How To Suffer Less During Your Next Winter Hike

When the temperature starts to drop and the ground begins to get covered in snow, many trails suddenly find themselves mostly empty until spring decides to visit again. While I definitely find myself enjoying less people on the trail, I often wonder why so many people who love to be outside find themselves choosing to stay inside during one of the most beautiful times of the year.

There are plenty of benefits to hiking in the winter, and there is no point in wasting 3-4 months of the year simply because it is cold outside. So, next time you find yourself itching to get outside in the dead of winter, try these tips to help those bitter cold days become a little more bearable and full of adventure!

A nice and toasty -7 degree day in Maryland

It’s All About The Layers

A proper laying system makes all the difference when it comes to cold temperatures. Cotton is known to “kill” in the winter, so opt for wool, fleece, or synthetic fabrics whenever possible. In reality, you will be moving throughout the day, so you may not need as many layers as you may think. Start with a wicking base layer on your top and bottom (Ice Breaker makes some really nice cold-weather merino base layers), layer under some light weight insulation such as fleece or a lighter jacket on both your top and bottom, and then finish off with a heavier insulating layer on top (such as down – just be sure to keep it dry!) Hats, gloves, and really warm wool socks will help keep everything else warm!

Stabilization and Traction

In places where there may only be a few inches of snow and some ice, your trekking poles will save you from falling on your face every five minutes. If conditions are really icy, try a pair of micro spikes to help give you some traction. If you get serious snow where you live then snow shoes will make your life a thousand times easier.

Less Daylight = Shorter Hikes

You may be able to fit in a 20-mile day during the summer months, but it’s much harder to pull off big-mile days in the winter. Even if you’re okay with the possibility of night hiking, it gets much colder and icier at night which can make things tricky. Check when sunset is before you go out and plan your hike accordingly!

Upstate New York looking beautiful as always

Hot Lunches Are Your Friend

If it’s really cold out, I sometimes bring a thermos with a hot drink or hot food. Bringing along your backpacking stove can also help give you a needed boost of warmth in the middle of the day! Be sure to bring an extra layer to throw on when you stop to take a break – you will get cold really quickly when you stop moving!

Unhappy Feet = Unhappy Hiker

Trail runners are great in the summer, but in the winter they can lead to cold and wet feet. Try getting a slightly more durable and waterproof pair of boots to keep your feet warm and dry. Also consider a pair of high gaiters to keep snow and ice from getting in your boots and on your legs.

Winter sunsets literally never disappoint

Don’t Forget The Water

Your body will still need plenty of water to keep you strong and full of energy while on the trail. Although it’s easy to forget to drink water when you’re not sweating from the heat, it’s really important to stay hydrated throughout the day. Depending on the temps, you may have to just suck it up and carry a little extra water as opposed to filling up along the way. The main issue is that many water sources may be frozen over, but even just using your water filter in chilly temperatures can lead to trouble. If your water filter freezes then the inside can crack and effectively break. This would mean that your water isn’t be properly filtered and there is a good chance that you won’t be able to tell. Play it safe and just carry an extra liter or two!

The Drier The Better

In winter, staying dry is crucial when it comes to staying warm. This includes not letting yourself sweat too much (take off a layer if you start to over heat), not getting your feet wet while crossing streams, and making sure you stay dry from precipitation. If you are wet, you will get a lot colder really quickly. More often than not it’s also going to be extremely hard to get dry and warm again. Be prepared for the elements, and especially never let your down jacket get wet while out on the trail!

Decided winter hiking isn’t your thing? There are tons of activities to keep you active this winter – skiing, snowboarding, and ice climbing are just a few! Depending on where you live, there are countless winter activities to keep you outside all winter long!

Happy (and warm) hiking!

The AT looking extra pretty in the winter

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Comments 5

  • Michael Flora : Jan 19th

    Brilliant! In fact, I started a blog last week and my first post had a very similar topic. Something you highlighted that I didn’t think of was the hot lunch, total life saver! Keep up the great work. Also if you want to check out my post you can find it here
    Happy hiking!
    -Michael Flora

    • Colleen Goldhorn : Jan 20th

      Awesome site, Michael! Lots of good tips for winter hiking – definitely one of the best times of year to get outside!

  • nin : Jan 20th

    Some additional benefits…. little chance of upsetting a mother bear, zero flies, and, if lost, retrace own footprints made in snow. Winter hiking is the best.

  • Mike Dellapenna : Jan 23rd

    Thanks for the info. You should look into getting a job at Outside Magazine. You really know your stuff and how to convey it in an interesting way.

    • Colleen Goldhorn : Jan 23rd

      That’s definitely on my list of dream jobs! Thanks for reading


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