Tips for Hiking in the Winter: How to Stay Comfy, Warm and Have Fun in Your Winter Hike

Tips for Hiking in the Winter
Russell McCarty
Written by Russell McCarty

Hiking is a great entertainment and outdoor activity that allows you not only to enjoy natural landscapes but also to stay healthy and in shape. The best thing about hiking is that it is available everywhere regardless of the terrain and at any time of the year. However, in contrast to hiking during a warm season, there are some nuances of winter hiking that outdoor lovers should be aware of in order to fully enjoy the frosty air and snowy landscapes.

See also: Best Hikes In Alaska: A Guide To An Unforgettable Hiking Experience

If you find that the weather outside is intimidating but the trails look so beautiful that you cannot resist the temptation to go hiking, you could certainly use the tips for hiking in the winter that we have provided below. By following them, you can properly prepare for your winter adventure and make it enjoyable, healthy and fun experience.

Tip 1: Choose the right clothes and the number of layers

The key rule of comfortable winter hiking is to stay dry and warm.  In order to achieve that, it is necessary to choose high quality outdoor clothing and wear them properly. Appropriate outdoor winter clothing is always multi-layered due to its capacity to create a special air layer that does not allow frost to pass through the clothing and reach the body.

Wear thick clothes

Therefore, one layer, even if it is a thick woolen sweater, is never enough. But do not rush to empty your wardrobe and put dozens of layers – it does not help. An optimum number of layers is three: a base layer, a mid-layer and an outer one.

The base layer is considered to be the main and the most important one because it is the next-to-skin layer. Its main role and task is to provide temperature regulation, as well as to eliminate any moisture while you are active and sweating. There are two main types of materials that the clothing for the base layer is usually made of: wool and synthetic. If you’re thinking of what to give your friends who love to trek, why not read our useful reviews of the best gifts to give hikers for more information.

If you choose woolen clothing for the first layer, you should know that merino wool is the most preferable because it absorbs moisture and odor. Moreover, one more valuable quality of wool is that it offers higher warmth while being extremely soft and light. Therefore, a woolen base layer is the best choice for outdoor lovers who want to hike for a long time in the coldest weather.

You can also give preference to a synthetic clothing, especially if you want to save money – compared to wool, synthetic is much cheaper. It also keeps you warm and absorbs moisture while remaining breathable. However, you must be ready for the unpleasant smell: after one day of long and intense hiking, your synthetic underwear will stink like a pair of dirty socks.

Family winter hike

The second layer is the middle and its main role is to preserve warmth. The mid-layer includes any garment that is worn between base and outer layers.  The best choice is any clothing made of fleece or wool.  A thin down jacket can also be a good option. If the temperature is too low outside or if you are going to stay outdoors overnight, it is worth getting the second extra mid-layer.

The final layer is so-called outer or shell layer. It is used for protection against wind, moisture and snow. Therefore, the main garments of this layer are waterproof windproof jacket and pants that are made of such time-proved and high-quality materials as Gore-Tex or eVent. If you search for a cheaper alternative, then choose materials with the polyurethane coating – it is more affordable, though the quality is lower.

In addition to clothing, it is also important to pay attention to footwear and accessories. The most appropriate footwear that will make your winter hiking as comfortable as possible is waterproof and insulated hiking boots.

But since winter hiking often implies walking through deep snow, it also makes sense to have special shoe covers that you put on your boots. They keep  the footwear from getting in contact with the snow directly, so you can be sure that your feet will not get wet and frozen after a while.

With regards to additional accessories, you can include a hat made preferably of wool, waterproof and windproof gloves, several pairs of synthetic or woollen socks, and goggles that will protect your eyes during windy or sunny weather.

Tip 2: Treat yourself with a warm meal and appropriate beverage

Even though winter snowy landscapes are not places for culinary delights, it is very important on a winter hike to take the appropriate snacks and drinks that will help you to stay active, full of energy and warm. The best choice is fat-rich products including fried sausages or bacon, even though your regular diet does not consist of them.

Warm meal before winter hiking

Such high-fat and high-calorie food will help you to stay warm longer and not freeze. The other nutritious and effective snack with a warming effect is an instant soup that you can bring with you in your thermos.  As for the drinks, the best choice would be tea with condensed milk or hot cocoa. Also check out our article review of the best canned beer for hikers for more options.

One of the most common mistakes among hikers during winter season is consumption of strong alcohol based on the misconception that spirits can protect you against freezing. On the contrary, the warming effect of these drinks is only temporarily and is quickly replaced by chill.

Therefore, one must be very careful with alcohol consumption and confine oneself to 50-100 grams of light alcohol drinks, such as mulled wine or sake. It is also not recommended to drink coffee on a winter hike – caffeine reduces the blood flow and leads to cooling of hands and feet.

Tip 3. Check the weather before your hike

Winter weather conditions can be very harsh, therefore it is important to check the weather forecast and get properly prepared.  Remember that these conditions include not just the temperature, but also wind speed, daylight hours and precipitation. If you used to hike in summer, you should understand that winter hiking experience is absolutely different and can be quite dangerous because of heavy snow, risk of avalanches and snow storms.

Great winter weather

Even though you are not going to high mountains and confine yourself to hiking in the hill-country, it is necessary to check the weather because hiking in a hilly terrain can be hazardous and challenging in icy and snowy weather. Also remember that hiking in good weather conditions, when there is no wind and sunny, will be much more enjoyable and comfortable outdoor experience for you.

With regards to daylight, it is also necessary to understand that day hours in winter are shorter than in summer, and winter darkness can surprise you with its sudden arrival when you are still in the woods. Therefore, it is better to start your hike as early as possible which will allow you to maximize the use of daylight and probably return home before dark.

Tip 4. Learn how to navigate

Due to possible harsh weather conditions and shorter daylight hours, it is much easier to get lost while hiking in winter than in summer. Moreover, winter often buries the terrains beneath snow and they all start to look alike. For this reason, it might be challenging for hikers to find their way in snowy landscapes, especially if it is an unfamiliar area.

Navigating winter terrain

So if you are lost in such conditions, the best option is to use A compass, map or GPS for navigation. If you plan a serious and long winter hiking trip, it might be worth taking a special wilderness navigation course and practice your navigation skills before going on your trip.

Tip 5. Take safety and emergency equipment with you

You never know what is going to happen in the wilderness during your winter adventure.  Winter hiking is unpredictable, and therefore it is important to have all the necessary equipment with you for the sake of safety. The first and very important thing that must be included in the checklist for winter hiking is a headlamp or torch that will help you to navigate in darkness in case your hiking trip goes longer than you expected and it is getting dark already.

Do not forget to have extra batteries because low temperatures and cold can kill batteries much faster. Another must-have item in a hiker’s backpack is the first-aid kit with various medicines, wound coverings, wraps and all those things that you will need in case of injuries and other emergencies.

Of course, you might hope that nothing bad or critical is going to happen, but it is always better to be prepared and remember the proverb: The Lord always helps those who help themselves.

Safety is a priority

It is also advised to have other extra stuff with you such as matches or lighter, hand and feet warmers, pocket knife, sun cream and portable shovel. These small things do not occupy much space in a backpack, but might become very helpful during a winter hiking trip in case yourself you’re caught in a difficult and challenging situation that often occurs outdoors.

Tip 6. Get a good company with you

Even if you are a solo hiker, who goes on a hike through the winter wilderness to enjoy your solitude and be alone with nature, it is advised to take someone with you, especially in the freezing winter weather, when the risks of accidents are higher.

Moreover, it won’t hurt to share your winter outdoor adventure with someone. In case, if you still decide to go alone, make sure that you inform your family members or friends about important details like where exactly you are going and what time you are expected to be back. Do not forget to call them when you get home to tell that you have returned safely.

Another good idea also is to take a dog with you that can become a perfect but silent companion. However ,if you decide to bring your four-legged friend, make sure to provide him or her with all necessary equipment:  clothing, boots, food and water, especially if the planned hike is planned going to be long and the temperature is low – some dogs get cold easily.

Tip 7. Listen to your body impulses and pay attention to your physical sensations

While hiking in a freezing weather for a long time, it is very important to listen to your body in order to avoid serious health condition such as frostbites, chilblain or hypothermia.  Do not play the hero and do not ignore your physical sensations: if you start feeling that you are freezing, it is better to turn back and return home as soon as possible.

Briefing before hike

Ignoring the first symptoms of freezing might lead to very serious and deadly health conditions. Also, there is also the fact that most people often do not realize what is happening to him. For example, he might feel weak, fatigued, chilled or dizzy and fail to associate it with hypothermia, which if left untreated can lead to death.

If you start feeling the above mentioned symptoms while hiking in winter and there is no option for you to return home immediately, there are some ways to help yourself.  First of all, it is necessary to remove cold and moistened clothes and replace them with dry ones.

The second step is to drink something hot like tea or cocoa, and eat a warm meal, which will help you to get warm from inside and make the blood circulate faster.  If you have frostbitten parts of the body, it is not recommended to rub them with snow – it will create moisture in the skin and increase the frostbite. For more important guidelines on how to hike safely, see our article for more details.

Final thoughts

With these tips provided above, you should be more than ready to brave the winter outdoors. If you follow them and prepare yourself properly, your winter hiking experience will become an unforgettable and fun adventure, rather than a crash course in winter weather survival.  And remember:  winter time is a perfect time for conquering new frontiers, getting closer to nature and discovering new terrains. Do not miss this chance! Check out our review of the top hiking sites in America to help you decide on your next destination.

Time to hike

So are you ready for a winter hike? Or perhaps, you have tried hiking in the winter before? Any other tips that you can share? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.


Russell McCarty

Russell McCarty

Russell considers backpacking one of his great passions in life. He actually managed to transform his passion into a living becoming a professional adventurer. Russell loves long-distance backpacking and he enriched his portfolio with famous trails like the Alaska-Yukon Expedition or the Appalachian Trail. With thousands of miles under his feet, Russell is the expert to consult when it comes to how to prepare for a successful outdoor adventure.