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Walking in a Winter Wonderland: Five Cold Weather Hiking Tips

Posted by Nathan Miller on Apr 8, 2015 10:42:46 AM


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The winter is on its way out, but its effects can still be felt in the mountains. Cold weather has swept its way across the country, and maybe you are looking to lose some of the weight you gained over the holidays by taking some brisk hikes in the winter wonderland that awaits you. But before you throw on the nearest sweater and start your wintry outdoor adventures, here are five tips for cold weather hiking.

Keep Your Shades and Suntan Lotion Handy

It's easy to remember to wear polarized sunglasses and to lotion up when engaging in a summer activity like hitting the beach or the local swimming pool. However, just because clouds are in the air and ice is on the lake doesn't mean you won't run the risk of squinting at brightness and potentially getting sun burned. What might start off as a fun day of snowshoeing or skating across a frozen lake can easily turn into an evening of applying aloe and burn ointment. Remember, snow and ice reflect the sun’s rays like a mirror, and without a good set of polarized sunglasses and suntan lotion, you will find yourself hurting and wondering what happened.  

Never Underestimate a Scarf and Hat

Scarves are great because they pull double duty as a fashion statement that also keeps your neck warm and safe from the elements. Now, adding a scarf to your attire may seem unnecessary if your coat zips up fairly high. However, without a scarf, frigid temperatures and a bit of blowing snow can creep down your coat and quickly turn your winter hike into a miserable and potentially dangerous experience. While taking care of your neck, it is also important to remember to keep your head warm. Whether you are going for a short walk or a long hike, protecting your head against the elements should be a given, even more so when you don't know how rapidly the elements can change. A warm beanie, a hat with ear flaps, or a knit cap can protect your head and help you from losing vital warmth.

Learn How to Layer Your Clothes

Anytime you step out into the cold, it goes without saying that you want to bundle up. However if you plan on staying out longer than just a few minutes, you need to do more than pull on a sweater. Keeping yourself warm and properly insulated against the cold entails much more thought than you might expect. So how does a person layer up properly against the cold? The first layer should be clothes that can wick away sweat, otherwise you run the risk of your own sweat freezing on you. You know those sports jerseys you have? Those are perfect for that first layer of clothing. After this layer you can proceed as you would likely expect with long underwear, long pants, sweaters and so forth. Putting on the appropriate winter clothes is important, so make sure you are putting them on in the right order.

Protect Your Hands and Take a Stick

It should go without saying that if you are going outside on a day with below-zero temperatures that you should grab a pair of comfortable, insulated winter gloves. Unfortunately, we don't always do what is best for us. We might see winter gloves as encumbering our hands, making things more difficult to manipulate, meaning that much more time in the cold. Also it is true there are times when it is a hassle to find them, made all the more tempting to just forget about wearing entirely if you can only find one glove. It is better to stock up on multiple pairs of winter gloves and deal with the extra fuss the gloves might bring than to not have them at all. It only takes a few minutes in the right conditions for frostbite or other forms of skin damage to occur, and if that happens, you'll be wishing you had spent those gloves. And speaking of hands, it is always a good idea take along a basic walking stick when hiking. A trusty walking stick can help provide things like leverage if you need help getting up a steep incline, a sense of balance should part of your path be a bit steep, and they can provide protection against certain wild animals. 

Start Your Day Early

The last and possibly most important tip we can offer is this: When going for a hike during the winter time, get up at sunrise or sooner and have your winter gear like gloves, hat, scarf, and other coverings laid out ahead of time. Not only will you be able to get a good day of hiking in before lunchtime, but you will be hiking at a safer time of day as well. Weather can turn terrible in the blink of an eye during winter months. Every year the news is filled with stories about people who were caught in sudden storms that sprang up and caused them to be stuck in frigid temperatures overnight. Don't chance this happening to you! Sipping cocoa at night by the fire after a long hike sounds nice, but those hikes don't have to be done near nightfall nor should they be.


These tips are just some of the basics you should keep in mind before heading out for a winter hike. We hope you enjoy your winter weather excursions, however cold they may be.  Just remember to stay safe, dress appropriately, and be prepared for whatever the weather may have in store.

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Topics: Winter Apparel