Even if you are an experienced hiker, hiking in snow is different from anything else you will experience. A change in weather means you’ll need a change in the equipment required to stay safe. Therefore, it’s important for you to know what you will need for hiking in the snow.
Hiking in snow requires significantly different equipment from any other weather conditions. Your safety is key, and this applies even when indulging in a relatively short hike. The need to stay warm, dry, and have good traction is imperative so that your hike in the snow is safe and enjoyable.
Below, we will not only discuss all of the equipment you should consider packing before you head out for a hike in wintry conditions, but we’ll also tell you the three pieces of essential hiking gear you never want to forget. Read on to learn more about hiking in the snow.
Pros And Cons Of Hiking In The Snow
Hiking in snow comes with several pros and cons, and when you consider them it becomes obvious as to why some people are drawn to hiking in these conditions. Admittedly, hiking in the snow isn’t for everyone, but weighing the good and bad aspects in your mind will help you decide if a winter hike is right for you.
The Pros Of Hiking In Snow
Trails are undoubtedly quieter during and after a snowfall, and that applies even for well-maintained hikes that tend to be busier at other times. If you love hiking on your own, then hiking in the snow gives you the solitude you are looking for. Also, with trails being less busy, you can take your time without the feeling of being pushed along by other people.
Everything Looks Different
Even if you’ve hiked a trail on numerous occasions, it will look completely different when there’s snow lying everywhere. It changes the views, and even the sounds you would usually hear, and there’s something spellbinding about it all. It changes your perspective of everything, and you will have a new appreciation for what the trail can offer.
The Wildlife Is Different
Take note of the wildlife during the winter months, as it’s often different from what you see in summer. That gives you something else to pay attention to, and it’s another reason why the same trail can take on a completely different feeling under snow. Do some research to learn more about what you may see on a trail during winter. It could make things a lot more interesting for you.
This could potentially be the biggest positive of hiking in the snow. You will not have the same bugs to contend with in the winter as you do in summer. Insects don’t like the cold, and that means the entire hike becomes a lot more pleasurable when bugs aren’t eating you alive.
The Cons Of Hiking In Snow
One major negative of hiking in snow is that the days are shorter in the winter. This means you have less daylight, so it changes how long you can be out there. It also means you need to plan accordingly. Don’t plan a hike in snow that would normally take five hours in good conditions, because it will take longer. Shorten your hikes to make sure you can complete them before dark.
You Go Slower
With snow, and due to the increase in equipment you tend to have to either wear or carry, progress will be slower in the winter. You cannot expect to walk at the same pace when the conditions are more challenging. It just won’t happen no matter how fit or healthy you are. That means you need to think about that slower pace when planning your hike.
We also cannot forget the simple fact that it’s cold when hiking in snow. That may very well be a positive for some people, but for others it’s something they try to effectively cope with rather than enjoy. The key to staying warm is what you wear and how you wear it. Layering will make a huge difference and prevent the cold air getting close to your body.
You Tend To Carry More
When we’re talking about weight, it’s not only the pack carry, but also the clothing you have on. In summer, you wear the absolute basics to keep you safe and cool. In snowy conditions on the other hand, or just a cold winter’s day, your necessities multiply, which adds to the weight you will need to carry.
You need to wear more clothing, like a bigger jacket, gloves, and a hat. You should also have a hot drink in your pack, waterproof clothing, and possibly even snowshoes in case you need them. You will also need to have items to eat that are higher in calories. Hiking in snow means you use more energy, and you need to replace that lost energy through what you eat. These items all add weight.
How To Stay Warm When Winter Hiking
One of the key concerns when hiking in snow is trying to keep warm. The difficulty in doing this this will depend on the conditions. After all, there is a difference hiking in temperatures just above freezing compared to hiking in temperatures of -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of this, there are certain things that should become your priority.
Wear Multiple Layers
Some people tend to overlook the importance of wearing layers to keep warm. People who are new to hiking will probably throw on the biggest, thickest coat they can find, and think that this will keep them warm. But it won’t. Sure, it will help, but wearing multiple thin layers is more effective for several reasons.
First, multiple layers trap body heat closer to you and will help keep you warm even when those external temperatures are dropping. But that’s not all. You may also find there are times during your hike where you feel warmer or colder depending on the pace you set. By wearing different layers, which can even include more than one coat, you will find it is easier to regulate your temperature.
