Winter Hiking Tips
Welp, in our neck of the woods, fall recently came to an abrupt halt and apparently it’s now winter. In honor of our drastic change in scenery, we thought now would be a great time to help get you prepped for some winter hiking! Our goal this year is to embrace the season and not fall victim to the constant complaining (don’t worry we already failed at this twice today). So here’s some practical tips and some mindset goals for all of us to work on for the next however many months of cold, dark, nothingness . . . I mean, beautiful, snowy, winter wonderland-ness:
Wear appropriate clothing: They claim there is no bad weather, only bad choices in gear and while I’m skeptical of this sentiment, we’ll roll with it. If you’re prepping for a snowy hike, the key is layers. Your base layer needs to be sweat wicking and NOT cotton. Please trust us on that one. Wool (we’re big fans of SmartWool) is a great option here. Your next layer should be the warm one. This is where you’ll want to gauge the actual temp and if you run hot or cold. If you’re like me, you basically need a 10 inch thick sweater made of coals from the fire to stay warm, but most people do well with a hoodie, fleece, or something of that nature. Top layer should be wind and waterproof. You want to avoid getting wet (either from the elements or sweat) so be prepared to adjust layers accordingly as you go.
Accessories: Hats, gloves, socks, eyewear . . . think all of these things through and use the same principles as above. Depending on the weather and type of hike, you may want a wicking glove under a heavier down glove. Buffbands are a perfect addition, they can go under a hat, around your neck and chin, over your ears, wherever you need it. Just don’t grab the cute scarf and mittens you bought to match your dress coat. If you are hiking a substantial distance and it’s cold, you want gear made for that. Frozen fingers are no joke. . . they will fall off (I think).
Footwear: Probably the most important piece. Start with an appropriate warm, wicking sock. Again, SmartWool for the win! Make sure they go high enough up to cover any space between your pant leg and boots. For shows, think insulated and waterproof. If you’re going to be in deeper snow, taller boots are likely a better option, but even the shorties will work fine if you adjust your socks and pants accordingly. Plan for your terrain. If you’re expecting a lot of ice, crampons may be needed. Ultimately just make sure to keep your feet dry and warm. As soon as your feet get wet and cold, the world does end. Just ask my Iceland hiking buddies who were stuck with me and my cold, wet feet. (Super cute coat, very cold feet in this pic)
Stay hydrated: This can be tricky in the winter. You don’t feel hot. You don’t feel thirsty. You don’t want to reach for your water because it’s cold. But, you need to monitor your water intake and depending on distance, any other necessary nutrition (salt tabs, electrolytes, etc.) Dehydration is just as serious in winter as in summer.
Know the signs of Hypothermia: This article gives a good list of what to look for. Make sure you are checking in on yourself and your friends and don’t be afraid to turn back. Make sure you are prepared in case turning back isn’t an option. This a good list of safety items to keep in your pack from REI.
Embrace the suck, I mean, beauty: Enjoying a winter hike is all about your attitude. It may be cold and wet but there is a certain thrill and beauty in a snowy hike. I personally am not good at winter. I get chilled to the bone on a 50 degree day (which makes zero sense, I’ve lived in Michigan my whole life), but truly some of my favorite hikes have been in the snow and cold. And even the times I was convinced I was freezing to death (I think I’ve noted before that I have a dramatic side) I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Have fun along the way: Snowball fight, snow angles, sliding down a hill on your butt. The whole point of hiking is to get back to nature, take some deep breaths and just relax a bit. Bring a thermos of something warm or a flask filled with whiskey to stop and enjoy. Make it fun! As with any hike, don’t just plow through to the end, savor the journey. (But also make sure your fingers don’t fall off).
To sum it up . . . layers, stay dry, check your mindset, have some fun. We are meant to be outdoors. Our bodies and souls need fresh air. Don’t stay cooped up inside this winter. Plan ahead and get yourself out to enjoy everything the season has to offer!
Oh yeah, and pro tip. . . ALWAYS bring extra socks.