Winter hiking has its own unique charm: the quiet of making first tracks in fallen snow, the relative solitude when others stay at home, and the beauty of a late sunrise and early sunset, bringing nighttime stars into crisp relief. However, winter hiking also comes with its own set of hazards, including short daylight hours and fast-changing, potentially dangerous weather conditions. Make sure you're prepared by wearing layers of warm clothes, bringing the right gear, and staying smart while you're hiking.
Method 1 of 3:Finding the Best Clothes
1Wear several layers of clothes on top and bottom. Wearing layers provide insulation; put on at least 3 layers. When picking the layer next to your skin, make sure it wicks away moisture so the dampness won't cool you down. On top of that, wear layers that insulate your body, such as wool or fleece. Then, on the outside, make sure you have a coat on that blocks moisture; try to find one with a hood you can pull up.
Wool or high-tech polyester are good choices for the bottom layer, as they move moisture away from your skin.
The middle layer should be the bulkiest, such as insulated fleece or a goose down jacket.
Avoid wearing cotton, as it retains moisture rather than moving it away from your skin.
2Opt for insulated hiking boots, warm socks, and gaiters. Your hiking boots should be made for cold weather so they provide insulation against the cold. Also, make sure to pick warm socks that wick away moisture, such as ones made out of wool. Gaiters provide extra protection for your legs against the cold, too.
Consider wearing 2 pairs of socks, a thin layer with wicking material and then a thicker wool pair.
Gaiters fit over your calves and ankles. You wear them over your boots and pants, and they keep snow from getting in.
Also, put traction devices on your boots if they aren't already equipped for the ice! These devices stretch over the bottom of your boot and give you spikes to dig into the slippery patches.Trustworthy SourceUS National Park ServiceAgency responsible for the maintenance and promotion of national parks and monumentsGo to source
3Bring a light hat and a heavy hat. Keeping your head warm is important because it helps your brain stay alert! While you're hiking, you should have a light winter hat to provide some protection against the cold. A heavy one will make you sweat while walking. However, when you stop, you'll want that heavy hat to keep you warm while you rest. Both hats should cover at least the tops of your ears.
Look for natural materials like wool for extra warmth. Fleece is also a good choice if wool isn't an option.
4Take light and heavy pairs of gloves. Layers are important, as you can take them off when you get too hot. Pick 1 lighter pair of gloves in fleece or wool, and then pick a pick a heavier set you can wear on top. The top pair should be insulated and waterproof.
5Pack an extra set of clothing. If you get wet on a winter trail, you can easily get too cold very fast. A set of dry clothing packed away in your backpack could save your life, allowing you to quickly change clothes and stay warm.Trustworthy SourceUS National Park ServiceAgency responsible for the maintenance and promotion of national parks and monumentsGo to source
Method 2 of 3:Packing the Right Gear
1Opt for a large water-resistant hiking backpack. You need a backpack large enough to carry things like a first aid kit, water, sunscreen, extra layers, and food. Plus, it needs to keep out the water, as your extra layers are no good to you if they get wet.
Pick one that has a waterproof hood that fits over the pack, which will help keep water out.
2Pick up snow shoes, skies, or hiking poles for snow and ice. If the snow goes to a depth of more than 8 inches (20 cm), then you need snow shoes or skies. With any winter weather, you should carry hiking poles just in case, as they'll help you when you're trying to walk through icy areas.Trustworthy SourceUS National Park ServiceAgency responsible for the maintenance and promotion of national parks and monumentsGo to source
3Carry high-energy, salty snacks. You'll be sweating, so you'll need plenty of salt to refuel. Plus, you'll need food with carbohydrates, fat, and protein to keep you going on your hike. Remember, you'll need more to eat than you normally would at home, so plan ahead.
For instance, trail mix is a good option, since it's full of protein and fat (nuts) and high-energy carbohydrates (dried fruit), plus salt. You could also try granola bars, fresh fruit, beef jerky, and even sports drinks.
4Take 8.5 cups (2.0 L) of water with you at a minimum. You'll need at least this much for an easy day hike. If you're doing a difficult hike, you'll likely need extra. It's always a good idea to carry more than you think you'll need.
You can also carry an iodine tablet or a filtering straw with you in case you need to get water out of nearby streams or rivers.
Insulate your water bottle to keep it from freezing. You'll need to stay hydrated, but your water can freeze while you're on the trail. A insulating sleeve can help prevent it from freezing so you can keep drinking while you're on the move! Also, make sure to keep your water inside your jacket next to your body, which will also help keep it warm.
5Bring sunscreen with an SPF of 30+ with you. You may think that the sun won't be a problem on a winter hike; however, it can still be harsh, particularly if it's reflecting off the snow. Apply the sunscreen 30 minutes before you're in the sun, and then re-apply it every 2 hours throughout the day to the areas of your skin that are exposed.