Dressing in layers means an item of clothing can be removed or added as is required. As a rule of thumb, you should have a minimum of three layers of clothing on, and then your jacket on top of that. If the temperature keeps dropping, then you may need to wear five or six different layers to make sure you stay warm.
Wear Clothing That Cuts Out The Wind
A crisp feeling in the air can be tough to deal with. However, add in wind with a real chill to it, and you are looking at something completely different. That wind can bring the temperature down in a hurry, and you don’t want it to get to your inner core and make you cold. That means you must have outer layers that are windproof, as well as waterproof.
By keeping your core warm, you will feel much more comfortable during your hike, and everything will become far more enjoyable. That’s why you need to have a good winter hiking jacket. They are designed to keep both rain and wind out, but they also allow your body to breathe so you don’t overheat.
Balance Breathability & Insulation
Breathability is more important than people realize, and it’s all to do with moisture against your skin. If your clothing makes you sweat, as some raincoats do because to the material they are made from, then you will feel colder simply because of your sweat. That means your winter hiking clothing needs to be breathable to reduce the chances of this happening.
Your clothing should strike a balance between breathability and insulation. That’s why it’s perhaps best to invest in quality clothing as there’s a better chance of this balance being struck with higher-end manufacturers.
Keep Your Extremities Warm
While keeping your core warm is the most important thing, don’t forget about your extremities. Hats, gloves, or even a neck warmer can all play an important role in helping you to keep warm. Losing heat in your extremities is not only uncomfortable but can lead to skin damage if the temperatures drop low enough.
Keeping your hands warm is key. For that, think about investing in pocket hand warmers. You can either buy throw away versions, which are activated once you open them, or you can buy warmers you recharge via a USB port. Hand warmers play a role from a safety perspective as well, since you need to be able to continue to use your hands throughout your hike.
The final thing we’ll talk about here is the need to have access to a hot drink. Make sure you have more than enough to drink for the duration of the hike and invest in a quality flask that will keep whatever drink you like nice and hot for as long as possible.
Drink hot liquids as often as you can. You will be amazed at how it keeps your spirits up and gives you that nice warm feeling when you take a sip. It might be tougher to have some hot food, unless you carry a small camping stove, so a hot drink is where it’s at.
What Clothes To Wear For Winter Hiking
Clothing is where you need to focus most of your attention on a winter hike, since that’s the part that is indeed going to keep you warm and dry. Be aware, however, that one set of clothing won’t get you through every hike, and you need to change things up a bit depending on the exact conditions.
The Right Materials
Before getting into specifics on different items of clothing, a quick word on materials. You will often find you will start to sweat when hiking, and that’s not a good thing in winter. What you need are materials that will wick that sweat away from the body rather than allow it to stay on your skin.
Having sweat on your body is going to lower your core temperature, and it could happen quickly. That’s what you want to avoid. Look for materials such as bamboo, nylon, or any other primarily synthetic material. Don’t wear cotton because it will become waterlogged when you sweat.
They might not be the sexiest items you could ever wear, but long johns (thermal underwear) could be the best item of clothing you can wear when hiking in snow.
Long Johns are often quite thin, but they have a thermal quality about them, so they are fantastic when it comes to trapping body heat close to you. If you know that the temperature is going to drop, having a basic garment such as this will keep you warm.
The same idea applies to a thermal vest because they also help to trap body heat. Consider looking at long-sleeve versions if you want to make sure you are warm and comfortable during your hike. Just wearing a vest with long johns will make a huge difference to how you feel when out hiking in snow.
Besides wearing thermals, look for other thin layers to go on top, such as a long-sleeved wool base layer. This is a popular choice with experienced hikers, and it does a fantastic job of balancing out retaining heat and not allowing you to overheat. Then, look for something slightly larger to act as a mid-layer. Something made with fleece is perfect.
Your winter hiking pants need to have been designed specifically for winter. Keep in mind you have those thermals on below it, which is great, but that outer layer needs to be of a thicker material that keeps the wind and rain out. Staying warm and dry is important for a good hike.
Look for something that is lined with fleece. Fleece gives you added warmth on the legs. The outer layer of your pants needs to be waterproof. Some people will wear high-quality waterproof trousers over the top so they effectively double-up on what they are wearing.
