Avid hikers forge out into the chilly winter countryside with as much energy and excitement as they do in the warmer months.
The crisp air is clean and bracing, the snowy landscape offers unique sights at every turn and different wildlife is active. Winter hiking does offer great beauty and adventure, but more dangerous too.
Always pack the proper winter hiking gear, check the weather before you go, make sure trails are open and safe and make backup plans in case of changes, injuries or slower progress than expected.
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Winter Hiking Gear
Follow these guidelines when preparing for winter hiking:
Dress in Layers
Although a heavy winter coat may be toasty warm and convenient for shoveling your driveway or a trip to the store, the last thing you want when hiking is a bulky garment that offers one temperature range. On the trail, your comfort level may change frequently due to the weather and your physical activity.
Layers of clothing that can easily be taken off or put back on being the ideal versatile solution.
Start at the Base
The fabric closest to your skin has one major goal: wicking sweat away from your body. Although cotton T-shirts is common, this fabric is actually the worst choice for the job. Cotton soaks in moisture and holds onto it. Lightweight Merino wool, silk or synthetics are best.
Depending on the temperature range and weather conditions of the hiking destination, the insulation layer may be a single garment or multiple. Polyester fleece has become the go-to fabric for outdoor recreation. It is warm and does not retain moisture for long. If you prefer natural fabrics, wool is your best bet. Choose a shirt, vest or jacket that fits comfortably.
The outer layer of active wear should be both breathable and water and wind resistant. In a chilly rain, you want to stay warm and dry, but when the sun comes out again, you do not want to stifle or build up a layer of sweat in your base and insulation layers. Proper winter hiking gear should have vents and zippers in the body for extra customization and comfort regulation.
Keep Warm with Head and Face Covers
When moms told their kids to always wear a hat, they knew what they were talking about. The head loses body heat at a faster rate than any other part, so a hat is a necessary piece of hiking equipment in cooler weather.
If you hike in the winter months or when a squall of snow may occur, a face cover such as a balaclava should be kept on hand. These are ideal as they protect all the sensitive parts like ears, nose and neck.
Protect Hands from Chapping and Frostbite
A pair of insulating gloves or mittens is essential winter hiking gear and prevents frostbite and painful skin chapping on the hands. Although mittens may be warmer, gloves allow you to buckle up your gear, work carabineers and do other tasks with more dexterity.
Layered Foot Protection Retains Heat
High-quality socks are a must-have item when hiking. The best bet is to wear two pairs: one thinner sock covered with a warmer, insulating sock. This will keep feet warm and dry and help prevent blisters from forming.
Outer socks are best in synthetic material or wool but avoid wearing socks that are too thick that impact circulation and flow of blood.
Use the proper hiking winter gear to match the environment. For the thick muddy or snowy areas, use the waterproof and insulated boots. While these might be heavy they give the most efficient protection for the feet. In colder climates wear the boots in high-quality rubber or plastic because leather has the tendency to freeze. But, for those unable to invest the extra in winter hiking gear, use a pair of gaiters on the regular boots to give more protection.