If you’re anything like us, by now you’re starting to get a little twitchy. The siren song of the mountains is calling, and though it’s muffled by snow, you still feel you must go!
Lucky for us, winter hiking is a thing. With the right amount of prep, you too can frolic in the snow, happily stomping through the tracks of cross-country skiers and frantically scrambling across the downhill skier pistes. (DUDE, I am kidding! Geez, skiers, chillax a bit. Continue being your fabulous selves.) Seriously though, sharing is caring, and we discuss that in this post too. 😉
Like any winter sport, winter hiking requires different preparation than its summer counterpart. Here are some tips to get started.
CHECK TRAIL CONDITIONS
We can’t stress this first one enough. Know the snow before you go! Check conditions, and check them often.
If you’re unfamiliar with navigating snowy conditions – and by this we definitely mean knowing about avalanche danger – stick with routes that are known quantities. For example, ski resorts often have designated areas for those on foot. (Just remember that in any place where multi-sports activities are allowed, you should respect the trails/tracks of others and to keep your wits about for off-pisters.)
If you want to check a specific trail area for current avalanche danger, look online for local conditions. Users based in the United States can start by going to https://avalanche.org/.
Still feeling unsure? Do lowland hikes and stay well below the snowline. You might not get the elevation gain/loss you would up in the mountains, but the point is to get out and get moving. Search your local area for tips on winter hiking trips. (Washington State locals, here’s a great list from WTA!)
WEATHER (OR NOT) TO GO
Snow’s one thing, but you should know the general forecast as well. Rain? Make sure you’ve got waterproofs? Snow? Layers (and see above). Sun? Sunblock, for sure!
Speaking of sun, make sure you know how much light do you have available during the day. Winter hikes can take longer than their summer counterparts, especially if you’re tromping through snow. Consider shorter treks in winter conditions to make sure you don’t get stuck out in the dark.
Temperatures, of course, are also very important. While you’re moving, you might not feel too cold. But if you have any stationary time planned for your hike (e.g. lunch break) make sure you’ve got extra layers to add while you’re at rest.
ALL GEARED UP?
Not really jazzed to throw on your ratty hiking shorts for a winter hike? Yeah, we don’t blame you! Here are some bottom to top gear considerations for winter hiking:
- Microspikes – These can give you amazing extra grip in snowy and icy conditions. Stability = confidence.
- Boots/Shoes – Switch up to waterproof, if you’ve got them.
- Socks – Grab an extra pair or two, in case the ones you’re wearing get snow soaked.
- Gaters – These can help seal up the gap between boots and pants/leggings.
- Leggings – Add base layers or long underwear as applicable.
- Waterproof Pants – These can also add a layer of protection for soppy conditions. (Try to get the ones with the full zips down the sides, so you don’t have to wrestle them over your boots if you want to take them off.)
- Tops – Same deal as the leggings.
- Jacket(s) – Adjust for wind/water/warmth. The combo I like is long-sleeve base layer, fleece zip-up, and a lightweight down/acrylic jacket that has armpit vents. Also pack a waterproof for additional wind/rain protection!
- Gloves – Depending on how cold it is, you may want both gloves and mittens. I use liner ski gloves inside downy ski mittens.
- Hat – Fleece is good to keep your bean warm while also making sure it doesn’t get to sweaty.
- Sunglasses – Oh hells yes.
- Water Bottle/Reservoir – Turns out, these things can freeze up when you get below certain temperatures. Consider grabbing a neoprene cover for your bottle or reservoir tube. And/or, grab a thermos for a hot bev! DO NOT SKIP HYDRATION BECAUSE IT’S NOT HOT OUT. Dehydration can happy in any weather.
- Poles – Like microspikes, these will increase stability in winter conditions. Attach your snow baskets for an extra assist!
READY TO NOM?
As you finish your prep, don’t forget to throw some extra snacks in your pack. If you’re trudging through snow, you’ll be burning through energy quickly. Have a variety of snacks (that you can still chew after they’ve gotten cold) in your pack to keep your fuel reserves up.
HAVE FUN OUT THERE!
With a bit of prep, you can have a fantastic winter hike. Get out there and play!
*Photo by Dino Reichmuth