There are several things to think about when looking for a jacket. First, you want that wind and waterproof outer layer to stop the conditions from penetrating to your inner core. Second, you also want to feel snug inside, so looking for w fleece layer in your jacket is important.
You can also get a type of inner jacket called a shell. Many the top brands make them, and they are designed to act as almost an inner jacket. Shells are thin, but they help keep the wind out and they fit perfectly below a larger outer jacket that stops moisture and wind.
You may also find a jacket that has a 3-in-1 approach. That means it has an inner layer, usually fleece, that can be removed and worn on its own. Another approach is to just wear the outer layer, while the third option is a combination of the two. These are great if you expect varying weather during your hike.
Make sure your outer layer has cuffs that can be closed off, and that it has both a zipper and buttons to fasten it. The hood should be able to be tied off, or at least made difficult to be blown down from your head, so you won’t have to worry about it in windy conditions.
Wearing the correct footwear is important on any hike, but when it comes to snow, it takes on even greater importance. You not only have to make sure they are fully waterproof, but also keep your feet nice and warm, and offer amazing grip to prevent slipping.
Normal hiking boots will be fine if the snow is only an inch or so deep. However, if you are hiking in snow that is coming up to your ankle, you need to consider snow boots. Snow boots have cuffs on the top of the ankle to stop snow from getting in. They will also keep your feet warmer, even in freezing conditions.
Also, make sure you have ample room inside your boot for wearing thick socks. It even works best if you can layer up your socks with a thinner pair next to your feet, and then a thicker pair on top. However, make sure your toes do not feel restricted.
Is It Safe To Go Hiking In The Snow?
Hiking in the snow is safe, but it does come with a few difficulties and potential dangers as well. That is why being prepared and having the correct equipment is so important. It really can make the difference between enjoying your hike in the snow, and getting hurt, or even worse.
Many people choose to go hiking in snow and do so without any worries because of their preparation. This involves doing several things to get the best end results, and you should take each point into consideration for a safe and comfortable hike in the snow.
Plan Things In Advance
Planning really is everything. Without planning, there’s a good chance you will run into some sort of difficulty when hiking in snow. Planning involves several things. First, you need to choose your trail, and let people know you will be hiking in the area and at what time. You also need to understand how long the hike will take, and what the conditions may be like.
One additional point regarding planning is understanding how well marked the trail will be. Of course, if the snow is only an inch or so deep, then there’s no problem. However, if the snow is deeper, then you need to change your approach because you don’t want to get lost in wintry conditions.
You need to be good at navigation when you’re hiking in snow. This becomes even more important when the snow is deep. Your ability to read maps, apps, and generally get from point A to point B needs to be good so you don’t get lost. Hiking in the snow when you’re just starting out is not advisable, aside from on those easy trails with just a light dusting of snow on the ground.
Understand The Weather
You may already know snow has fallen, but you need to have better awareness of how bad the snow could be in the area you will hike. This is not an exact science, so you should look at other areas to help you out. Take the elevation of the trail into consideration. The higher it is, the greater the chance that the snow is deeper. Also, be aware of the type of surface that you would be hiking on.
Have The Correct Equipment
Having the correct equipment is the most important thing to think about to make your hike in the snow as safe as possible. But it’s not just footwear and clothing you need to focus on. You should also think about a torch, an emergency blanket, first-aid kit, spare batteries, a fully charged cell phone, and extra food. You need to prepare for any eventuality to make sure your winter hike is safe.
How Cold Is Too Cold For Hiking?
How cold is too cold for hiking really depends on your gear, but anything colder than 32 degrees Fahrenheit will be uncomfortable for many hikers without wearing a lot of winter gear. It is too cold for hiking if you cannot comfortably stand outside when wearing all of your winter hiking gear.
Answering this question is not as straightforward as you would think since it’s not simply about the weather conditions. At times, it’s connected more to your equipment rather than the temperature. Also, your level of experience will play a role as to when it becomes too cold for you.
For example, if you only have summer hiking boots, then pretty much any time in the winter would be too cold for hiking. This is because summer boots are too lightweight, incapable of keeping your feet warm. They probably also having ineffective grip for snowy conditions.
The same applies to your clothing. You should purchase clothing designed for winter. That means base layers, pants, tops, jackets, hats, scarves, and gloves. It’s a lengthy list, but it allows you to venture out on a hike in temperatures that would have otherwise not been possible.
