Waking up to the first snowfall of the season in the North Cascades, I was filled with trepidation about leaving the warmth of my sleeping bag to brave the cold outside of my tent. To my utter delight I discovered that one of my friends had already started a fire. Sitting outside of my tent, enjoying that cup of joe by the fire, I was entranced in the changes that had occured in the landscape since the day before. I was reminded why I go outside – to explore, push myself, grow, and experience nature.
While winter hiking or backpacking may seem like the worst idea any human has ever had, when done correctly, it can be one of the most serene and magical experiences you could ask for. Here are a few tips for making the most out of your winter hiking experiences:
- Layer up. Depending on the terrain and the amount of effort you are putting in you can go from painfully cold to overheating and sweaty quickly if you do not layer properly and take the time to don and shed layers as you transition throughout the day.
- Proper footwear is essential. Warm socks and waterproof footwear to wear while hiking is only one part of the equation for winter excursions; having dry socks and shoes to switch into back at the trailhead (or in your pack to be worn that evening) is equally as important. As moisture collects from sweat and snow it can create the perfect microcosm for immersion foot. Ensuring that your feet stay warm and dry is critical.
- Eat. Calories literally are heat energy, as you recreate in colder temperatures your body will be working harder to keep you warm and maintain your core temperature enjoy fatty foods, butter, chocolate, nut butters, and other calorie and sugar dense foods.
- Drink. Proper hydration is a key to proper prevention of a myriad of wilderness ailments; however, when recreating in the winter you may not regularly feel thirsty the same way you do in summer. Be sure to stay on top of you liquid intake.
- Eat & Drink hot. This is a point of comfort and pure enjoyment. In the snowy wonderland you find yourself in while winter hiking you can fire up your campstove and make all sorts of tasty and warm foods and beverages. If you don’t want to hike with a stove, bring an insulated thermos and you can split the hot water between camp meals and hot drinks.
- Always keep hand-warmers in your jacket pockets. Keeping a couple of handwarmers in your jacket pockets that you can activate and use to warm up your frigid digits is a great option in case you accidentally forget your gloves at home. I always have a pair hanging out in my hiking jacket. While the pockets are good themselves, these little helpers speed up the process immensely.
- Be prepared. While the weather is always fickle in nature, this is especially true as you move into recreating in the winter months. As temperatures and sun angles change snow may soften up or solidify to the point of nearing ice. Crampons, snowshoes, and Yaktrax type accessories are all great options to keep you safe and secure. The less you slip and fall in the snow - the warmer you will be.
- Keep moving and having fun. Winter hiking can be a magical experience full of transformed landscapes and natural beauty. Plus, when you stop to take in the views, the temps often force these breaks to be short and sweet. That keeps you moving and exploring, because in winter - there is always something new to see.
Ambassador Caleb Walker is the Social Media Manager at NOLS. During his free time, you can find him somewhere in the mountains with his dog; drinking beer or coffee with friends; reading or watching Netflix; or any combination of the above, while trying to decide what to cook for dinner.