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winter hiking

Just because its cold outside and there is snow on the ground doesn't mean you can't go hiking. Winter hiking is amazing and it transforms the trails into something completely different. You just need to be smart when you hike in the winter. 

Basic Information

  • Check conditions before you leave. When in doubt, don't go out.

  • Daylight hours are shorter, hit the trail early. Hiking in winter is slower (more obstacles), so plan accordingly.

  • Snow can hide trails, making it easy to get lost. Pay attention.

  • Dehydration expedites the onset of hypothermia- stay hydrated.

  • You burn more calories when hiking in winter. Stay nourished, which will also help to keep you warm. But don't stop for too long.

  • Don't try to tough it out.  If your fingers or toes get too cold stop and warm them. Use warming packs or put fingers in your armpits or your cold toes on your partners stomach.

  • Be prepared to turn around if the conditions change or the hike is taking longer than expected. 

  • Choose more popular spots so you don't have to break trail (creating a path in the snow). This can use up a lot of energy.

  • Bring a warm drink in a thermos; cocoa, tea, coffee, cider, broth. Save the alcohol for home.

Dress Properly

​Staying warm and staying dry are key when hiking during the winter. It's easier to stay warm than it is to get warm. 

  • Layers are best. Start with a moisture wicking base layer, then an insulating mid layer and top with a water/wind proof shell. If you become too hot, be sure to shed a layer before you get too sweaty. Bring along extra layers in case you do get too sweaty.

  • Avoid cotton. Choose synthetics or wool that will wick away moisture.

  • Avoid tight clothing. This can cause poor circulation which increases the chance of frostbite.

  • Socks should fit well. Choose insulated socks instead of thicker socks that may make your boots fit too tightly. Pack and extra pair in case yours get wet.

  • Accessorize. Hats, waterproof gloves and neck gaiters that can be pulled up over your nose, cheeks and ears. 

  • Sunglasses or googles. Snow can be blinding on a sunny day. 

Winter Hiking Gear

Hiking in the winter is very different than hiking during the rest of the year.  Having the proper gear can make a huge difference in your hike. 

  • Micro spikes - for packed snow that is not too steep

  • Crampons  - more durable than micro spikes, good for steep, icy terrain

  • Snowshoes - for loose, deep snow that is flat or slopped

  • Trekking poles - these will help with stability on slippery surfaces

  • Toe & Hand warmers - great to have on hand if your fingers or toes get too cold


This is a condition where the tissue below the skin freezes.

Symptoms Include: 

  • cold, waxy, hard or pale skin

  • tingling or numbness

  • burning or stinging skin sensation

  • skin discoloration- red, blue, grayish yellow

  • blistering after rewarming


Preventing Frostbite:

  • Keep skin covered and warm, anything exposed could lead to frostbite

  • Take special care of your nose, cheeks ears, fingers and toes

For more information on frostbite check out this article:


This conditions is when you have a lower body temperature than normal

Symptoms include:

  • Uncontrollable of violent shivering

  • slurred speech

  • inability to communicate or confusion

  • clumsiness

  • exhaustion/drowsiness

  • shallow breathing

  • dizziness

Preventing Hypothermia:

  • Stay warm and dry; wear proper clothing

  • Stay hydrated and nourished

  • Avoid becoming fatigued or over exhausted 

  • Avoid alcohol; this expands blood vessels which increases heat loss

  • Keep an eye out for your friends, check on each other

For more information about hypothermia check out this article:

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