55 Cold Weather Hiking Tips to Keep Your Hiking All Winter Long
Are you intimidated by the thought of cold weather hiking?
You shouldn’t be. It’s not as scary as it might seem. In fact, it’s one of the best times to go hiking.
There are no ticks and mosquitoes. The snakes are asleep. A lot of predator animals are hibernating. You can see everything.
Winter gives a whole new perspective on hiking.
But cold weather hiking obviously comes with a different set of hazards and risks. It’s important to consider them, too.
Hence the reason I wanted to write this article. I’ll show you tips from my own experience and expert advice I’ve found around the internet to help you enjoy winter hiking without worry.
How to Prepare for Cold Weather Hiking
Preparation for cold weather hiking will help you ensure you have a positive experience while recreating outdoors in the winter. The following tips are meant to help you prepare for your winter hiking adventures so that you can focus on having a good time.
1 – Choose the Right Trail
Choosing the right trail for cold weather hiking is important.
If you choose the wrong trail, you might have a bad experience.
The best hiking trails to choose during the winter are easier trails that are close to where you live.
Then, as you hike those trails, you can gradually move on to trails that are farther from where you live and more moderate in terrain and conditions.
Just don’t feel like you need to go all out and hike the hardest and farthest trail.
2 – Check the Weather
Knowing the weather is extremely important when hiking during the winter months.
Getting caught in bad weather may not only ruin your hike but could get you lost or even hurt.
You should be studying the weather every day to the day of your hike and then checking it once more before you head for the trail.
I recommend using the local weather stations and news sources for the area you will be hiking in.
Don’t let the weather become a surprise hazard that you’re forced to face unexpectedly.
3 – Trail and Travel Conditions
Before you devote yourself to cold weather hiking, you need to know what conditions are like.
You need to understand what the trail conditions will be like. How easy is the trail? Is it a loop or out and back? Is there a trail clear? What about elevation gain?
Research the trail and try to get to know it long before you hike it.
You also want to know the conditions of your travel route to the trail. Are the roads clear? Are they gravel or paved? Can any vehicle make it to the trail?
And finally, make sure you know the parking conditions, too.
4 – Consider Leaving Pets and Kids at Home
Winter hiking can be more hazardous than hiking during other seasons.
If you’re hiking during snow or ice accumulation, you might consider leaving the pets and kids at home.
In most cases, you will have to rescue pets and kids if they get in trouble on the trail. They will likely not be able to save themselves. This might cause you more stress than what you wish to handle.
It’s good to get your pets and children outside and on the trail, don’t get me wrong.
However, it’s not good to expose vulnerable pets and kids to harder winter elements that will require more work from you in case something goes wrong.
5 – Tell Someone Where You’re Going
Before you go on a cold weather hiking adventure, you need to tell someone about it first.
Print out a map of where you will be hiking. Circle the area or trace the trails you plan to take. Mark where you will park, start, and end the hiking trip. Write down a date and time you plan to be back.
Give this information to a friend or loved one that isn’t going with you.
If, for some reason, you don’t make it home, and they haven’t heard from you, then they can contact emergency services and tell them where you were last seen.
This easy task can very well save your life if something happens and you need help.
6 – Bring a Hiking Buddy
Solo hiking has its rewards, but during the winter, it also has plenty of added risks.
If you can do it, try to hike with a buddy or a group of hikers. More than one hiker will make the trip safer.
If something happens to one of you, the other person can get help if it’s required.
It’s also nice to have someone to talk to and enjoy the trip with.
7 – Start Early in the Morning
In most areas, it gets dark earlier in the winter.
If you start your hike early in the morning, even before dawn, you get the full daylight hours for your adventure.
This gives you more time to slow down and enjoy what the hike has to offer.
Just make sure you plan your hike properly to get out before dark.
8 – Choose Sunnier Hiking Trails
It can get pretty cold in the winter months.
If you choose a trail with more access to the sun, you can keep warm.
Just make sure you wear plenty of sunblock.
And bring a pair of sunglasses if there is snow on the ground because snow can be blinding in the sun.
9 – Choose Trails with Higher Elevations
Choosing a trail with a higher elevation can also warm you up.
Going up and down hills will warm your body up quickly.
But it’s also more challenging and you’ll need to stay hydrated and rest when tired.
You also want to use layers to help you balance your body temperature.
10 – Prepare for the Worst
To be fully prepared for winter hiking, you should prepare for the worst.
Prepare for the “what if you get hurt” scenario.
