9 Winter Hiking Tips

by Troy Webb

Hiking is one of the best ways to get out, exercise, and enjoy nature’s beauty. But for most people, hiking seems to be a warm weather outdoor activity. There are several reasons why some people choose not to hike in the winter months. They may feel unsafe, uncomfortable hiking in the cold weather, or just not sure what to expect. So, in this article, we are going to share nine winter hiking tips and why we feel you should not miss out on this time of year.

1. Dress for Winter Conditions:

There is one thing that will ruin any winter outdoor activity, and that is getting cold and wet. Wearing the right gear will ensure you stay warm and dry. While dressing for your winter hike, the first piece of clothing should be a breathable, wicking base layer. This most important layer of clothing will play an important role in regulating your body temperature. The wicking material, will keep the moisture (sweat) away from your skin, which is critical to staying warm and comfortable. The next layer of clothing is your mid-layer. This clothing, preferably none cotton, will insulate you from the cold. The final layer would be a coat which will protect you from wind and moisture.

Protect your skin:

Talking about dressing for winter conditions wouldn’t be complete without mentioning your head, hands, and feet. If these three parts of your body, get cold, it can be miserable and in most cases be the end of your day. Keep your feet warm by layering your socks and by wearing a pair of waterproof boots to protect them. Wear a good pair of wind and water-resistant gloves and a good hat to protect your ears and your head. For even more comfort, we recommend disposable hand and toe warmers to be used for a little extra warmth. Remember, you can never dress to warm. You can always remove layers, but unless you carry additional clothing, you cannot add them.

2. Ice Cleats / Ice Spikes:

One of the most common ways people get injured while hiking in the winter is slipping and falling on the trail. The winter trail conditions can change from one location to the next. One section of trail could be soft snow, another could be dry, another wet and muddy, and another solid ice. A pair of short ice cleats will get you through all these sections without the fear of losing your footing. These ice cleats can be purchased for under 20 dollars, and they slip over your boots.

3. Gaiters:

Although not an essential piece of gear needed to get out and enjoy a winter hike, gaiters fit around your legs and cover the tops of your boots. They are waterproof, so they keep your legs dry and prevent snow and water from getting inside your boots.

4. Trekking Poles:

Trekking poles are not an absolute must for winter hiking, but they can reduce the strain on your knees, especially on those downhill descents. Trekking poles may also give you more stability on those tricky deep snow, frozen, or muddy sections of the trail. 

5. Plan your hike:

When you plan to go on a winter hike, make sure to plan your day and give yourself enough time to get out and enjoy the hike during daylight hours. Remember, that due to possible snow and winter trail conditions, your hike may take a little longer than hiking the same trail during the summer months.

6. Choose a low elevation hiking trail:

Most high elevation trails, depending on where you live, will have deep snow and require snowshoes. For example, here in Utah, the Wasatch Mountains can receive up to 500 inches of snow in the higher elevations, during the winter months. The lower elevations also get snow; however, this snow will melt, making the trails more accessible in the winter. Here in the Salt Lake Valley, there are miles of lower elevation trails in the foothills that are perfect for hiking in the winter months. Picking a lower elevation trail will allow access, plus you will be in less extreme conditions than hiking in the higher elevations.

7. Carry food/ water/ safety gear:

Not matter what time of year you hike, you should always carry water, food, map, compass, light or head lamp, first aid kit, knife/multi tool, fire starting material, sun protection, and in the case of winter hiking additional clothing. These essential tools will help you be more prepared on the trail should the weather change, or if something should happen.

8. Choose a nice day:

All because you choose to hike in the winter doesn’t mean you hike during a blizzard or a freezing cold windy day. There are plenty of winter blue bird days, that are prefect days to spend on the trail.

9. Share your plans:

Before you head out on your hike, make sure you tell a loved one, or a friend about where you are going, and provide them with an idea of when to expect you back. This way, if you are overdue from your hike, you know that someone knows where you are, and can send help if needed.

Why hike in the winter?

Getting out in the mountains in the winter allows you to experience and entirely different landscape. You will discover that everything is quiet, because of fewer crowds, few birds chirping, and it is proven that snow acts as a sound absorber. So, if you are searching for some solitude, fresh air, exercise, and a way to energize, give winter hiking a try, using the tips above.

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