A little cold and snow shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the great outdoors. In fact, winter can be one of the best times to get out and explore all that nature has in store. Frozen lakes, snow-capped mountains, and gorgeous winter woods are out there for the taking. At the same time, it’s important to take planning seriously when it comes to winter hikes. Knowing where you’re going, what your energy level and experience are, what you should wear, and how to pack properly are essential for the ultimate safety and enjoyment of an adventure in the colder months. However, with a little research, you’ll be all set for your fun and brisk winter hike. Here are the essential steps for planning a winter hiking adventure.
Figuring out the prime spot for your hike is the first step in creating the perfect winter hiking experience. Perhaps you’ve planned an entire trip around the hike, hopping in the car and making your way to an overnight lodging where you can go on multiple hikes in a week or weekend. There are also plenty of day trip options for many people, even those living in large cities. Some cities even have larger, wilder parks that allow winter hikes without getting in the car. Either way, it’s crucial to pick a location early to allow for proper transport time, including the time it takes to find parking. While driving conditions can be a little more dangerous in the winter, on the bright side, parking near the trailhead is usually easier to find.
There’s a fine line between a hike and a stroll, and we certainly wouldn’t fault you for choosing the latter when it’s cold outside. There is a case to be made, however, for opting for a hike with at least a small amount of uphill or rigorous sections in colder temperatures. We like to choose an easy to moderate hike in the winter because some incline helps to raise our body temperature a bit, helping to mitigate the effects of the cold weather. If you’re hiking in the snow, however, be sure to wear the right shoes and gear to be able to hike safely. We recommend starting slow if it’s your first winter hike, and it’s always good to have someone relatively experienced along with you, especially if it’s a more difficult hike.
This is one of the most important parts of preparing for a winter hike, as the wrong outfit choice can really make or break your outing. We have a few items that have become our go-tos for cold-weather hikes that make our adventures much more enjoyable. First of all, layering is key. The trick is to start off with a warm base layer, like a thermal shirt and pants or long johns, to preserve the body’s warmth at the source. Then we like to layer with a fleece or wool second layer that keeps us warm and would also be good to wear on its own should we need to take off our top layer. Which brings us to the third layer. This can range from a lightweight puffer jacket to a more substantial parka. We like the lightweight puffer because it can easily be peeled off and stored in our backpacks or tied around our waist without adding too much excess weight or taking up too much space.
On the bottom, layering up with thermals and a pair of waterproof hiking pants is a good choice. If it’s not as cold or conditions are relatively safe, a pair of warm leggings or sweatpants can also work. Footwear is perhaps the most important, and we recommend a waterproof hiking shoe with excellent grips on the sole, and good insulation so your feet can breathe. For a light hike, a duck boot or regular snow boot is fine, but something lightweight is best for a long walk or hike so your feet don’t get overheated or feel too heavy. Don’t forget the hat, scarf, and waterproof gloves!
Make sure you bring a good amount of provisions for your winter hike since energy can drain quickly in cold temperatures. Plenty of water and trail mix or a breakfast or lunch you can eat on the go is ideal (you should be hiking early in the day to make the most of the sun) since it’s important to keep moving. Sunglasses are surprisingly helpful as well for a winter hike when the sun reflects off the white snow (it’s still possible to get sunburned in the winter!).
Having the right attitude can be just as important as anything else when it comes to a winter hike, so enjoy all that nature has to offer, be safe, and have fun!