Confession from the Trail: I’m a Wimp in Cold Weather

Let me start by saying I’m half Canadian through my father. I always thought this should automatically grant me some superpower to be able to tolerate cold and harsh weather. Nope, somehow the giver of superpowers missed this pink tutu wearing gal because at the first breeze of chilly, I’m a popsicle.

We had some nasty rain and sleet on the PCT these past few days, after Cabazon and before Big Bear Lake. I looked around at other hikers still in their shorts and with no gloves on, and I wonder what they’re made of and I’m not. You’d then see me completely bundled, and still shivering.

But I’m kinda smiling anyway. Even though I may be suffering to some degree, I don’t complain about it. I’m choosing to be out here after all. A previous partner of mine who I’ve hiked around the world with used to say I was the most powerful and the most precious at the same time. He was right. I shake and quiver in my ten degree sleeping quilt at night when over 6,000 feet, with all my clothes on; however I’m still stoked to be toughing it out on trail.

AHHH! Cold!

Yet despite aiming to be happy on trail no matter what, could I do something better to keep me warmer I ponder?

If you are also wimpy like me in cold weather, here are a few things that make it better for me when dealing on trail:

Rain Mittens

These are an absolute life saver for me when it’s rainy, windy, or if I just need another layer of insulation on top of my regular gloves. Mountain Laurel Designs makes rain mitts that weigh a little over an ounce and I would probably die without them. And I mean that, no more Rainbow Unicorn Warrior trucking on.


It was a rainy, dreary day when fording the Mission River a billion times, all the while navigating the makeshift new route due to the flooding this past February. At some point I came up a hill and saw a guy with an umbrella. I then had a little lightbulb go on over my head when I remembered I also have an umbrella! I hadn’t thought to use it in rain since I’ve been treasuring it for sun protection. Suddenly my life got a hell of a lot better when I whipped that baby out from my pack like a lightsaber.

I wish my umbrella matched my rainbow unicorn hat!

I wish my umbrella matched my rainbow unicorn hat!

Positive Thinking

I grew up in upstate New York and would wait at the bus stop at the end of my street when I was a kid. It was dang cold in winter and I would pretend I was on a tropical island in hot weather. I would tell myself I was warm and toasty on the beach instead of freezing my buns off in New York. Ah, the power of imagination and positive thinking.

So the other day when battling the rain, I started going into that same kind of fantasy. I also worked with a gratitude practice, telling myself I was grateful for my rain gear, for the flowing water sources, for my tent I could crawl into later on, and for the fact that I was hiking the PCT. Doing this took me out of the suck and into the appreciation of what good the rain brought.

OK, I tolerate cold way better than I do mosquitoes.

It’s All Impermanent

Around mile 262, I turned a corner to see a huge group of hikers huddled together under an awning. Trail magic! Two women were cooking up food and serving hot chocolate with bourbon and marshmallows. As the rain danced in and out, there were around seventeen of us at one point, happy as could be. We were reminded that eventually the weather passes on, or something special like trail magic happens. After two rounds of hot cocoa drinks, I was warmed to the core and on my way down the mountain. The rain stopped and the sun came out, causing steam to evaporate from the fallen logs, a mesmerizing sight to witness. I had the best late day walk in all the beauty of the snow kissed forest, when an hour before I had been shivering. It’s all impermanent, so don’t hold onto the moment too much.

Hot cocoa will get me going any day for sure.

Wake To Warm Clothes Trick

When I get into my tent for the night, I stuff all my clothes from the day to the bottom of my sleeping bag. Yep, even my socks, sweaty sports bra, everything. My body heat dries it all through the night, and in the morning when it’s time to dress I’m not putting on anything still damp. Your sleeping bag is already gross with your dirty body in it; why not add your clothes to the mix so they stay warm?

If you’ve got any tips to stave off the chill, I’m all ears. Or if you’ve got a spare Western Mountaineering sleeping bag you’d like to pass on to this grateful hiker, I’ll happily let you know where to send it!

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