Staying Warm on a Winter Hike

Staying Warm on a Winter Hike

By: Mikayla Koeltzow

It’s the first morning of your weekend and going on a hike sounds like a perfect way to spend the day enjoying some peaceful time in the outdoors. Later on, you show up to the hiking trail, only to find that you were not alone in this thought, not even close. The parking lot is jam-packed and chaotic; not quite the experience you had in mind.

But there’s a way you can practically guarantee a much more secluded hiking experience: go the hiking during the off-season, AKA the least popular season to hike where you live. If you live somewhere that has cold winters, this is definitely the time!

Why Try Winter Hiking “But... it’s cold!"

And that’s exactly why you will find even the most popular trails nearly empty. In general, people just spend more time inside because frankly, many of us just don’t enjoy being cold and simply prefer the convenience of moderate weather. But with the right preparation, hiking in the winter season can be perfectly comfortable, and such a cool experience if you’ve never ventured out in the winter.

An arch of stone above a lone hiker.

How to Bundle up Properly

  • LAYERS! This is probably the biggest factor in staying warm on a hike when it’s cold: You typically want a good 3 layers to keep comfortable in the cold:
    1. Base layer: Typically pants and a long sleeve top made of wool or a synthetic material like polyester. These add a level of warmth but an equally important aspect is that your base layer is able to dry quickly and absorb sweat.
    2. Insulating layer: Such as warm filled winter jackets, thick vests.
    3. Water resistant layer: Especially if you are dealing with rain or snow, a water resistant or water proof top layer make a huge difference on staying comfortable and warm.
  1. Don’t forget to protect your hands, feet, neck, and head.
    • Hands: Gloves, ideally an insulated pair that is water resistant. If not water resistant, try to bring an extra pair with you.
    • Feet: Thick socks that cover your ankle and shoes or boots that keep your feet dry. If there’s snow, tall boots are key for keeping your socks dry.
    • Neck: A gaiter or scarf can protect your neck from the cold air, especially on windy days this makes a huge difference.
    • Head: A warm beanie to cover your head and ears.

A single female hiker wears a TETON Sports backpack in Arches National Park.

Things to Bring

  • Water: Staying hydrated is important while hiking regardless of temperature.
  • Food: Nourishment from snacks is important to keep comfortable, bonus points if you can bring something warm like oatmeal or soup in a thermos.
  • Extra Clothing: When in doubt, always bring more clothing than you think you’ll need to keep warm. Additionally, a fresh and comfy change of clothes and socks for the drive home after your hike.
  • Backpack: To hold your water and snacks, but also for a place to put any of your layers if you get too warm.
  • Might need: Trekking poles and micro-spikes for your shoes if snowy. Hand warmers are great to have on hand.
Maintaining a Good Temperature
  • Too cold? Movement! Insulation only holds your heat in, it does not generate the heat, that's all from you! Stopped for a break and getting cold? Do a few jumping jacks or a short jog to kickstart your heat.
  • Too warm? Ditch a layer! Another perk of the multiple layers of clothing is that it’s easy to slip off your insulating layer and throw it in your pack if you get too warm at any point.

Hopefully now you have some confidence in approaching a hike this winter. Not only are the hikes much less busy, the scenery looks different in each season and winter just might be one of the prettiest, especially if you visit places with lots of snow. Just take a look at this famous place below, one photo taken in the summer, and the same one taken in the winter. Get out there and adventure, no matter the season!

A view of Arches National Park in the snow.

A view of Arches National Park.

About the Author: Mikayla Koeltzow

Mikayla is always looking to see new places and experience new things in order to slow life down and create unique memories. Photography and writing are her absolute favorite ways to document these moments. When not working or relaxing with her dog, you’ll most often find her (and her dog) hiking, backpacking, camping, road tripping, or hanging out with friends and family.