Winter is well on it’s way, which means your landscape will be changing. With the days being shorter and colder, hiking in this season requires more planning and preparation. It’s not quite as easy as warmer months where you can simply get your boots on, pack your rucksack and go. This shouldn’t put you off heading out though, as getting out into nature can be great for combatting those winter blues. Some extra knowledge, preparation and hiking gear is all you need to make the most of the beautiful frosty landscapes. To make things easier, we’ve put together a list of our top nine tips for hiking in winter.
Start and finish early
It might sound obvious, but walking in winter takes longer than in warmer months. Whether that’s from your path being slippy from frost or being completely covered in snow. This combined with the days being shorter is something to consider and be realistic about, when planning timing. Unlike summer months, you want to walk with the sun so you don’t get stuck out during nightfall. So be sure to start your hike early and finish early. This is especially important if you’re winter hiking for the first time. For this, we recommend choosing a route you’re familiar with so you’re confident with navigation. Everyone has to start somewhere, right?
Be prepared to turn back
While the go-getter in you will be telling you to keep going when your route gets tough, it’s important to have the courage to turn back. Especially during winter months, when the weather is more likely to take a turn. This applies to daylight hours too. If time is flying by and you don’t think you’re going to complete your route before it goes dark, there’s no shame in turning back. It happens to everyone and at the end of the day, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Dress for the occasion
What you choose to wear will make or break your hike, so layer up for the most effective way to keep dry and warm. This way if you get warm once you start walking, you can simply take a layer off. Starting with the first layer that’ll be closest to your skin, you want to wear a synthetic/technical top. This type of garment is designed to make you feel comfortable during physical activities, with it’s fast drying properties. Unlike cotton which absorbs moisture, sticks to your skin and stays damp for a long time, making the wearer feel cold. For your next layer, we recommend insulating with fleece. Then wearing a waterproof jacket as your outer shell. If you need to layer up more than this, try adding a lightweight gilet under your coat, or another synthetic top under your mid-layer. In terms of bottoms, a good way to keep warm and dry is to wear some thermals underneath waterproof walking trousers. The temperature is likely to decline on a winter hike, so always bring spare layers, even if you don’t think you’ll need them. Lastly, don’t forget to bring a dry set of clothes for your journey home after your hike.
Packing and wearing the correct accessories is key for hiking, especially in colder months. Starting from the top, you lose a significant amount of heat through the top of your head. So wearing a hat is super important for hiking in cold conditions to retain your body heat. If your clothing doesn’t have a high neck, pack a scarf to keep you warm too. Lastly, keeping your hands warm is crucial when winter hiking, so make sure you wear gloves.
Bring your gear
In case it starts to go dark on your walk, pack a head torch (and some spare batteries) so you can see where you’re going but keep your hands free. Devices can often stop working in cold temperatures, so as well as having GPS technology, it’s important to take a trusty map and compass. Be sure to familiarise yourself with them before you set off, whilst still in the warm. This way if you lose track of where you are, you’ll be able to navigate yourself back to safety. As well as bringing extra clothing layers, make sure to pack a thermal blanket for emergencies. You never know what could happen on a hike, so it’s best to be prepared.
Wear sturdy footwear
Your light trainers that you wear in the summer simply won’t cut it for colder months. For winter, you’ll need some good quality shoes with a sturdy sole to endure the tougher conditions. If your route will be walking in snow or ice, you’ll need some shoe spikes. These give you more traction when walking and prevent slipping. Make sure you opt for merino wool socks, instead of cotton. As we said before, cotton absorbs moisture and stays damp for a long time. So if your feet are sweating on your hike, this will become uncomfortable. Whereas merino wool has temperature regulating properties.
Pack enough food and drink
Keeping hydrated is often overlooked on winter hikes with the temperatures being cold, but it’s still crucial. If you think it’s something you may forget, try using a rucksack with a built-in water pack and tube, so you can keep sipping as you walk. Taking a flask of tea is always a great idea so you can warm up. In terms of food, you want to take nutritious snacks that are high in protein and carbs, preferably that you can eat whilst you walk. This way you won’t cool down from stopping for too long. Your body burns calories from trying to keep warm, so it’s essential you take more than you need, just in case.
Communication is key
As with any outdoor adventure, it’s important to let someone know about your plans and what time you’re expecting to finish. Make sure to check rescue phone numbers before setting off too, so you’ve got them to hand if needed. Battery life can drain fast in cold temperatures, so make sure your devices are fully charged before heading out, and take a spare battery pack too. Try to keep your devices in a pocket close to you so they stay warm, as they’re known to stop working in winter conditions.
Go with a guide
Whether you’re a winter hiking beginner or an experienced snow walker, going with a guide is always a great idea. You’ll learn from their expertise and have that reassurance whilst hiking.
To view our wide range of guides, click here.