What you need to know to enjoy winter hiking

If the February blahs mean it looks a little darker than normal in your world, I highly recommend getting outside for a good ol’ fashioned hike — this is what I do to shake off the cobwebs, and stay fit in the winter months.

It can be overwhelming planning to get out in the winter. While there are a lot of factors to consider in summer hiking, there can be more unfamiliar circumstances in winter hiking.

Here’s what you need to know to get out, safely and comfortably, to enjoy a winter hike:

Layers are your friend

It might seem like overkill to wear more than your favourite hoodie and winter jacket, but layering properly is key to being comfortable — and warm — while out on a winter hike. If possible, upgrade your layers to be some kind of wool or wool blend, which is moisture-wicking to keep you dry.

Up top, go with a short or long sleeve relatively thin wool layer, followed by another wool or fleece-based pullover. While it might be tempting to wear a sweater with a hood, one without actually will reduce the amount of bulk you’re wearing and keep your neck warm, so aim for a crew neck or zip-up instead. Your outermost layer should be wind and water-resistant.

On your bottom half, the base should again be something made of wool or other moisture-wicking material — and you’re never too old for the classic pair of long johns! If you’re going with three layers, the middle one is all about retaining warmth — which actually means breathability, not just heavy. Again, wool or fleece should be your go-to. If you’re wearing a third layer, aim for waterproof and lightweight.

Don’t underestimate the importance of socks

Wool socks should be your go-to, especially if you’re only wearing one pair. If you’re wearing two pairs of socks (great for warmth!) it’s less important for them to be made of wool.

Pro tip, from someone who spends too much time driving somewhere to get to a winter hiking spot? Change. Your. Socks. That’s right! Don’t wear the same pair of socks on the trail that you wore in the car. As you drove, you likely had a little foot sweat action going on, which means your feet are starting the hike damp. Changing your socks can go a long way to keeping your feet warm AND reducing blisters.

Wear proper footwear

Your usual hiking shoes are probably a better choice than winter boots, depending of course on your boot style. If you wear a low-cut shoe, switch to a higher-cut version. The key is comfort — warmth comes from your socks!

To make your existing hikers more winter-friendly, add spikes to adjust to the potential ice on the trail. Spikes come in a bunch of different formats, from adjustable crampons to half-shoe only options.

Last but not least, throw on a pair of gaiters to keep snow from sneaking down your ankles. This is especially key when wearing lower-cut shoes.

If you’re snagging a new pair of shoes or boots, especially for winter hiking, look for ones with built-in crampons or spikes and a robust base, for the best traction.

Check out our YouTube channel for some great hiking gear reviews.

Yes, you still need to drink water

It can be tempting to think you don’t need water on a winter hike. After all, you don’t feel that you’re sweating and you’re not as parched as you might be on an August hike. But hydration is still crucial to a good hiking experience.

To keep your water from freezing, boil it before you put it into the bottle or container, and keep it inside your outermost layer of clothing, so it absorbs heat from your body. If you’re more of a coffee drinker, that’s totally fine — add a thermos to the mix, but you still need straight-up water too!

We hope these tips and tricks make your winter hiking experience — whether it's your first or your 100th time out — more enjoyable. Enjoy the outdoors!

By Angelica Haggert

Lead photo by Nicolas J Leclercq (Unsplash).


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