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January 18, 2024 6 minute READ

Winter Hiking

tags Adventure | Inspiration
locations All
Winter is a wonderful time to hike!

Now that winter has set in it’s time to put the hiking boots in the back of the closet, lock away your daypack, put your feet up, and wait for spring. Right? Not necessarily. 

Hiking in winter can be an exhilarating experience in its own right, with rewards that aren’t always available during the warmer months. For instance, you may happen upon long-range views that you will never see in the leafy spring and summer months. And chances are you will also realize a significant decrease in trail traffic. Also, if you are trying to burn off those holiday pounds and get in shape for summer, what’s more enjoyable than getting those steps in on your favorite trail?

While winter hiking is rewarding, there are a few things to consider before setting out, selecting the right gear and choosing an appropriate trail is chief among them.

Winter Gear

Mountains to Sea Trail in the WinterAs for any hike, good boots or hiking shoes are essential. In winter you may want to go with full-leather, waterproof boots such as KEEN’s Pyrenees for men and Kaci II for women paired with warm socks. Wool socks will not only help keep your feet warm but wick moisture away from your skin as well. Moisture on the skin is the primary culprit in feeling cold. 

For the rest of your body, layering is the key to comfort. Successful layering will allow you to regulate your temperature in a variety of conditions, several of which may occur on the same hike. Much has been written about the benefits of layering, including by us. For more check out our blog post from January 2018. The gist of it is that you can add and remove layers of clothing to match the conditions throughout the day. And the main thing to remember is, cotton is not the best choice when assembling your outdoor wardrobe. Look for technical fabrics that draw moisture away from your skin or choose merino wool for comfort naturally.  

Don’t forget the sunglasses and sunscreen. We don’t think about the need to mitigate the effects of the sun during the winter, but your eyes and skin can still be harmed by UVA and UVB rays. The dry air also warrants a good lip balm for outdoor adventures and time inside. 

Many of us love to hike with our canine companions. Many dogs relish the winter outings but it’s important to remember that they also can be affected by winter conditions. Dog booties or warm fleece jackets will help keep the chill off. In the absence of booties, snow and ice can pack into their paws. You may need to occasionally clear the area of built-up snow and ice. Watch for signs like lifting the paws while standing still and chewing at the paws.

Trail Safety & Etiquette

Cross country skiing first tracksWhile it’s important to plan and prepare for any outing, hiking in winter conditions requires a little more attention to safety. You will need to allow for slower going and shorter days when selecting a trail. Don’t bite off more than you can chew in mileage or available daylight hours. It may be best to choose a hike that is familiar to you. You may even gain an entirely new perspective on an old favorite.

Items such as Yaktrax traction devices and trekking poles will help you stay upright in snowy and icy conditions. While all the gear that you carry on a day hike is left up to personal choice, it wouldn’t hurt to carry fire-making tools and an emergency blanket along with your first aid kit and other essentials. 

There is typically less foot traffic encountered while winter hiking, but you may see something in winter that you never will in the summer, two parallel tracks through the snow created by cross-country skiers known as “set track” or "first tracks." On behalf of cross-country skiers everywhere, please make every effort not to disturb the tracks by walking on them or allowing a pet to do so. These tracks are carefully constructed, and cross-country skiers only have a few opportunities each year to ply their craft. It would be kinder in general to avoid the greenways and paths typically used for cross-country skiing.

Also, it’s safer to hike in groups, but if you are going alone, you should always let someone know where you are hiking. That is especially important when heading out into winter conditions.

Hydration and Food

JD and Sadie on the trailEven if it is cold and overcast you will need to hydrate and take in extra calories. Hiking in the cold can burn up to 25 percent more calories than the same activity done in summer temperatures (which makes it a great way to burn extra calories, if that’s your goal). 

While hiking in temperatures above freezing a day pack equipped with a hydration bladder, such as the Gregory Citro 30 is perfect for carrying those extra layers as well as three liters of water.

When the temps dip well below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, you may want to opt for something like the Hydro Flask Lightweight 40 Ounce Wide Mouth Trail Series Water Bottle, featuring TempShield® insulation, which keeps beverages cold up to 24 hours and hot up to 12 hours. That’s more than enough time to allow your water to remain unfrozen during a typical day hike.  

Be sure to pack a few snacks for the trail. You may get hungry while you’re out on your expedition, or if an emergency happens, you may be out longer than you had planned for and will need a little more fuel. Jerky is a great option – it’s lightweight, tasty, and full of protein; sesame sticks, cheese, and fresh fruits are also good choices to take along. If you want to add a little more planning to your hike, consider taking soup, stew, hot chocolate, or coffee for a winter picnic at the top. Hydro Flask makes jars and containers to help make that possible. If hiking with your dog, remember to also bring extra water and snacks for them. They will be burning extra calories as well.

So, winter hiking offers a unique and rewarding experience for those willing to face the elements. With the right gear and knowledge, winter hiking will connect you with nature in a way unobtainable in any other season. So, gear up, dress warm, and we’ll see you on the trail.

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