Winter hiking tips and lesson learned the hard way
For those of us who enjoy our summers, it’s often difficult to find motivation to hike in below-par temperatures. Even though I grew up in Minnesota, I have never really enjoyed winter weather. But I have learned some ways around the cold and still found joy in the outdoors. Here are three ways you can appreciate neature despite the unfavorables.
TIP #1: INVEST IN GOOD QUALITY CLOTHING
- Waterproof shoes – It’s all fun and games until your feet get cold. Then it’s game over. I’ve gone through so many pairs of knock-off brand shoes and they always tend to disappoint me. I definitely give my shoes a beating with the amount of mileage I put on them so I finally decided to invest in some good pairs of shoes and haven’t looked back. I’ve been through about nine pairs of Salomon Speedcrosses and they have earned their keep in my closet. I love how I can run or hike in them and they have some waterproofing technology. The quick lace has never given me a problem and has made it easy to just slip them on and go. It took me over a year to discover that the outer tongue of the shoe actually has a pocket for the quicklace slider to hide in. Prior to Speedcross, I went through several other brands but they never had enough grip for the loose gravel that we tend to have in Colorado. They almost have a cleat technology. Occasionally in heavy snow, I’ll break out some Merell hiking boots, but the grip isn’t ideal and I always end up using spikes on top of them.
- Socks – Once again, keep the feet warm is really crucial for me to enjoy a wintery hike. I’ve been through so many brands of socks and typically find that wool or ski/snowboarding socks are the best. Wool is a super controversial subject right now as there are some pretty unethical practices happening in the industry. I guess, do your research if you go through a certain brand to make sure that their wool providers are treating their animals with love and respect. Maybe shop local. Or maybe try out a few different non-wool options. I’ve used some pretty cheap fake-wool products that seemed to do the trick but I also have a Smartwool sock that is really lightweight and beats all of my other socks out of ring. You can also buy shoe gaiters for around $20-40 that will help keep snow out of your shoes and socks to prevent unwanted moisture.
- Spikes – DO NOT BUY CHEAP SPIKES from discount stores. This is one lesson I have learned. I’ve purchased some unknown brand spikes from discount stores and they didn’t even last an entire hike. My favorite brand that has lasted the longest is the Kahtoola microspikes. I hike a lot and they’ve been with me for several years. In second place are IceTrekkers Diamond Grip spikes. They had a good run but only made it about a year. Salomon also has mens’ snowcross shoes w/ spikes built-in but unfortunately they don’t offer them in womens and recently just changed them to unisex to avoid having to make a separate shoe…pretty lame and discriminatory if you ask me but they seem really cool and I’d love to try them if they had more in stock and some made for women.
- Why are spikes so important? It’s hard to really tell how the trail is going to be from the start of a hike. Often times a lot of foot traffic and little sun can create some very compact snow and ice. When hiking in steep terrain, it is difficult enough hiking the trail let alone trying to take a detour around large ice patches. Take it from a girl who has done a crab walk/butt slide for about a mile downhill…it’s a buzz kill. There’s nothing more annoying than twisting your back in every direction and doing birdy flaps all the way back down to the trailhead. I’d recommend putting them in your pocket just in case.
- Coat – This should be a given, but I’d pick something that has some breathing options. Many ski and snowboard coats have ventilation pockets that you can zip and unzip depending on the conditions. Since hiking can involve a lot of perspiration, it’s super important to constantly regulate so if the temperature quickly drops, you don’t freeze. I’d also say to layer!
- Mittens – Obviously you can play this by ear when it comes to the weather conditions but I always have some just in case. I have a few gloves that I like, but nothing does the job like some good mittens. This might also involve some research if you are trying to be environmentally and animal friendly. I noticed that Gore-Tex has a lot of animal products in their mittens and gloves such as wool and leather but I found some Burton and Dakine ones that don’t have animal products and have pretty good reputations. I’ve also owned Alpaca mittens that have lasted a long time and were super warm but once again, it’s important to do some research.
- Other items – I typically also wear a face shield to prevent my lungs from burning and asthma flare-ups. I’d also think about hats or headbands, fleece lined clothing, pants, moisture wicking clothing, glasses or goggles, and hiking poles
TIP #2: PICK THE RIGHT TRAIL
- Consider the weather conditions like wind and snow. Sometimes I will pick a trail that has a little more tree coverage to help block the wind. I may also pick a trail that has less shade coverage if it’s going to be a sunny day with less wind so that way it feels warmer than it actually is.
- Consider foot traffic and ice. Many of the popular trails get packed down with snow and ice and even a few 50° days won’t melt them.
- Consider the date. What kind of hike you want? Would you prefer to see a lot of people or hardly any? The weekends are really busy in Colorado but the weekdays can be just as busy too depending on the season. If you don’t want to fight for a parking spot, get there EARLY. And when I say early, I mean at sunrise or sooner. A lot of weekend hikers tend to sleep in a little bit. Saturdays also tend to be the busiest. But if you don’t mind a crowd, then go for it. For me, I prefer solitude so I’ll try to get there as early as my body allows. It’s also nice for hiking dogs and not having to constantly be on the lookout for other dogs and humans.
- Go with a familiar trail that has some cell phone service. Because weather changes so quickly in the winter and trails can often look different in the snow, I’d stick to one you’ve done a few times. Now is not the time to explore new trails unless maybe you are with someone who knows the area or there are a lot of other hikers. And in case you forgot your spikes and maybe did have a good spill, I’d go somewhere that allows you to make a phone call for help.
TIP #3: GO A LITTLE EXTRA
- Bring a warm beverage. I prefer black coffee in a thermal mug.
- Pack snacks. I’d go with something that you don’t mind frozen.
- Drink your water! And bring some extra just in case everything is frozen for your pup. Camelbacks actually keep their heat pretty well in the winter except for what’s in the mouthpiece and straw.
- Maybe pack some fresh socks and mittens if you brought a pack or leave some in the car. It’s nice changing out socks once you get back to your car.
- Hand and feet warmers are lifesavers on really cold days. I do worry how much they contribute to the landfill but every now and then I’d treat yourself.
- Phone chargers are usually in our cars but when your phone dies after a half hour of being in the cold, it’s a little frustrating. Maybe bring one of those battery boosters or battery packs.
- Dog attire I have used and love: Dog booties, bootie socks, sweaters, and jackets for longer periods of time.
- First aid? I always forget this one, but I need to start bringing something. Even if I just put it in the trunk, it would have been super helpful for the times that my dogs cut their paws on ice and rocks.