Prepare for the “what if you get lost” scenario.
When you prepare for the worst, you’re ready for the worst if it happens.
How to Gear Up for Cold Weather Hiking
Gearing up for cold weather hiking is extremely important. Most incidents that occur during winter hiking are often from a lack of proper hiking gear. Check out the recommendations below to prepare for winter hiking with the right kind of gear,
11 – Hiking Backpack
You need to get a real hiking backpack.
Don’t use a school backpack.
Get a backpack that fits you and has enough capacity for your desired gear.
Get one with different adjustment straps so that you can hike in comfort.
12 – Snow Gaiters
During cold weather hiking, you want to protect your feet.
Keeping snow from getting into your pant legs and boots is important.
Get you a pair of gaiters to help solve this problem.
They’re easy to use and lightweight, too.
13 – Sunglasses
Take a pair of sunglasses with you.
They’re great in the snow to help prevent snow blindness.
They can also protect your eyes from getting struck by twigs.
Get a good pair with UV protection.
14 – Headlamp
Take a headlamp with you.
Take it even if you don’t plan to be out in the dark.
If something happens and you are hiking in the dark, you’ll wish you had one.
Take some extra batteries with you, too.
15 – Keep Batteries Warm
When cold weather hiking, batteries will drain very quickly.
Keep them close to your body to preserve more of their life.
Hand warmers are also a great addition to keeping batteries warmer, especially for electronic devices.
Bring extra batteries, just in case.
16 – Sunscreen
Bring sunscreen with you.
The sun can still hit parts of your skin that aren’t covered.
The good news is most of the time, you won’t sweat it off like you do in the summer.
A small travel bottle is all you need to bring.
17 – TP
Toilet paper is a good item to add to your pack.
It doesn’t leave you with a rash like many leaves do.
Just practice Leave No Trace.
Take it with you or bury it if you have to.
18 – Trekking Poles
Trekking poles aren’t for everyone.
But they might be for you.
They help you balance out while hiking and are great for crossing creeks.
Get the telescopic kind so you can fold them up and store them easily when you don’t need them.
19 – First Aid Kit
A simple first aid kit is essential in your kit.
You don’t have to pack a trauma kit.
Just bring supplies that you know how to use.
Hopefully, you’ll never need to use it, but if you do, it’s there.
20 – Navigation
Navigation is an essential cold weather hiking gear item.
Getting lost in the winter can result in death.
You need to bring three forms of navigation and know how to use all of them.
A map, compass, GPS, and an app on your phone will suffice.
21 – Whistle and Signal Mirror
Bring a whistle and a signal mirror.
The whistle can help you save energy, so you don’t have to scream for help if you need it.
The signal mirror can alert aircraft that an emergency is happening on the ground.
You might never have to use these supplies, but they’re great if you do need them.
22 – Personal Locator Beacon
A personal locator beacon can be used anywhere.
It allows you to press a button when you need help.
Hopefully, you never have to use it.
But if you do, it may save your life.
Cold Weather Hiking Fuel and Hydration
Staying hydrated and fueled while doing a cold weather hiking adventure is critical to your safety and health. Dehydration is a leading serious injury for hikers. Not fueling and hydrating properly will result in avoidable problems on the trail.
23 – Easy to Eat Non-Freezing Food
Bring snacks and food that is easy to eat and doesn’t freeze.
You don’t need to have to cook something in order to fuel yourself.
I recommend trail bars, trail mix, and dried fruit.
Bring enough to last you for the entire hike or more.
24 – Fuel and Hydrate Often
You should take a few bites from your snacks every thirty minutes.
Then wash it down with a couple of big swigs of your water or hydration.
Do this for your entire hike.
You’ll stay hydrated and energized for the entire hike.
25 – Keep Fuel and Hydration From Freezing
Don’t bring snacks that can freeze easily.
Keep a hand warmer where your hydration bottle is stored.
Keep your snacks close to your body to keep them warm.
Shake your drink periodically to keep it from freezing.
26 – Use Water Bottles Instead of Bladder
Hydration bladders are easier to carry.
They hold more water than a lot of bottles.
But they freeze easily, especially the drinking hose.
Go for bottles when cold weather hiking instead.
27 – Pack Warm Drinks and Food
Consider packing some warm drinks and food.
Take a small thermos of warm soup with you.
Take a small thermos of hot chocolate, too.
These will help warm you up while hiking on a cold winter’s day.
