For those of us who love the great outdoors, winter can be one of the best times for hiking. Familiar trails have a whole new look, plus there are far fewer people out and about that you have to work around.
While you can simply set out with your hiking boots, back pack and your water during the warmer months, winter hiking takes a bit more preparation. Here are a few tips to make sure you're safe and comfortable while out in the cold:
Dress in layers
Of course, this isn't the first time you've heard this particular tip if you are a veteran hiker, but it can't be emphasized enough. Dressing for a hike in cold weather can be tricky because the amount of heat your body can generate may surprise you. However, you need to be protected from the wind and any precipitation to keep your body as dry as possible. Always have a base layer with fabric that is designed to wick moisture off of your body, while the outer layer should be a waterproof shell of some sort to keep you dry from the outside in and to block the wind. In between, depending on how cold it is or how strenuous your trail is, is where you can add or subtract layers. A fleece jacket is always a good option for insulation.
Remember, no matter how many layers you put on, avoid cotton, as it sucks warmth away from your body as soon as it gets wet, a sure cause of hypothermia.
Use proper footwear
Even if you have a pair of trusty boots that you love to hike in throughout the spring and summer, make sure to get yourself a new pair designed for winter hiking. They should always be above the ankle and waterproof, at the very least, and you may want to consider gaiters if the snow is more than a few inches deep. Wool blend socks are your best bet, as they will keep your feet toasty and dry quickly if they get wet. Remember to always bring an extra pair in your pack.
Keep your belongings safe
It's a good idea to leave your electronics in the car while you're on a hike – you never know what is going to get wet or frozen. Consider investing in a portable safe or laptop locks to be sure that everything is safe and secure, so you have peace of mind as you explore the trails.
Hiking in cold weather can burn significantly more calories than a similar hike in the summer. Because of this, it's essential that you have lots of high-energy snacks to keep you fueled along the way. Plus, as you consume calories, you will help your body warm itself. Keep your snacks – especially those that can freeze – in your jacket or fleece pocket instead of in your backpack so your body heat can keep them from frosting over. Also, even though you might not feel as thirsty as you may while hiking in August, make sure you keep drinking water. Surprisingly enough, it's easier to get dehydrated during the winter because the air is so dry.
Be prepared for an emergency
Depending on where you're hiking, you may be at risk for avalanches or other hazards, and there is always the chance of an unexpected snowstorm moving in. Make yourself aware of weather forecasts, and be prepared for worst-case scenarios. Avoid hiking alone and be sure to carry a topographical map and compass, along with a first aid kit, fire starter, waterproof matches, a pocket knife and an emergency blanket. Finally, make sure you tell someone where you're going and when you expect to be back.