Knowing When Enough Is Enough
Understanding your equipment plays a role in knowing when enough is enough. This is why research is important. You should know how low of a temperature your jacket is suitable for. Think along the same lines with your pants or footwear and you’ll know when it’s too cold to hike.
Do not take risks when it comes to thinking something would be suitable when it might not be. You are going out into nature and your clothing plays an integral role in ensuring you stay warm, and safe. Thinking that an article of clothing is rated for lower temperatures than it actually is can be dangerous.
Build Up To Colder Temperatures
One tip for winter hiking is to build up your experience in dealing with colder temperatures. Once you have the right equipment and clothing, start off when it’s just a little bit colder than you are used to and go on a short hike. Try again when it’s a little colder and so forth until your build your tolerance for winter weather.
You need to realize that hiking in winter, and especially in the snow, uses more energy. Build up your energy levels and ability to deal with the cold. You are not born as an Arctic explorer. Light exercises and short hikes will go far in helping you get ready for a real winter hike.
3 Essential Pieces Of Winter Hiking Gear
1. Winter Backpack
We have discussed clothing so far, but let’s not forget the importance of a good winter backpack. It’s going to be larger and bulkier than a summer pack, but you will need to carry more equipment to be safe on your winter hike, so it’s worth the size difference.
Also, it should be completely waterproof. Easy access to the pockets to get whatever you need is also important. Be aware of what you will need to carry before you buy your winter backpack to make sure you purchase one that’s comfortable and has enough storage space.
2. Clothing Accessories
By clothing accessories, we mean hats, scarves, and gloves. Everything should be design for winter use, especially your gloves. They will repel rather than absorb water and will still provide you with ample movement in your fingers. Hats and scarves should be thick but comfortable.
Keeping your head warm is important. You lose so much body heat through your head, so covering it up to keep the rest of you warm is something you need to do. You may also want to throw in earmuffs simply because having cold ears is uncomfortable and may ruin your hike.
3. Base Layers
Wearing base layers may be more important for winter hiking than pretty much anything else out there. Thin layers made from the right material makes a huge difference to your ability to stay warm. Wear base layers designed for outdoor pursuits in winter. Just a normal thermal shirt may not be enough.
Synthetic, moisture wicking materials are normally always best. Don’t forget about your head and legs, rather than just thinking about keeping your core warm. It’s all too easy for your legs to get cold, and that will start an uncomfortable chain reaction that can ruin your hike.
There are other essential items we could have included here, but these are three things people often overlook. It’s obvious that a good jacket, waterproof clothing, and footwear are required, so people focus on those areas, and forget about the items mentioned above.
Do You Need Snowshoes For Winter Hiking?
You don’t always need snowshoes for winter hiking, but they are favorable when the snow is very thick. For deep and exceptionally powdery snow, snowshoes are almost always essential, as they provide you with grip and prevent you sinking into the snow, even in the worst of conditions.
People sometimes have this image of the intrepid hiker wearing snowshoes to walk through huge snow drifts to find shelter. Well, it’s not always like that. Snowshoes certainly have their place and they do have the ability to make your hike easier, but that’s not always the case.
The Trail Is Important
If your hike takes you off the trail or to a higher elevation, then snowshoes could certainly be an essential item. In fact, hiking in such conditions without snowshoes might be a foolish move on your part. Snowshoes provide great traction, even in the deep stuff. But a busy route, at a lower altitude, will rarely lead you to a situation where you need snowshoes. They may even impede you.
The Type Of Snow Is Important
Another thing to consider is the type of snow. If the snow is deep and powdery, then snowshoes are essential. In that situation, your own bodyweight will force you down into the snow, and then you are left with trying to pull your legs up and out of the snow on a constant basis. Snowshoes distribute your weight evenly, so you don’t go too deep.
If the snow is only a matter of inches deep, not above your ankle, then snowshoes are just more weight to carry. You won’t sink into packed snow, either. However, if you are uncertain as to the exact conditions you may encounter, carrying snowshoes strapped to your backpack is a good idea.
Hiking in the snow requires more equipment and clothing than hiking on a summer day. To stay safe and comfortable, you’ll need to wear layers and waterproof clothing, carry safety items like torches, and may even need snowshoes to get around. Hiking in the snow is fun, but it takes extra planning.