How to Dress for Cold Weather Hiking
Your choice of clothing can make or break your cold weather hiking trip. If you wear too little, you’ll be cold and uncomfortable your entire trip. But you could also wear too much, and that can bring about a set of different problems, too. There is a balance, and I’ll show you how to reach that balance.
28 – Wear Layers
The balance is layers.
Wear layers when hiking in the cold.
You can add or subtract layers as needed.
Wear a base, outer, and shell layer for the best results.
29 – No Cotton, Denim, or Leather
Don’t wear clothing that holds in moisture and doesn’t breath.
Don’t wear cotton, denim, or leather.
Wear synthetics like wool, nylon, spandex, and polyester.
Moisture needs to dry out, or you’ll be miserable and cold.
30 – Cover Up Your Skin
When cold weather hiking, you need to keep your skin covered.
Keep your face covered the best you can.
Wear a scarf around your neck.
Keep your hands covered and warm.
31 – Use Hand Warmers
Hand warmers are a gift from the heavens.
They make them for your hands and feet.
Invest in them and use them during winter hiking adventures.
They’ll make the trip so much nicer.
32 – Wear a Hat
You’d be surprised how effective a hat or beanie is.
When you keep your head warm, everything else seems to stay warm.
Get a hat or a beanie, and keep your noggin covered up.
You can take it off and let your head air out as needed.
33 – Try Snowshoeing
If you’re hiking in the snow, consider investing in snowshoes.
These will help you hike in the snow more easily.
They’re a lot like skis but less scary.
There is a whole culture of snowshoers out there.
34 – Use Crampons
If you’re hiking on snow and ice, use crampons.
These are cleats or spikes that go on your boots.
They’ll give you traction.
But you can still slip with them, so be sure to watch your step.
35 – Pack Raingear
Another form of layering is raingear.
You might not need it, but if you do need it, you want it to be available.
You can bring a rain jacket, pants, or even just a rain poncho.
It’s lightweight and a Godsend when you need it the most.
36 – Bring Extra Layers
Bring extra clothing with you on your hike.
If you want something that weighs less, I suggest running apparel.
Insulated running tights and shirts weigh practically nothing but are designed to keep you warm when just wearing them and nothing else.
Keep them dry by keeping them in a Ziploc bag.
37 – Wear Waterproof Boots
Invest in your feet in cold weather.
I buy waterproof boots every year.
I’ll buy the best that I can get.
Warm and dry feet mean you’ll have an enjoyable hike.
Understand Cold Weather Hiking Risks
There are a lot of risks with cold weather hiking. You shouldn’t feel like you shouldn’t hike in the winter because of the risks. Instead, you can get an understanding of winter hiking risks so that you know what to expect. It’s easier to cope with risk when you know what it is in the first place.
38 – Frostbite
Frostbite is a risk when hiking in the winter.
You can respond to it by warming the area, covering it up, and seeking emergency assistance.
You can prevent it by keeping yourself dry and warm.
Frostbite will often result in amputation but can also result in death.
39 – Hypothermia
This occurs when your body can’t keep itself warm enough for the cold.
You can respond to this by adding extra layers and getting help as soon as possible.
You can prevent it by staying dry and warm.
Hypothermia on the trail is extremely dangerous and deadly.
40 – Watch Your Step
The best safety advice I can give you for any season is this:
WATCH YOUR STEP!
Seriously, watching your next step can prevent almost every incident you can get into as a hiker.
Most people are injured or die because they fail to do this simple technique that we’re all born with an instinct to do.
41 – Shorter Days
The days are not as long in the winter.
You don’t want to end up hiking on the trail at night.
It’s easier to get lost, and it gets colder at night.
Start your hike as early as possible so that you get all the daylight.
42 – Avalanches
If you’re in a mountainous area, you need to be aware of avalanches.
They can occur in a blink of an eye.
Avoid areas where you will be walking in avalanche-prone areas.
Getting buried in the snow is extremely hazardous and quite deadly.
43 – Ice and Frozen Water Bodies
When cold weather hiking, be sure to look for ice.
Be careful around the edges of higher-up spots on the trail.
Don’t walk on frozen lakes or creeks.
Ice is the number one killer of hiking during the winter months.
44 – Be Willing to Turn Around
If conditions get bad, you need to be willing to abort the hike.
Don’t try to push on.
Mother Nature is a lot stronger than you are.
Expert hikers aren’t afraid to turn around if conditions are too severe.
45 – Wildlife Encounters
A lot of predator wildlife hibernate in the winter.
However, some are still awake and roaming.
