Hiking in Cold Weather


With temperatures dipping below those on the surface of Mars, (I’m not joking…) us Minnesotans know a thing or two about cold weather. Unfortunately Mother Nature and her outrageous mood swings can scare off even the most badass hikers. Some choose to hibernate and postpone pre hike outdoor training until winter has passed, and some brave souls layer up and take on the arctic tundra. If you’re (un)lucky enough to live in a place where snow, sleet, frozen eyelashes and frostbite are non issues, go take a hot shower and stick your head inside of your freezer for a couple minutes and then read on. Cold? Good. Welcome to my world. Join me in learning how to survive and thrive while hiking in chilly temperatures.

I cannot emphasize enough how important LAYERING is while trying to stay warm. Large, bulky items may be warm but they are also…large and bulky. In order to save space and weight, I’ve come up with a hiking wardrobe that is deceptively warm (I was sweating too much for my own comfort during this photoshoot) and packs down to near nothing. Different combinations of the items below are always an option, but these five “outfits” are suitable for nearly all weather conditions. *I plan to wear my rain gear (top and bottom) over everything on the coldest of days, I just don’t have it yet. PS: Sorry I’m the most awkward photo subject on planet Earth.


1. Patagonia Women’s R3 Jacket, $189, 11.6 oz.
2. The North Face Women’s TKA 100 Microvelour Pants, $55, 7.8 oz.
3. Mountain Hardwear Micro Dome hat, $18, 1oz.
4. Neck Gaiter, $28, 1 oz. *my neck gaiter is from a small shop in New Zealand, but it is nearly identical to the Smartwool verison.
5. Gloves, I got mine for $1 at Goodwill and will probably upgrade eventually…
6. Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2 Trail Runners, $130 (ON SALE FOR $90), 1lb. 12 oz.
7. Patagonia Women’s Nano Puff Vest, $149, 7.4 oz.
8. Patagonia Women’s Baggies Shorts 5″, $49, 4.8 oz.
9. Smartwool Women’s NTS Mid 250 Bottom, $95, haven’t weighed yet
10. Dirty Girl Gaiters, $20, 1 oz.
11. Smartwool Women’s NTS Mid 250 Crew, $95, haven’t weighed yet
12. Smartwool Microweight Women’s Tshirt, $40, 4 oz.

*I conveniently already owned items 1, 4, 5, 8 and 12 before trail prep started.

For me, my clutch items are a hat, top and bottom baselayers and my neck gaiter. Granted, I’ve been walking around outside in temperatures that will not be seen on the AT (I just knocked on wood, you should too) but I think money spent on quality warm wear will not be regretted. When temperatures begin to plummet, it is so important to be prepared! Making sure you have dry clothes is a life saver. Keep moving if you’re cold. Eat enough food and drink enough water. Get into your sleeping bag ASAP. Use body heat. Snuggle up with a water bottle filled with boiling water. Take care of yourself.

I would rather get teeth pulled than run another mile on a treadmill, so sticking strictly to indoor training during the winter is not an option in preparing for my thru hike. There is no better way to train for a hike than to simply hike. Load up your pack with your gear, or things that will weigh approximately a full pack load and hit the streets. Hills are great. Mountains are better. Minnesota is flat, so I’ve experimented with walking on a treadmill at an incline while wearing my pack. People give you weird looks, but we’ll see who is laughing when you summit Katahdin. Tired of walking? (I sure hope not…) Snowshoeing, nordic skiing and sledding (well, more the walking back up the hill part) are some different cross-training options in your winter wonderland.

In all seriousness, hiking in the cold can be very dangerous. Educate yourself on signs of frostbite and hypothermia, check your local weather and make sure to tell someone if you’re going for a hike. Here are two brief articles that I’ve found rather helpful:
How To Exercise in Cold Weather by Laura McMullen of US News
Exercise and Cold Weather by Mayo Clinic

Stay warm & Happy Trails,

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