As the coloured leaves fall from the trees and the cold wind blows in from the north, most hikers hang up their hiking boots and hide inside until the warmth of spring and summer returns. Many people, unfortunately, don’t realize that you can still enjoy plenty of our hiking trails after the winter snow falls and the air turns crisp.
Throughout the winter months many parks and trails are kept accessible through a grooming process that packs the snow down on the trail, this provides a nice firmly packed surface of snow to walk on. This process can be done with machines or just by other hikers packing the snow down with their boots as they hike the trail keeping it accessible for the average hiker.
During a cold winter hike layering becomes a very important part of your equipment and gear.
Your Inner layer should be clothing made of a wicking fabric such as thermion, polypropylene, thermax, or thinsulate. This clothing will pick up (or wick) the moisture off your body as you move.
Your Insulating layer should be something warm that can be taken off once you warm up. This layer could be a wool sweater or vest, fleece, down in a jacket, or a non-cotton shirt.
Your Outer layer needs to be a breathable rain and wind proof jacket (a built in hood is always a good option too).
Your Pants should not be made of cotton or denim; these materials do not keep the heat when wet. If it’s a long hike or a cold day you should also consider wearing a wicking layer under your pants.
A good pair of waterproof leather hiking boots will work fine in the winter for most day hikes, your regular thick hiking socks should be fine, but sometimes it is best to wear 2 pairs of wool socks. If it's really cold or if you’re planning an overnight trip, leather boots become inadequate. They soak up water during the day and freeze up overnight, making it difficult or impossible to put them on in the morning. Also consider getting a pair of gators that will keep the snow away from the top of your hiking boots.
Hats and mitts are also a good idea for winter hiking. Gloves won’t keep your hands as warm as a good pair of mitts.
Finally, the one main thing to remember about winter hiking clothing is absolutely No Cotton! Cotton will not keep you warm because it doesn’t insulate when it gets wet and it can freeze solid in cold temperatures. The standard thought to keep in mind is “Cotton Kills”.
Water and Food
Water and food are always important on hiking trips and maybe more so on winter hiking trips. Your body will heat up quickly under all of those layers of clothing, you will be burning more energy and the dry air will dehydrate you quicker. Always drink lots of water and eat snacks during the hike. Try to plan out rest and snack stops on the trail and don’t go for long periods between replenishing your body’s fuel supply.
The winter snow brings great scenery of white landscapes, but the days are also shorter and colder. Plan your trips with more then enough time to get there and back before sunset. Choose your trail and trip carefully, snow covered trails can be hard to follow if they are not well marked and make sure to check the local weather before heading out.
Snowshoeing is a great way to get out on hiking trails in the winter. Snowshoes are easy to use, if you can walk you can snowshoe, and the cost is fairly cheap. Snowshoeing, depending on the type of snow and weather conditions, can be just as fast as regular hiking and it burns off plenty calories in doing so. The muscles used are similar to those used in walking and in hiking in hilly terrain.
If you have the gear, or can afford to buy the gear, cross-country skiing can be a good way to enjoy hiking trails after the snow arrives. The sport gives you a great workout and can take you down the trail faster then hiking. There is a learning curve to this sport and the cost of boots and skis to consider before heading out to the local ski shop.