park. In fact, the winter months are the most treacherous to hike when you're in a remote area. The risk of avalanches is higher in the winter, and when you're in an area that doesn't have many other people, you're more likely to get lost.

Furthermore, it is possible that you'll encounter inconveniences while you are in the frigid and frozen regions. 

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to mitigate these problems that you can meet on a winter hike. Just do the following tips, and you'll be able to overcome the odds. 

Hike Early

One of the things that you need to learn is that time is the essence when it comes to winter hiking. Why? Because daylight is shorter in winter than in any season of the year. 

If you start late, the night will catch up to you. And that is a problem since the temperature by that time is lower. Furthermore, visibility is extremely poor during winter. You wouldn't want to be on the trail in that condition. 

Another reason why you need to hike early is that you would want the sun to be on your side. The warmth of the sun can aid in regulating your body temperature. You will be able to handle the cold weather as long as the sun radiates heat. 

If those reasons aren't enough, then hiking early will help you avoid traffic on and off the trail. Of course, it is not only you who are thinking about hiking in the winter. The fewer people you encounter on and off the trail, the more convenient your trek will become.

Also, don’t forget that people tend to hike slower during the winter, given that they have to deal with additional obstacles, such as thick layers of ice. Hence, you should schedule and time your trip appropriately.

Be Fully Nourished

Winter hiking may appear all fun and games, until such time you realize that it is quite exhausting. 

Again, you have to remember that there are more obstructions and obstacles in a winter hike than when hiking in any season. Needless to say, the low temperatures will add to the struggle that your body would feel in this expedition. 

Being sufficiently nourished before and during the trip is essential if you want to arrive at your destination safely. Packed high-calorie food as your body tends to burn more calories when it is experiencing a drop in temperature. 

The more calories your body has, the more warmth it can generate. As a winter hiker, that should benefit you. 

The best foods here are those that have high protein and carb content. They provide more energy to your body. Also, you should prefer those edibles that require no preparations. Moreover, you should settle with those that you can eat while hiking. 

Don't stop while hiking in cold weather. Otherwise, your body will have difficulties warming again. 

Remain Hydrated All The Time

The outdoor enthusiast in you may have noticed that you start to feel a little dehydrated in the winter, even when you’re not hiking. Even if you drink a ton of water when you’re hiking, you may still feel lightheaded and dizzy when you get to camp. This is because the body loses a lot of water when you’re in a cold environment. It is a good idea to drink water before you go hiking, and then drink a small amount of water while you're out in the elements.

If possible, you should also pack a thermos containing your favorite hot beverages--may it be hot soup or coffee. They not only add replenishment to your body; they also ensure that you can feel coziness and warmth on and off the trail. 

Of course, I have to remind you that you shouldn't bring alcoholic drinks to a winter hike (or any hike). Alcohol can cause you to lose your bodily fluids quickly. You wouldn't want this to happen during a rigorous arctic or snowfield hike.

Pick An Uphill Trail

I know this one sounds crazy (and exhausting). However, there's wisdom behind this piece of advice. 

You see, an uphill route will make your heart pump more than in a plateau. The more your heart palpitates, the more blood it produces, which, in turn, optimizes blood circulation and body temperature regulation. 

Of course, that only means that your body becomes cozy and toasty even if you are surrounded by snow. If you aren't quick to sweat, then you should wear multiple clothing layers. They promote better thermal efficiency. 

I also suggest that your clothes should have moisture-wicking properties, especially the base layer. Furthermore, you need to pack a set of dry clothes so that you can replace the ones drenched with your sweat. Doing this would prevent chills and hypothermia.

Wear The Proper Clothing

When hiking in the cold, one of the most important things to know about is your clothing. There are so many things to consider, but in the end, you just need to ensure to cover your body in the best way possible. You don't want the cold to catch you!

Upper Body Layers

It is crucial that your body be clad with three layers of clothing if you plan to hike this winter. These layers are the following:

  • Base layer - Sitting next to your skin, the base layer is responsible for wicking the moisture and perspiration from your skin. Hence, it should be made from water-resistant fabrics such as polyester and nylon. Don't go for cotton. 
  • Insulating layer - As its name suggests, an insulating layer is the one that traps the heat generated by your body. Hoodies are excellent insulating layers. I suggest that you go for those that contain synthetic insulation rather than down fill. The latter loses its insulation once it gets wet. 
  • Shell - The exterior layer of your tops should be a shell that can resist various elements, such as water, snow, and wind. Furthermore, you would benefit from shells that provide added insulation. 

Bottom Layers

You have extra versatility when it comes to your bottom layers. If the temperature is really cold, you would need to wear a base layer stacked by a waterproof layer. In some cases, you are allowed to gear up with a pair of ski pants, as they are extremely comfortable and thermally efficient. During early winter, you are allowed to wear a pair of fleece pants or leggings. 

Winter Gloves

Anyone who has winter-hiked knows the importance of wearing gloves. One concern is the fact that you need to keep your hands warm while being exposed to the cold elements. If you do not bring the right gloves, your hands will experience excruciating coldness and pain. In the worst-case scenario, they may even get frostbitten.

Hiking Hats

Your head is also susceptible to losing a lot of heat while hiking in cold weather conditions. If you don't want this thing to happen, you need your head to be covered by a reliable hiking hat. The latter can mitigate heat loss and maintain the heat on your head. 

Winter Hiking Footwear

  • Boots - Winter hiking boots are among the most important pieces of equipment, and they need to be chosen carefully. Here, you will need the boots to display exceptional traction so that you won't slip on slippery surfaces. Boots that have insulation can prevent your feet from getting chilly and frozen. Of course, pairing them with thermal socks could improve the warmth that your lower extremities would feel. 
  • Gaiters - Gaiters can ensure that your boots won't be breached by snow. Hence, it is essential that you wear a pair, especially if you are treading on terrains where the snow is pretty ubiquitous. 
  • Ice-specific footwear - Crampons, microspikes, and snowshoes will help you pass through slippery terrains. You may not need to wear them if you think that there is no ice in your trail. But if there are, you should wear them. They can provide better ground traction than any hiking boots.
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