By Andrew Attilio, Contributing Blogger
The days are cooling down, the leaves are changing colors, and the snow is beginning to fall—sounds like the perfect opportunity to enjoy a hike on your favorite trail! Despite the low temperatures and harsh weather conditions, winter is a popular time to explore the outdoors, thanks to the beautiful changes in scenery. Coming prepared for a cold-weather hike is crucial and will save you from injury, ensuring your adventure is nothing short of a great time. Let’s explore some of the essential gear that you need for your wintertime trek.
The outfit you choose should keep you warm and dry while being light and comfortable enough for hiking. If anything you are wearing becomes wet, the chances of frostbite or hypothermia are greatly increased. Keep this in mind when shopping for articles of clothing and try to stay away from cotton, since it takes a very long time to dry. Look for clothing made from wool or synthetic materials, as these are much safer to use when hiking in the winter. Wool retains its insulating properties when wet, as opposed to cotton, which becomes useless in the rain.
Layering is done best in a three-part system, starting with a light base layer that wicks away perspiration. This is followed by an insulated mid layer, such as a down or puffy jacket. The final layer should be a thin windbreaker or similar shell material that will shield you from the wind. Layering properly will keep you warm, dry, and comfortable in the harsh winter conditions.
For your legs, start with a thin base layer similar to what you wear on the torso. You want this article to be thin and moisture-wicking while providing some warmth. On top of this, layer with an outer pant shell made of wind and water-resistant material. This dual layer system will keep you warm and well protected from the elements.
Top it all off with a beanie or other winter-ready hat to hold the rest of your heat. Again, make sure to choose one that is made from wool or synthetic material to ensure you stay dry during your day in the snow. In addition, wearing a pair of gloves or mittens will keep your hands warm and nimble, while a neck gaiter or scarf will keep your collar cozy. Make sure to pack all of these items with you in order to keep those sensitive places from being exposed to the cold—it’s always better to be over-prepared!
Keeping your feet protected and dry is crucial to having a comfortable, enjoyable hike. Make sure to wear waterproof boots so melting snow doesn’t soak your socks. Many boots feature an insulated lining to help keep your feet warm, so look out for that when choosing a pair. It's also important to find ones with good tread to avoid losing your footing while hiking in icy conditions.
If you are planning to hike through any amount of snow, be prepared to encounter ice along your path which can make portions of the trail completely unwalkable. Spikes or crampons for your boot sole will provide plenty of traction to make your hiking safe and worry-free.
It's also a good idea to include some waterproof shoe gaiters, especially if you know you will be going through deep snow. These are small and easy to pack away but will help keep the snow out of your boots if the walking conditions get tough.
Dealing with the Weather
Being in the bright white snow greatly increases your light exposure on a sunny day. The reflecting rays can become straining on the eyes and quickly burn your skin. Always apply sunscreen before going out and bring a pair of polarized sunglasses with you to deal with any intense sunlight during your hike.
Cold winter air is extremely dry and will cause you to become dehydrated faster than a traditional hike. Bring enough water to last the entire day, preferably in an insulated bottle to keep the contents from freezing. Insulated food containers are also great if you'd like to bring a hot soup or meal with you on the trail.
Packing It Up
Of course, be sure to bring a backpack suitable for such an adventurous hike. It should be large enough to carry everything you need on the trail. Plus, you’ll need some extra room to carry layers of clothing in case changing weather requires you to remove any throughout the day. A 20 liter pack or larger should be enough, but it depends on the size and amount of layers you'll be bringing. You want your pack to hold everything you need, while being as light and easy-to-carry as possible. A top-loading day pack with compression straps is ideal for stuffing and holding layers of clothing throughout the day.
Hiking through a winter landscape is a wonderful experience, but it brings many challenges that aren’t present in other seasons. Try to anticipate everything you might encounter during your adventures and come prepared with the proper clothing and gear. Getting injured on the trail is no fun at all, so plan accordingly and avoid putting yourself in danger when hiking this winter.