Always apply more sunscreen than you think you should. Most people don't use enough. Typically, you should use about as much as you could fit in a shot glass if you're covering most of your body. In the winter, you can get away with less, as you're covering a smaller area.
6Take a watch with you. In the age of mobile phones, you may not think of bringing a watch. However, phones can run out of battery, and a watch or other time keeping device can help you stay on track. You don't want to be caught off-guard when it's suddenly getting dark, and you haven't made camp or returned to the starting place.
7Grab a flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries. While you likely plan to be out before dark, anything can happen when you're out hiking. A flashlight will help you be prepared in case the hike takes longer than you expect, and you're caught out after the sun goes down.Trustworthy SourceUS National Park ServiceAgency responsible for the maintenance and promotion of national parks and monumentsGo to source
You don't want to be caught in the dark without a light to see your way out!
8Carry a paper map and a compass. You can't rely on your phone to get you out, as you can lose service in the wilderness. A paper map can help you find landmarks, while a compass will literally point you in the right direction.Trustworthy SourceUS National Park ServiceAgency responsible for the maintenance and promotion of national parks and monumentsGo to source
While trails are usually well-marked, you can get turned around, especially in the winter when things are hidden by snow!
9Include a first aid kit. You never know what's going to happen on the trail, and a first aid kit will help you be prepared.Trustworthy SourceUS National Park ServiceAgency responsible for the maintenance and promotion of national parks and monumentsGo to source It should include things like antibiotic ointment, medical tape, adhesive bandages, butterfly closures, nitrile gloves, antiseptic, and gauze.
It should also include a few medications, such as ibuprofen and antihistamine pills.
Some basic tools, such as a sewing needle, duct tape, a utility knife, and a whistle, are important if you get caught in the wilderness.
Also, carry a card with your emergency contacts and health information or put it in the emergency section that's accessible by strangers on your phone.
10Carry fire-making supplies. While you shouldn't rely solely on a campfire to keep you warm if you're caught in the snow, it can be helpful for warmth and heating water. Have a small hand shovel to clear the snow, as well as a lighter or matches to start a fire. You should also have fire-starters on you so you don't have to find them in the damp ground.
Fire starters can include dryer lint or cotton balls dipped in petroleum jelly, just to name a few. Keep them in a zip-top bag. Also, keep the lighter or matches in a waterproof bag so they don't get wet.
Method 3 of 3:Being Smart while Hiking
1Start with smaller hikes and work your way up. If you don't hike much, opt for a smaller trail the first time you go out, as you may not be as ready as you think you are. You can always work up to bigger trails later! If you are a hiker but you haven't done much in the winter, choose a trail you're already familiar with so that you'll have an idea of what to expect.
It's a good idea to take a class with a local winter hiking club if you've never hiked in the winter. You can learn things like what you need to look for in the snow to stay safe and how to build a shelter if you're caught out in the weather.
You don't want to get to the middle of a big trail and realize you don't have the energy to get back or you haven't worn the right gear. Play it safe!
2Keep an eye on the weather ahead of time. While winter hiking can be fun, you don't want to be caught in a blizzard or freezing rain. Similarly, harsh winds can make your hike more dangerous. Check the weather forecast, and skip hiking if there's bad weather ahead.
Blizzards can create blinding conditions and freezing rain can make you susceptible to hypothermia. Stay home if you need to!
3Eat and drink often along the trail to stay fueled and hydrated. Aim to eat a little bit every 30 minutes to an hour. Drink more often than you think you should. You may not feel thirsty, but you should continue to drink something at least every 30 minutes to make sure you stay hydrated.
4Leave your hiking information with friends and family. Let them know when you expect to leave, where you'll be, and when you'll return home. That way, if something happens, someone will know to look for you if you don't return in the expected time frame.
Put this on a printed sheet or in an email so they have a copy.
5Hike with a group of friends. Hiking can be dangerous alone, as you never know when you'll run into danger or need help. Plus, if you're inexperienced, having people who are experienced with you can only be beneficial. Ask a couple of friends to go on your hike with you to help you stay safe.
Plus, when you hike in a group, it tends to deter dangerous wildlife from getting too close, as they'll hear you coming and usually want to hide.
6Warm up with boiled water when you stop. If you have the means to make a small campfire, heat some water over the stove. The water will help you stay warm as you hike, working from the inside out.
Plus, if you keep it inside your jacket, it will act as a portable heating pad.
7Peel off layers or put more on as needed. It's important to keep sweating to a minimum while hiking in the winter. If you get too warm, take some of the layers off so you can cool down. If you start shivering, it's time to put on some extra layers.
Maintaining your body temperature will help prevent hypothermia!