Your hiking adventures don’t have to come to an end simply because winter has arrived. In fact, winter is a great time to get out and see the world in a whole new way. While snow and colder temperatures undeniably present new challenges, they shouldn’t prevent you from getting out and doing what you love.
Keeping warm on a cold hike is extremely important. Failure to do so could result in hypothermia, frostbite or even death, so finding the right cold weather gear is not something that should be taken lightly. It’s also important to know how to wear or use that gear to properly keep yourself warm and toasty. Here are a few tips regarding how to keep warm on a cold hike.
Dress in Layers
Dressing in layers is one of the best things you can do to ensure that you will stay warm when the temperature plummets. You will need a base layer, a middle layer and an outer layer. Your base layer wicks sweat away from your skin to help you stay dry while the middle layer acts as insulation to help you retain body heat. Finally, the outer layer shields you against wind and rain.
During cold weather, your base layer should include long underwear and a long-sleeve t-shirt. Look for options that are made from synthetic materials, like polyester, and designed to wick moisture away from your body. Cotton t-shirts are great, but not for hiking during cold weather. If you wear a cotton base layer, your sweat will be unable to evaporate and your body temperature will likely drop.
For your middle layer, choose a jacket that is warm and well-insulated. Polyester fleece, down insulated jackets and synthetic insulated jackets are all good options. Choose the one that is best suited to the actual temperature where you are hiking and your personal preferences. Also known as the “shell layer,” your outer layer should protect you from snow, rain and wind. Options range from simple wind-resistant jackets to more costly mountaineering jackets. Waterproof and breathable shells are the best option because they protect you even in full-on storm conditions. Water-resistant and breathable shells are more affordable, but they are more suited to light wind and rain. Soft shells and nonbreathable shells are appropriate in certain situations, but they usually are not the best for winter hiking. If you plan on going on lots of cold weather hikes, you may want to consider buying apparel in bulk to get the most bang for your buck!
Keep Your Feet Warm
Cold feet can be a huge problem when you are hiking through the snow. In addition to being incredibly uncomfortable, it can be downright dangerous if your feet get too cold. To keep those toes nice and toasty, start with the right socks and boots. While you may think that putting on the thickest socks you own is the best way to keep your feet warm, doing so could actually make your feet colder. Those nice, thick socks can make your feet sweat, and once that happens, your feet will be cold.
Instead, you should wear layers on your feet just like you do on the rest of your body. Start with a lightweight moisture-wicking sock. Next, put on a lightweight wool sock for insulation. In extremely cold temperatures, you can also add a mid- to heavy-weight wool sock as an outer layer. By layering in this manner, you can ensure that perspiration will be wicked away from your feet rather than soaking into your socks and boots and making your feet cold.
Make sure your boots made for cold weather. The upper needs to be constructed from leather or another material that blocks out the cold and wind. They also need to be waterproof if you will be hiking in snow or near water. When you try them on, they should be big enough to fit while wearing all your layers of socks and you should have room to comfortably wiggle your toes. If they are too snug, they could restrict circulation and make your feet cold regardless of how well they are protected by your footwear.
Protect Your Hands and Head, Too!
You can lose a lot of body heat through your head and hands. And your ears and fingertips are susceptible to frostbite when the temperature plummets. Make sure you wear a warm hat and gloves that will keep your hands dry. In especially cold temperatures, you can layer your gloves like your other clothing.
Drink Lots of Water
Drinking plenty of water may not seem like a good way to stay warm, but it is actually extremely important. Believe it or not, dry winter air dehydrates you more than warmer air. People often don’t feel as thirsty in cold weather, so they don’t drink as much as they would during warmer weather. Not drinking enough, though, could make it difficult to stay warm. Water helps your body generate heat, so if you are dehydrated, you are going to feel cold. It never hurts to bring along a warm beverage, too. A thermos full of tea, coffee or hot chocolate will help you stay hydrated and warm you up a bit.
Hiking during the winter burns more calories than hiking during the summer. In fact, one study found that people who hiked in temperatures ranging between 14 and 23 degrees burned 34 percent more calories than those who hiked when the temperature was in the mid-50s. Your body burns a lot more calories trying to keep you warm, and it’s important to eat foods that compensate. Snacks that are rich in protein, like jerky and hard-boiled eggs, are great choices. Nuts and energy bars are good, too. Snack on your food throughout the day rather than stopping for large meals. This will help you maintain a more consistent body temperature and avoid having to adjust your layers.
Hiking during cold weather allows you to see the world in a brand-new way. With the tips listed above, you can enjoy all the beauty that Mother Nature has to offer during colder weather without suffering the consequences of winter’s chill.
Brenda Kimble is a writer and wellness blogger. She is also a mother of 2 daughters and a son. When she is not writing, she is typically hiking, enjoying the outdoors with her kids, or writing for The Talkin’ T-Shirts Blog, where she is a frequent contributor.