Tips for Cold Weather Hikes

During this time of year, the snow, ice and cold temperatures may make you want to stay indoors, but winter is also a wonderful time to get outside and stretch your legs in the fresh air with a mountain hike. The shorter days and colder temperatures do make hiking at this time of year a different experience than in warmer seasons, so here are a few things to keep in mind.

Staying Warm
Wearing layers is key to staying warm and dry. Layering is a three-part system that includes a base layer that wicks perspiration away from your skin, a mid layer that insulates you from the cold and a shell layer that keeps wind and moisture out. The goal with layering is to add and remove layers throughout your hike so you can stay warm and comfortable without overheating and getting sweaty. Also, avoid cotton and opt for synthetic layers that wick moisture and are quick-drying instead. Gloves, hats and good boots are also important.

Shorter Days
With fewer hours of daylight, it’s best to set out early and hike when the sun is high in the sky. Temperatures can drop significantly as the sun dips behind the mountains, so time your hike with this in mind. It’s also a good idea to pack a flashlight or headlamp, just in case you find yourself still on the trail after the sun goes down.

Stay Hydrated
Hydration is important for any physical activity, even more so in climates where hypothermia is a possibility. The lids on water bottles can freeze shut, so flipping your bottles upside down will solve that problem (just be sure your bottles don’t leak and that the tops are screwed shut securely). Putting the bottles in your pack rather than in exterior pockets will also help insulate them from the cold. You can also use insulated sleeves for your water bottles or an insulated hose-fed hydration pack. Hot or warm drinks can also go a long way toward keeping you comfortable.

Stay Nourished
Exercising in winter burns more calories as your body works to keep warm, so you need to stay nourished. Pack snacks that are high in protein and carbs to give you energy. It’s important that the snacks you bring winter hiking are quick and easy to eat while on the move. Stopping for a long time to eat will leave you cold, and your muscles will have a harder time warming up again.

Be Prepared
Check snow conditions and weather before leaving the house and be sure that somebody knows where you’re going before you head out. It also helps to bring a physical map with you, as snow and ice can hide trail markers and electronic devices may not work is some areas and in extreme temperatures.

And don’t forget to have fun!

For more detailed information on hiking during the winter months, check out the Recommended Reads at mountain-hiking.com and the January issue of the Catskill Mountain Region Guide.