20 Winter Hiking Tips to Enjoy the Trails this Winter

Hiking is a wonderful activity. Trails are busy in the summer, and fall sees its share of hikers wanting to enjoy the colourful sceneries. Winter will keep a lot of hikers away because of the cold. But the scenery and the landscapes can be just as magical. If you are brave enough to venture out in the cold, these winter hiking safety tips will help make it more enjoyable so that you keep going outside all through winter. 

After hiking year-round for a few years, I am happy to share tips I have learned along the way. Those tips help me enjoy my winter hikes and keep me safe on the trails in colder temperatures.

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hiker on top of a snowy mountain winter hiking in Gaspésie

Here are 20 winter hiking tips to enjoy your time on the trails : 

Stay hydrated.

Do not use your hydration pack. The water in the tube will freeze, and you will be stuck without any water to drink. Even in its insulated sleeve, I find that the tube eventually freezes in cold temperatures. Instead, keep a bottle upside down to keep the water at the neck from freezing. You can also use an insulated water bottle. Add a sleeve to insulate your bottle; they are handy in freezing temperatures. 

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Keep your energy high with snacks.

Your body will need the energy to keep warm in the cold. So make sure to eat high-energy snacks such as granola or protein bars, trail mix or mixed nuts and meat jerky. Energy balls or bites are also quite popular. Here are Andi Ann’s 6 No-Bake Energy Ball Recipes if you want to try your hand at it.

Dress in layers to stay warm and dry.

It is important to layer up when you are active outside in cold temperatures. A moisture-wicking base layer will help keep you dry. A good option is merino wool.

The mid-layer will help keep you warm. I like fleece for my mid-layer. The shell or top layer protects you from elements like wind and rain. A down jacket and a waterproof windbreaker are popular choices as top layers.

When it is especially cold out, I like my Venustas heated vest. It keeps me warm even when I stop moving. I can turn it on when needed.

Stay away from cotton as it will stay wet from your sweat and will not be as effective in keeping you warm. 

snowshoeing on a trail during a winter  hike in Gaspesie

You will also need to keep the rest of your body warm. A toque and a neck gaiter are essential during a winter hike.

The neck gaiter will be helpful to cover your face in extreme cold and wind. If anything else, it will protect your neck from the cold. Choose a hat that will wick moisture away. Again, merino wool is a good choice.

Be aware of the weather predictions.

Plan accordingly for the weather. Your clothes, your gear and your route will depend on it. If the weather is unpredictable or extreme, consider rescheduling. 

Be aware of the trail condition.

If you are unfamiliar with the route you plan on hiking, research it to learn what you can. The distance, the approximate hiking time, and the difficulty level are all pertinent information before venturing out in any season. Be prepared to hike in deep snow or on icy patches in the winter. You will need the appropriate gear. This brings me to my next winter hiking safety tip.

Use micro-spikes or crampons.

Ice can be tricky and dangerous to navigate. Use micro-spikes or crampons on icy terrain. Even if you are not planning on using spikes or crampons, I recommend throwing them in your backpack, just in case. Trekking poles will help too.

Winter hiking with snowshoes tied to the backpack.

Trails that see a lot of traffic will have a nice path of packed snow that is easy to walk on. But this is not always the case. Snowshoes will be helpful if the snow is too deep on a trail that does not see many hikers.

Some packs will accommodate for you to carry your snowshoes on the trail. And sometimes, you can make do with a bungee cord to attach the snowshoes to your backpack.xx

Although not essential, gaiters will keep the snow from entering your boot by covering the top of your shoes, ankles and legs up to just under your knees. They are nice to have when hiking or snowshoeing in deep snow.

Know how to start a fire (just in case).

No one wants to be lost or injured on the trail but if you ever need to rely on your survival skills, make sure you know the basics. Carry a lighter or matches in your pack. 

Carry a headlamp.

Darkness falls fast in winter as the days shorten. You will be happy to have your headlamp should you be on the trail once the sun goes down. Extra batteries for the lamp are also a good idea.

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A paper map and a compass will do. Although, most of us will use an electronic GPS. I most often use my phone. Apps such as Alltrails and Gaia work well to ensure you stay on the trail. This is important during winter when the snow is high and may cover the tracks well or hide the trail markers.

Keep your feet warm and dry.

A good winter hiking tip is to keep your feet dry to stay warm. Good wool socks will keep your toes warm and wick away moisture. They will also help prevent chafing and blisters. The Silverlight hiking socks are great to keep your feet warm and dry! Always have an extra pair in your pack. Then, if your feet get wet, you can change socks and stay dry.

A good pair of hiking winter boots is also essential. If the boots are waterproof, that is a huge bonus. 

You do need to cover your hands to keep your fingers from freezing. Mittens are generally warmer, but gloves might be more proficient and offer more agility. It is a matter of preference. 

Bring a few hot packets of hand or toe warmers.

Hot packets weigh next to nothing and can be a lifesaver when your fingers or toes are cold. I always bring extras.  

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Keep a warm beverage in a thermos.

Hot chocolate or tea are good options. A hot beverage can help your body warm up during a break or post-hike.

This Thermos will keep your drink hot all through the hike.

Protect your eyes.

Sunglasses are handy to protect your eyes from the glare of the sun reflected on the snow when it’s sunny. Goggles will be necessary to protect from the icy wind when hiking above the treeline.

Wearing goggles while winter hiking above the treeline in windy conditions

Always carry a first-aid kit.

The basic first-aid kit will do, but I suggest adding a few hot packs. Also, lip balm might be useful as the cold and wind could irritate your lips.

My essential hiking gear lists the items that should be included in a hiker’s first-aid kit.

Be mindful of your exposed skin to prevent frostbite.

When the temperature falls below 0, especially windy, any exposed skin is susceptible to freezing. Frostbite can be painful, and it may cause permanent damage. If you decide to hike in frigid temperatures, cover your face. Your nose and ears can frostbite quickly if left uncovered. 

Tell someone.

Always tell someone where you are going, your planned route, and when they should expect you back. This is primordial in any season, but even more so in winter because the short days and the cold represent more risks should you get lost or injured.

One Last Winter Hiking Tip

Have fun! Enjoy the landscape, breathe in the fresh air and work up a sweat.

Mountain view on a trail during a winter hike in Gaspesie

Last Words on Winter Hiking Safety Tips

These winter hiking safety tips will ensure you enjoy your time on the trails this winter. Hiking does not belong to only one season and can be appreciated in all four seasons.

On top of these helpful tips, the essential hiking gear list will ensure you know all you need for a great winter spent on the trails.

Happy Trails!

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Winter Hiking Tips to stay safe on the trails this winter
épingle de randonnée hivernale

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12 Comments

  1. This post could not have come at a better time. Was just pondering whether I should finally take the hiking trip I’ve been postponing for months, and this showed up. Super helpful tips, and beautiful pictures!

  2. Thanks for the great tips. Hoping to get my family out hiking more this winter in Michigan!

  3. Great list! Winter hikes are my favorite hikes! A good pair of boots is my #1. Comfortable and lightweight to trek through the snow. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks for the great tips!

    Do you happen to know any hiking groups in Calgary, Alberta, Canada for middle-age people please? Any names, links, websites, etc. will be greatly appreciated.

    Take care and thank you again!

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