Winter hiking for beginners
Winter Hiking For Beginners
It took me years to have the nerve to try winter hiking. Our long New Hampshire winters left me huddled up for as long as nine months waiting for the snow to melt so I could get back to the mountains. It wasn’t until a friend took me winter hiking that I realized winter is an amazing time to hit the trails! With the right preparation and gear, I enjoyed less crowded trails, intense beauty, and avoided biting insects—my biggest peeve of summer hiking. Winter hiking for beginners is about keeping warm, being prepared, and choosing the right trail. Here’s what you need to know.
Before you tackle full day hikes in winter, start out small—a couple miles to an area you can easily access. Hiking in snow can make trails hard to navigate. Seek out trails that are well marked and don’t forget a map and compass. Remember to tell someone your plan and bring a buddy if you can. Once you are more comfortable hiking in the winter, you can venture on longer, more challenging trails.
The most important thing is to keep warm. Dress in layers and pack extras! If you’re hiking steeper trails, you’re going to sweat, and the last thing you want is to be wet and cold. Avoid cotton when you’re winter hiking because cotton holds perspiration and removes heat from your body. Stick to layers made of wool and synthetic material.
What to Wear
- Baselayer: I love my Snow Sky Half Zip baselayer to wick moisture.
- Fleece: The Active Tongari Fleece offers warmth while still remaining breathable.
- Insulated jacket: An insulated puffy jacket like the JWP Down easily stows in your pack and provides a high warmth-to-weight ratio.
- Shell: A shell provides protection from snow, rain, and wind. Some insulated jackets are weatherproof, like the Whitney Peak 3in1. For ultimate versatility, opt for a non-insulated shell, like the JWP Shell, that packs down small and has enough room to wear over your other layers.
- Winter hiking pants: Keep your bottom half warm and dry with a winter hiking pant like the Chilly Track XT Pants.
- Extremities: Wear warm non-cotton socks, hat, neck wear, and gloves.
- Insulated & waterproof hiking boots: Regular hiking boots aren’t going to cut it. Choose a winter hiking boot that will keep your feet warm and dry like the Force Trekker Texapore Mid.
In addition to the core layers, I always carry a couple extra non-cotton, packable layers in my bag in case my items get wet and/or I feel chilled. A small, packable down vest, extra fleece, and even an extra pair of socks are good ideas as backup.
Winter hikers often need to bring additional foot traction if the trail is very snowy or icy. Research the best option for your trek. Snowshoes and crampons provide different layers of assistance. My favorite is a small spike system with a rubber attachment that can be placed over any boot.
As always, pack the 12 essentials!
Hydrate & Calorie Up!
Sometimes hikers are less likely to stop for a snack or drink in cold temperatures, but it’s even more important than ever! Your body burns more calories just to stay warm. Eat heartily beforehand and bring lots of high calorie, nutritious snacks for your trek.
Hydration is equally important. Although I prefer hiking with a bladder system in warmer months, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of my hydration tube freezing in winter. Pack water in insulated water bottles and avoid the predicament of the frozen straw.
My New Favorite Hiking Season
After my first winter hike, I was hooked. I fell in love with the beauty and quiet calm of snowy trails. By starting small, gearing up, and consuming enough food and drink, you might just get hooked, too. These days, the long New Hampshire winter is my favorite hiking season!
Originally from the West Coast, Lindsey Lapointe moved to New England after college and found a permanent home in New Hampshire with her husband, two kids, and her dog. She’s held a lot of titles including marine biologist, wilderness instructor, teacher, writer, and mom. Part of the joy of being a mom is sharing her passion for adventure and the outdoors with her children. She shares more outdoor adventures on her blog, The Freelance Adventurer. Instagram: @freelanceadventurer