Winter hiking also has some great health benefits. The cold weather can reduce inflammation and pain, just like an ice pack on an injury, as well as help you burn more calories by turning body fat into a heat source. Perhaps the best health benefit to winter hiking is improving your mental health. Outdoor hiking or even a brisk walk will do wonders for your body and mind. Fresh air will fill your should and quiet your mind.
Winter hiking however presents challenges. Before you head out on the Trail, be sure to prepare for unexpected conditions with the right plan and equipment. Here are 10 tips to help you prepare for winter hiking and stay safe on the Trail.
1. Dress in layersDressing "warm" goes without saying – but "layering" your clothing will keep you both warm and adaptable to the environment. I always add one more layer than I think I'll need because you can always take layers off. Start with a breathable base layer such as a merino wool or polyester – both top and bottom. Next you will want a warm and comfortable second layer – think a wool or blended pull over. Depending upon the temperature you may want to add a lightweight jacket or second pull over to go under your jacket. The last layer is your jacket, you will want something both waterproof and windproof.
2. Bring (extra) gloves, winter hat, and face cover
Gloves, winter hat and face cover are all no brainers – you need a quality one of each. However, having a second set is also important. These items are all ESSENTIALS on a winter hike. You need to keep your head and hands dry and warm to prevent hypothermia (see #9). If you get them wet from the elements (or sweat), you will want to have a dry replacement available.
3. Wear Merino Wool Socks (and bring an extra pair)
Nothing will ruin a winter hike faster than cold (or wet) feet. Merino Wool socks are a must for any cold weather hike. Merino wool is breathable and the best fabric to keep your feet both warm and dry. Throw an extra pair (or two) in your pack incase you step in open water.
4. Wear proper footwear
The proppe footwear is key to staying on your feet while hiking in the winter. You need both good tread and waterproof. I like to wear boots that go above my ankles incase I step in any open water or deep snow.
5. Bring snowshoes or Ice Cleats
If you are walking on fresh snow – snowshoes will make for an easier (and dryer) hike. If you are on a trail that has not seen fresh snow lately, the trail most likely be icey. Ice cleats strap right on to your boots. I always keep a pair in my winter pack. Even if it’s not icy at home, a heavily used trail can get packed down and be icy.
6. Bring Hiking Poles
Trekking poles are a must have when winter hiking. They will give you stability on icy trails, and help you determine where to step. You can also use ski poles to help you maneuver through the difficult or icy terrain.
7. Stay hydrated
We don't often think of drinking when we’re cold. But you’re likely going to still sweat under all those layers, and your body will need hydration. Take sips of water when you stop. Carry your water close to your body or wrap your bottle with an extra layer or wool socks to keep it from freezing.
8. Bring Sunglasses, Sunscreen, and Lip Balm
You may think of sunglasses and sunscreen as summer essentials, but the sun can be just as strong in the winter. On a sunny day with fresh white snow, the light can be blinding. Wear shades to protect your eyes and sunscreen on any exposed skin. Also lip balm with SPF will help your lips from cracking in the cold and burning with the sun.
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9. Beware of hypothermia
Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it. When your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system and other organs can't work normally. Dressing in warm layers and being prepared should keep you safe from hypothermia, but its better to be aware and prepared if you find yourself getting too cold and can't warm up. Falling into open water or exposing your skin to wet and cold conditions are typically how hypothermia starts. If you suspect hypothermia, get indoors and warm your body up immediately.
10. Start Early and Watch the Time
Winter hiking takes longer than the other seasons due to the complexity of the snow and ice. You won't be able to cover as much ground, nor be able to run or jog if you get lost or behind schedule. The days are much shorter in the winter as well. Start your hike early and allow plenty of time to get back before sunset. Track your time so you know how long it will take you get back.