Winter hiking can be great fun. Whether you’re looking for a day doing something different on a skiing holiday, or you’re at home when it snows, a winter hike can be invigorating and provides a new perspective on the scenery you’re already familiar with.
It’s going to be cold, so you need to be prepared with the right clothes and the right kit. If you’re planning to camp in the snow then you need even more kit, including warm sleeping bags, a tent and cooking equipment. If you’re just going out for the day then less kit is involved, but it’s well worth taking thermal blankets and extra supplies in case you get lost or caught in bad weather.
Think about the lacing system you use as with cold hands it can be hard to tie and untie laces, especially if they are frozen in a knot.
There’s no such thing as bad weather, just unsuitable clothing
Layers are really important for winter hiking. Yes, it’s cold out, but you’ll be working up a sweat while you move, so breathable, moisture wicking layers are vital, even down to your underwear. For me, the Akammak Nicky base layer just does that! (And for those who would love to wear this great piece of kit, just use the Promo Code: PassionAdventure.)
Thermal base layers are the starting point, think long johns and a long sleeved vest. If you have ski pants these are great for hiking, but can be a bit bulky for walking all day.
Layering up on top and down below is the key to staying warm.
Don’t over do it, 3 layers is enough. A down gilet is a good way of keeping your torso warm while allowing total freedom of movement in your upper body. There are great lightweight packable layers out there, and it’s good to have a spare layer in your pack for if the temperature drops.
Wool based layers are excellent for keeping you warm, and merino wool is virtually itch-free – the last thing you want is one of those itches that needs to be scratched buried under layers of winter kit. Wool socks will keep your feet warm and dry – if you get wet in the snow it won’t be long before you’re too cold to keep going and this can lead to hypothermia.
A hat, or balaclava is also vital, along with good gloves. Silk gloves inside another well insulated pair help trap the heat and wick away sweat so your hands don’t start to freeze up. If you’re hiking in the snow then goggles and sun cream are useful to help with sunburn and snow glare.
You’ll need waterproof boots with a sturdy sole – Gore-Tex lined boots keep your feet dry in the rain and warm as well. I am a big fan of La Sportiva and Salomon boots; they’re sturdy, lightweight and very reliable on almost any terrain. If you’re going to be camping out then think about the lacing system you use as with cold hands it can be hard to tie and untie laces, especially if they are frozen in a knot.
A hiker marches on its stomach
For a day out, take enough food for two days in case you get lost, and you might find you’re that much hungrier from walking in the cold. It’s also worth taking a flask of something hot with you, and plenty of water and keep it inside your jacket. I personally pack this very light Thermos flask when off to the mountains.
If you want to eat hot food on the trail you’ll need winter meal packs (you won’t want to be prepping any food) and something to heat them on. There are lots of great camping stoves out there which pack down to very little, and the ones which use solid fuel blocks are ideal if you’re carrying overnight kit with you as they’re light, compact and provide a lot of burn time without the need for constant attention.
Lastly, a first aid kit is a must have for any outdoor endeavour where you’re going to be a distance from towns and people, and some basic first aid and survival skills will back up your preparation so you’re all set for a day out in the snow. Read on my post, Best Personal First Aid Kit.
If you’re planning on a bit of winter camping stay tuned for part two