When you hike, you can encounter various weather conditions. Whether it’s bright sunshine, rain, snow, or fog, it’s best to know what type of weather you’re in for. And while it may be easy to know not to hike in a thunderstorm or blizzard, it’s more difficult to decide when it’s too windy to hike.
5 tips for hiking in the wind are:
- Plan accordingly for the trail
- Wear layers to keep warm
- Carry a wind meter
- Use hiking poles
- Balance your backpack
There are a lot of things you need to be aware of when tackling a hike in windy conditions. However, knowing your limits is essential from a safety perspective. In the article below, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about hiking in the wind and when it might be too windy for hiking.
Wind speeds above 45 miles per hour start to become too dangerous for hiking. While it often comes down to personal preference, different wind speeds correlate with different potential dangers. But at speeds near 50 mph, you should consider postponing your hike for safety.
The concept of it being too windy to hike is also on a sliding scale. This is known as the Beaufort Scale. Created back in the 1800s, it was created by Francis Beaufort, who served in the British Navy. He took it upon himself to standardize wind speeds and their descriptions.
The first six levels on the Beaufort Scale should pose no problems when it comes to hiking. That means wind speeds ranging from zero up to 24 mph. When you get up to wind speeds of around 19 mph and 24 mph, this is classed as a light breeze. You may see trees swaying, but it won’t pose a problem for a hiker on a trail.
However, when you move above scale 5 (above 24 mph), you may start to see some resistance when walking. But it’s also important to realize that some individuals may struggle more than others, even when the wind is at this speed. You need to know your own personal abilities and your energy levels.
For example, if you tend to struggle to complete a five-mile hike in normal conditions, then trying to tackle the same hike in conditions where the wind is getting stronger is not ideal. At that point, common sense comes into play, and you need to recognize your own limitations.
Scale 6 is referred to as a strong breeze. This is the point where it can become difficult to use an umbrella without it turning inside out. That gives some indication of the strength of wind you are dealing with. With this speed, you may find you need to use more energy to walk into this type of wind, and it can start to feel like a battle.
A 7 on the Beaufort Scale is a moderate gale, where the wind speed is 32 mph to 38 mph. This is where things become tough when hiking, but there are several other levels to the scale to be aware of.
At 8 on the scale, you may have problems standing upright due to the wind. This is when wind speeds hit 39 mph to 46 mph. This is when small branches may break off trees, and you can find yourself hitting points where walking into the wind is highly problematic.
Once you go above 8, you start to run the real risk of injury. Also, there is an increased risk of being hit by debris. It’s not just yourself and the potential for falling you need to consider, either. Just take a walk through a wooded area after strong winds and see how many trees have been damaged as a result.
We can talk about wind speed, but there are also sudden gusts. Being aware of the potential for strong gusts is also something to know about before you head out on your hike. Even of the wind is steady but not too strong, a gust can blow through at much higher speeds.
The wind may be sitting around 25 mph in general, but if you then encounter gusts that are double that, then you can suddenly be hit with problems. That is why you must pay attention to the potential for gusts before heading out. This is even more important when hiking a trail with some elevation.
To deal with this, you should research more than one weather forecast for the area of your hike. Also, seek out those reports that detail the potential gust speeds, not just the general wind speed. As you can see, it can be difficult to determine the stage where it becomes too windy to hike.
It is safe to hike in 20 mph wind. At wind speeds of around 20 mph, you are walking in something classed as a fresh breeze and it should be safe to hike. At this speed, you should have no problem either walking into the wind or having it blowing you along the trail if it’s behind you.
This applies to almost any type of trail. Even those where you hike along ridges should still be completely safe, with no danger of being blown off the trail. In addition, when walking into a 20-mph wind, you shouldn’t feel as if you must exert even more energy to get to your destination. It should not add any extra pressure to your breathing, which can happen when you’re hiking in stronger winds.
Winds of around 20 mph are common, but it’s ultimately still up to you whether you should go out hiking in those conditions. It may be the case that it’s also raining, and you don’t like the idea of contending with both conditions simultaneously.
But from a safety perspective, there is generally nothing to worry about. These wind speeds are not viewed as dangerous to health or safety, even if you are in an exposed area or on the edge of a cliff. People regularly walk around in daily life dealing with wind speeds of around 20 mph. For that reason alone, you should not stop yourself from going on an enjoyable hike.
Hiking in high wind speeds has many clear dangers. Being aware of those dangers allows you to determine if it’s worth the risk. However, with high wind speeds, there is never any point where taking a risk would be the sensible decision. Always use your discretion and err on the side of caution.
One of the most obvious dangers is the risk of falling. Wind makes it very easy to lose your balance, and that’s when you may encounter a problem. But it’s important to stress that we are not simply talking about you falling on trails at a higher elevation. Strong winds − and don’t forget those gusts − can cause problems even if you are on a trail at sea level.