You could encounter wildlife on the trail.
Take every precaution necessary to deal with wildlife and always give them plenty of room to escape.
46 – Severe Weather
Severe weather can occur at any time during the winter.
Heavy snowstorms, ice, and even tornadoes occur in the winter.
Be prepared for these hazards.
Closely monitor the weather as much as you can.
47 – Reduced Visibility
In the winter, your visibility is reduced.
This is especially the case during snowfall and rain.
Be prepared for this and keep a close eye on your path.
Slow down, and don’t rush it.
48 – No Phone Signal
Most hiking trails are far away from civilization.
This often means cellular technology is also far away.
Don’t expect your phone to have a signal when hiking.
Don’t rely on it.
49 – Fuel and Hydration Issues
A lot of hikers have fuel and hydration issues in the winter.
This is because we’re not hot and forget to eat and drink.
The same illness and effects occur in the winter as they do in the summer.
Make sure you’re eating and drinking on a regular basis.
How to Enjoy Cold Weather Hiking
There are so many reasons to get out and hike during the winter. It’s easy to enjoy cold weather hiking if you do it properly. Take the advice above plus the advice below, and you’ll have some of your best hiking experiences in the winter months.
50 – Take it Slow
Don’t get in a hurry.
You’ll burn more energy hiking in the winter.
Getting in a hurry will wear you out and make you want to end the hiker sooner.
Take it slow and enjoy it.
51 – Take Frequent Breaks
Take a break once an hour.
You don’t have to sit down or anything like that unless you want to.
Stopping and standing for a few minutes is enough to take a quick break.
Conserve your energy.
52 – Take Photos and Video
Stop to take photos and videos on your hike.
That’s what I did, and that started my whole Hiking with Shawn brand.
You’re creating memories that you can share with other people.
Plus, it gives you an opportunity to rest a little bit.
53 – Enjoy New Views that Winter Offers
Your local hiking trail will look totally different in the winter.
The views will be different than how they are in the summer.
You can see more stuff like bluffs, frozen waterfalls, and creeks.
You can see stuff that you normally won’t see in the summer.
54 – Keep a Hiking Journal
Write your experiences down in a hiking journal.
Record different things you’d like to come back to and read about.
Maybe you saw a type of bird you want to identify when you’re back home.
Writing is therapeutic, especially when you write out in the woods.
55 – Promote Your Hike on Social Media
Some people say social media has ruined hiking.
I have turned a lot of non-hikers into hiking addicts, and now their lives are better.
Promote your hikes on social media – you might make someone’s life better, too.
Cold Weather Hiking FAQs
Let’s take a look at some commonly asked questions about cold weather hiking.
Is cold weather hiking a good idea?
Yes. Cold weather hiking is a very good idea as long as you’re prepared for the changes in the weather that winter brings. Many summer hazards go away during the winter, and you’ll be able to see a side of your hiking trail that you normally won’t see at any other time. But new hazards form during the winter, and it’s important to prepare for them.
What should I pack for winter hiking?
You should pack the 10 essentials of hiking gear when hiking in the winter. These essentials include basic gear that you would take on most hikes during any season. However, there are other gear items included, such as shelter, kitchen, and survival gear.
Should I hike in blizzard conditions?
Hiking in severe weather conditions isn’t recommended. You’re more at risk of getting hurt or lost during a blizzard than anything else. Emergency response could also be impacted in case you were involved in an incident during severe weather.
Should I camp during the winter months?
Camping during the winter months is one of the best times to camp as long as you bring the right gear and are prepared to sleep in the cold. You should never camp during hazardous weather conditions or extreme cold temperatures unless you have to.
What are the best trails for winter hiking?
The best trails to hike during the winter months are trails that are closer to where you live. It’s best to travel less and stick to local hikes. You also want to go with trails that you’re familiar with so that you know how to navigate them and how difficult they will be.
Is solo cold weather hiking a good idea?
There is nothing bad about hiking solo, even during the winter. But the risks of hiking alone in the winter do increase. In the event that something happens and you need help, it could become an issue for you if you can’t get help. Hiking with others at any time is safer than hiking alone. However, if you prepare for solo hiking, you should have no problems doing it.
Final Thoughts About Cold Weather Hiking
Cold weather hiking allows you to experience a whole different side of the hiking trail. It’s one of the best times during the year to hike. As long as you gear up, prepare, and follow the other advice in this post, you’ll have less of a chance of having a bad experience hiking this winter.
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And until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!
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Founder, Hiking with Shawn
Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman