“If the winter is too cold and the summer is too hot, you are not a hiker.”–A Bitter Hiker
The only way a cold-weather hike will put you in a bad mood is if you set out unprepared. Luckily, we’ve got you covered with a list of the essentials to stay warm, fed, hydrated and happy throughout your winter hiking slate.
So cross these items off your checklist and enjoy trails from breathtaking spots like the national parks at Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, Yosemite and more. Bitter will be the farthest word from your mind as you gaze at spectacular winter vistas and encounter wildlife up-close-and-personal without fighting the crowds that come in spring and summer. Thank us later.
We’ll start with the most obvious of obvious cold-weather hiking suggestions: Stay warm. Beyond dressing in layers and keeping your hands and feet insulated, having reliable winter beanies is of the utmost importance. A large portion of the body’s heat is lost through the head, so don’t be that guy or gal who pulls into the parking lot outfitted with everything except that valuable headgear.
Whether comfort, style or warmth is at the top of your priority list, you can easily find a beanie to meet your needs. Pom beanies, personalized beanies, mid caps and headbands satisfy pretty much all of these criteria for everything on the spectrum from a leisurely stroll to a rigorous hike.
Snowshoes are ideal for making sure you don’t get bogged down in snow, and can keep up a good pace to tackle all the terrain you planned on traversing. Due to its relative ease and inexpensiveness compared to other winter sports, the Outdoor Industry Association estimates snowshoeing participation has grown by over 40 percent since 2008. If you’re not a veteran with a pair of your own in the closet, rent a pair and plan a moderate cold-weather hike. Chances are you’ll have discovered a new hobby.
Speaking of discovering, you can’t discover much of anything if you don’t know where you’re going. Regardless of your hiking expertise level, plan out your route in advance and have a printed map in hand. Even the most well-marked trails can get confusing when it’s snowing sideways. Don’t let that get you sideways.
Aside from shivering, a growling stomach may be top of the list for things that can spoil a picturesque cold-weather hike. Pack plenty of high-energy snacks and salty foods to satisfy your cravings and ensure you have the gusto to explore with a clear mind. Ideal choices include cheese sticks, jerky, dried fruits, nuts, crackers and chocolate. When you think you have enough, throw a few more in your bag. Nutritionists estimate you’ll expend 2,000-3,000 more calories on a cold-weather hike than you would on a normal day.
A durable, lightweight thermos is another wise item to hit the trails with. Whether your beverage of choice is tea, coffee, hot chocolate or just warm water, maintaining it at an ideal temperature is key. If you’re loading any of the first three into your thermos, be sure to tack on lots of water to stay hydrated.
A quality waterproof backpack that can hold plenty without loading you down is also paramount to maximizing that winter hike. Think through your pack and leave the non-essentials at home or in your vehicle.
Sunglasses aren’t just for sun-splashed beaches in the summertime. In fact, they may be even more important in winter. Snow and ice make perfect reflectors for the sun’s rays, which can be blinding and headache-inducing if you’re not prepared. Luckily, you’re taking this list to heart and that will not be you. You’re welcome.
When the sun goes down, tuck away the shades and pull out your flashlight. Packing extra batteries is also good as a “just in case” measure. If you’re able to keep warm, hydrated, fed and aware of your route, setting out on a night-time winter hike can be a truly unique experience. Catching the sunrise or a sunset is the perfect way to cap or start a cold-weather hike.