Remember that most trails are uneven in some way. They do not have smooth tracks that are all paved. There are rises and falls, as well as cambers that are uneven. High wind speeds will increase the risk of falling or stumbling during your hike.
High winds also increase the risk of injury. If you trip and fall because you’re blown over by the wind, you are not landing on a soft surface. Instead, you will land on tough terrain, and potentially even falling some distance if you are on a slope at the time.
It’s not uncommon for people to run into problems due to hiking in high winds and ending up with broken limbs. Sadly, there are instances where individuals have been blown over by strong winds, leading to fatal injuries. It’s not worth the risk when the wind speeds get up above a certain level.
When we talk about a risk of nature, we are referring the way strong winds can break tree branches, or even uproot entire trees. This is something to be aware of if your hike takes you through this type of environment, as there is a real risk of danger to life under these circumstances.
Wind won’t move boulders or anything like that, so the main issue is foliage and trees when it comes to nature. But the dangers will increase if rain accompanies those windy conditions at the same time. Then, the ground can become more dangerous, leading to landslides, which, even on a small scale, can lead to debris moving around that you do not want to get in the way of.
Walking into the wind is exhausting. It requires you to put in significantly more effort than you would normally, and that takes its toll on your energy levels. Wind in your face makes it harder to breathe correctly as well, so your entire body is working harder.
This is fine in relatively short bursts, as you have time to effectively recover from the exertion. If the high winds are constant, though, you may have a major problem. At that point, you will find your energy start to dwindle, and then the rest of the hike becomes significantly harder. Even individuals who are relatively fit will still struggle in high wind speeds.
If you look at the weather forecast and it states a warm temperature but strong winds, followed by a day with less wind but colder temperatures, then take the colder temperature option. It’s easier to keep warm and enjoy your hike than battling against the elements and risking exhaustion.
We have spoken about the potential for physical injuries when hiking in high wind speeds so far, but there’s something else you need to think about before heading out. The wind chill can completely change everything, and yet people focus more on the speed of the wind than the temperature difference it can create.
The wind chill can easily bring the temperature crashing down. The weather forecast can say one thing for the temperature, but when you factor in a strong, ice like wind, suddenly you can face a hike in temperatures significantly lower than you would imagine.
That then leads to a problem regarding layers. You may anticipate a hike in temperatures of, say, 55 F, and dress accordingly. But the wind chill could push that temperature down to closer to 35 F, and that is completely different. At that point, you can feel colder than you would like, and when you factor in the added exertion of walking in the wind, it makes for a highly uncomfortable hike.
Not everybody who ventures out for a hike in windy conditions will encounter any of these potential issues. However, the risk of doing so increases, and the risk will increase dramatically as the wind gets stronger.
Preparing and packing for a windy hike means you need to look at what you take with you, and how you get ready for hiking in these conditions. The good news is that there will not be too many changes compared to what you may be used to if you tend to hike in more pleasurable conditions.
It’s best to focus your preparation on choosing the route. If you know the wind will be strong but still safe, then choosing an appropriate route is key. You don’t want to opt for something where you leave yourself exposed to the wind on a regular basis. This is always important, but even more so when you become aware of the potential for strong gusts.
An appropriate route allows you to stretch your legs but allows you to do so in a safe environment. Do you need to go scrambling or walk up to a higher elevation where the wind will be stronger than where you started off? You need to understand the changing conditions of the trail and prepare accordingly.
There is a need to be sensible in your approach, and it all starts with selecting the route. It’s all fine and well wanting to challenge yourself, but there must be a sensible limit at which point you stop and realize it’s just not worth the risk. Again, safety should be your number one concern.
Be prepared to adjust the hike you planned on completing if conditions are not in your favor. The hike will always be there, and it’s not worth the hassle or risk to simply complete it on a certain day.
Another key thing to look at when preparing for a windy hike is whether your clothing is wind resistant. You need to be aware that strong winds with even relatively cool temperatures will increase the risk of you developing hypothermia. Then, factor in the potential for being injured in very high winds, and what you get is an even higher risk of running into some sort of trouble.
Wind resistant clothing helps keep you significantly warmer than you would have otherwise been. Look at both your hiking jacket and pants to see if they are both waterproof and wind proof. You want them to help keep you warm and dry, so don’t take it for granted that every pair of pants or every jacket on the market does this.
For packing, you have several points to focus on to get things right. Hiking in windy conditions can involve using more energy, so you don’t want to carry excess items that you may not need. However, you must ensure you cover all the hiking essentials, or you could run into other problems.
Key items you should never be without when hiking in these conditions should include some extra warm clothing. You may be surprised by the wind chill when you get out there, so knowing you have another layer packed away can increase your comfort levels and can be surprisingly reassuring.
Also, carry your usual safety equipment. That means a map, torch, compass, first-aid kit, and an emergency blanket. This is all commonsense stuff, and it shouldn’t change just because of the weather conditions. You should always have them, as you never know when something could go wrong.
