Getting outside and into nature is a great way to stimulate your body and relax your mind. Plenty of studies have shown that even a stroll through the woods can benefit your mental and physical health, so it's definitely worth taking a walk on the woodsy side every once in a while. Whether you're new to hiking or a seasoned pro, you might feel hesitant to go outside when the temperatures start to drop. Still, hikes in the fall and winter can be invigorating in so many ways.
The cooler air can actually make hiking even more exciting and enjoyable than a sweaty summer trip, which can leave you exhausted at the end of the day. And while we don't recommend hiking in sub-zero degree weather, it certainly helps to come prepared for a cold-weather hike. Check out what you should wear on a cold-weather hike, and start planning for an adventurous fall and winter.
Layering is the name of the game here. Depending on the pace you're going, or the incline of the hike, you'll probably end up getting a bit warmer halfway through. The best way to ensure you stay cozy all the way through is to wear a few different layers that you can swap out if the sun starts to shine or you're trekking at a faster clip than usual.
Your base or bottom layer should be thin enough that you can comfortably fit another layer or two over it, so stick with finely spun and sweat-wicking materials like wool or synthetic blends that dry quickly. This goes for both tops and bottoms. Women's thermals work great under your sweaters and pants because they're thin, moisture-wicking, and often designed specifically to keep you warm.
The next layer you choose is for added insulation. This can be something like a fleece jacket that zips, so you have full control over your ventilation. A pullover works great, too, but if you're wearing a scarf, hat, or even glasses, remember to be careful if you end up pulling it off mid-way through your hike. Whichever middle layer you choose, find one that can easily tie around your waist, or look for a sweater that's light enough that you can roll it up into your hiking bag.
If the weather is cold but not freezing, you may only need your thermal leggings, but if you think you'll need heavier protection from the cool air, most pants will slide on easily. Veer away from denim, especially skinny jeans, as they won't provide you as much movement as other materials.
Your outer layer or shell should be windproof and water-resistant to help keep any biting winds or moisture from getting through to you. When you're on a hike, the last thing you want is to be carrying around a heavy bag, so bring along a lightweight packable jacket that you can shed if you start to feel warmer than anticipated.
Alternatively, you can take off your middle layer and just keep on your base and shell. The whole reasoning behind layering your cold-weather hiking attire is to allow you the freedom to mix and match according to your comfort and chill-factor.
You'll want to be sure that your hands and feet are specially protected so that you're able to move comfortably through your hike. If your toes are numb, you may be more prone to slip or trip — or you might just find that you're getting pretty cranky. Be sure to pick up a pair of wool-blend socks, and invest in a great pair of insulated hiking shoes or winter snow boots, as long as they have good treads for traction.
Most of your body will be moving the entire hike, but your hands might start to get cold from minimal activity. Blowing hot air on them works at the moment, but adds moisture onto your skin which will just get colder as you go. If your fingers start to get tingly or numb, it'll make everything more difficult, including opening up your snack containers. Bring along a pair of unisex gloves even if you only wear them for parts of your hike.
Wearing accessories like hats and scarves on your hike bring fashion into the forest. Even in the fall, you'll generally want to bring a cute slouchy beanie, since a lot of body heat escapes from the top of our heads. Most winter accessories work just as well for chilly fall activities, but you may warm up faster on an autumnal walk than you would in winter.
Bringing a backpack along for the hike is essential. It's where you'll keep your snacks and water, but it's also the perfect place to safely store the clothing items you're not currently using.
Generally, a fall hike will require different protective layers than in the winter months. Keep these tips in mind for ways to stay warm, and adjust the weight of each layer depending on the forecast. Remember that even if it's going to be a sunny day, if you're in the woods you may not get as much external warmth as you're anticipating. Always come prepared with an extra layer in the car in case you feel a chill when you get to the trailhead.