Hiking in strong winds may mean your hike takes longer than anticipated, since the wind can really slow you down. That can change how much food and water you should take with you. Even if it’s a short hike, you should always pack water and some snacks.
Include high energy snacks that are easy to get to. Check how much water you would need to complete the hike on a normal day, and then add around 25% extra due to the potential for the hike to take longer. This figure may vary depending on the exact hike, but that is a rough ballpark figure.
Communication involves several things. First, tell others where you are hiking and how long it should take. This is something you should do anyway, as accidents can happen even in perfect conditions, so it’s merely a precautionary thing to do for hiking safety.
The other aspect is to ensure you have not only a cell phone, but also a spare battery. Now, admittedly, you may struggle to get reception in different areas, but it’s still best to have it by your side. As with any weather conditions, the key is to always plan and be prepared for any eventuality. If you are prepared, you should never have to encounter and major problems.
The most important tip is to plan your hike. This is a bit more involved than simply looking at the weather forecast for the area where you will be hiking and deciding. You need to also look at the trail itself in more detail to determine how the wind could affect it. What is the elevation? Is the trail open to the elements, or do you get some sort of natural protection from the wind?
Also, look at the underfoot conditions, as well as slopes you need to hike to get from A to B. Is there some scrambling involved? You may even want to look at the wind direction and how it lines up with the direction of the trail. That can allow you to determine if the wind will be primarily in your face, behind you, or even coming across you.
The great thing is this is so much easier to do now thanks to the Internet. You can conduct so much research on a trail by reading what others say about it, studying images, and getting those perfect weather forecasts. Use the official trail website, if there is one, and reviews left by other hikers.
The aim here is to help you make a better decision about whether hiking is a good idea or not. Also, you may need to accept there are times when nature has defeated you, and you need to look at another day. However, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that if it keeps you safe.
You want to ensure you are warm and dry when hiking in wind, and you need to consider keeping your core nice and warm. However, there’s another problem, and it’s linked to the way you need to use more energy. This increase in energy can lead to more sweat being produced, so you need layers capable of wicking away the sweat, rather than allowing it to sit there on your skin.
You should dress in layers made of synthetic materials. They work best at dealing with moisture. However, you also need to ensure your outermost layer stops wind getting through. At the same time, you need that outer layer to allow your own body to breathe, so something such as Gore-Tex on the outer layer can often work best.
Make sure keep your head and hands warm. That wind chill can really affect your extremities, so keep them covered as much as possible. Even if you’re body feels warm, when your hands, feet, or head feel cold, it will be uncomfortable, and your hike won’t be as fun.
If you are a regular hiker, then owning a wind meter could be a wonderful investment. They are fairly inexpensive and can be found on the internet or at an outdoor store. This will prove particularly effective when hiking longer trails, where the changes in wind strength can be vast.
The aim of a wind meter is to alert you to the point where things are getting a bit too dangerous, and this applies even with gusts. From the information you see on the wind meter, you will find it significantly easier to decide if you should continue with your hike. Remember, there is nothing wrong with turning back if weather conditions have become too difficult. In fact, many hikers may recommend it.
Hiking in strong winds can lead to balance issues and using hiking poles in these conditions must be one of the best solutions out there. You will feel way more confident when it comes to hiking with this extra bit of stability, especially when hiking on uneven ground.
Hiking poles completely change your balance. You feel far more grounded by always having these additional two points of contact on the ground. Confidence is a huge thing when hiking in any conditions that are not perfect. A lack of confidence can often lead to mistakes being made, and that is where injuries and problems can occur.
Hiking poles are a game changer when it comes to hiking in any sort of wind. However, please do not completely rely on them to save you in poor conditions. They will help with balance, but they won’t help you conserve energy when walking into a strong wind.
This is something people tend to overlook, and it could be a major mistake. Consider the fact that strong winds can put you off balance. Do you want to also have your backpack working against you as well? If you have an unbalanced backpack, you’ll run into difficulties in high winds.
Packing your backpack in the correct way makes a real difference. You want it so it sits perfectly on your back and does not pull you backwards or push you forwards. Having your backpack throw you off balance and then encountering strong winds will lead to disaster.
How To Pack
What you want to do is pack everything, and then put your pack on and see how it feels as you lean backwards and forwards. Is the weight pulling you in any direction? The aim is to have the pack sitting in what feels like a neutral position, rather than affecting you in any way.
Also, when wearing your backpack, make sure it’s securely attached to your body. If you have a waist belt on it, then clip it on. You want the pack to feel snug against your body, without a gap between the pack and your back for the wind to get through.
Remember that wind is powerful, and it will exploit any weakness. If your pack is loose and a strong gust comes along, then a poorly balanced backpack could be enough to send you down to the ground. Don’t give the wind that opportunity and make sure your pack is balanced.
Hiking in any wind less than 45 mph is considered safe for most hikers, although it depends on your stamina and endurance. Always check the weather forecast before heading out on a hike. Make sure you wear proper footwear and clothing in high winds and cancel your trip if the wind speed is too high.