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The chilly winds of winter are no reason to be cooped up inside. Our winter hiking tips and suggested gear are the keys to having fun hiking in the snow, cold and even rain. Knowing what to wear, how to prepare and what to bring make hiking in winter so much fun that you just might want to take the kids and get out there every winter weekend.
Once upon a time, Texas was our home. Winter hiking looks a little different there than it does is our current home town of Vail, Colorado during the winter. Our trek last weekend to cut down a Christmas tree was in below freezing temperatures on a snow packed path. The kids brought sleds and used gravity to slide back down the mountain.
Winter hiking is very different than summer hiking. It has its own rewards. Breathing in the cold air somehow has a more invigorating feel to it. The crunch of the snow or dry leaves sounds louder in the still air. But it may be that the land around you is just quieter than usual. Rather than birds chirping in the trees, you may hear geese migrating overhead.
There are sure to be sights that awe you. Coming back from our hike to cut down our Christmas tree, I spotted lots of ducks or geese flying around a pond. Looking down at the pond, you could see literally hundreds of birds had congregated. It was an awesome sight.
TravelingMom Tip: We’ve got tips for hiking with kids in the summer, too.
Winter Hiking Tips: The Gear You Need
Appropriate hiking gear will ensure a better experience. Even if you live in a warmer climate, the days are shorter and the nights are cooler. You will need layers, appropriate shoes and other gear to make it safe, comfortable and fun. You may not need snowshoes, but waterproof hiking boots are almost always a good idea, even in summer when a sudden rain can turn a trail into a slippery, muddy mess.
These winter hiking tips make getting outdoors easy, fun and safe. Don’t let the cold keep you indoors!
Dress in Layers
Dressing in layers tops the list of our winter hiking tips. Even in summer you should do this. But for winter hikers it is more important than ever.
Choose thin, lightweight layers that you can easily put on and take off as needed, storing the layers in a backpack until they’re needed.
Wear Appropriate Shoes
A good pair of hiking boots is important for any hike. But during the winter, the right footwear becomes even more important. In addition to wool socks, you should wear some type of insulated shoes with a good grip. I am a fan of Sorels.
Will you be hiking in the snow? Will it be deep snow? Or, packed down snow? Snowshoes will be needed for deep snow to keep you from sinking. For packed snow, crampons or some other type of slip-on microspikes may be all you need to keep you from slipping.
My preferred brand of traction devices for shoes is Yaktrax. And here are our favorite hiking boots and shoes for the whole family.
What Else You Need
Moisture wicking base layer or insulating layer. No cotton. The last thing you want is to sweat, be wet and then get cold. Wear wool socks.
Mittens and a hat. Keeping fingers, ears and heads warm is important to keep little ones from complaining they’re too cold to go on, bringing a swift end to the fun. If you live in a colder climate, you might even want to bring along some hand and toe warmers.
Rain jacket or waterproof outer layer. Be sure to prepare for moisture, whether that comes in the form of snowfall or rainfall. A rain jacket or shell is easy to pack in warmer climates. A down jacket or other warm outer layer will keep you warm in below-freezing temperatures.
Neck gaiter. As a ski family, we always have neck gaiters on hand. These fold up compactly and can double as masks. They are great for warming up your ears and nose. Or, in the summer you can wet them down to keep cool. Layering is key to keeping your body temperature regulated.
More Winter Hiking Tips
Follow the Sun
The days are shorter in the winter months. You may be best served to get out early to make the most of daylight hours and be heading back far before the sun starts to set. If there is a chance you might take longer than you plan, be sure to pack a headlamp or flashlight.
TravelingMom Tip: Live in a warmer climate? check out these desert hiking tips.
One of the most important pieces of gear for hikers is a Camelbak backpack with a water bladder and hose for taking hands-free drinks. It is an easy way to carry more water than you might need, and everything else too. Our kids have been carrying their own water and snacks this way since they were old enough to hike. I much prefer this to a water bottle. Hydration is so important for an enjoyable hiking experience in either winter or summer.
But on a winter hike on a cold day, you might also want to pack some type of insulated bottle, hydro flask or thermos with your choice of warm beverage, or even soup. A hot tea or hot cocoa is going to hit the spot during a break on a cold day of hiking. This is a good way to keep your energy up, and to motivate the kids.
Do Your Research and Know Trail Conditions
Identify your trailhead and take a look at a map before you go. Check the weather forecast.
But as we Coloradoans know, weather can change quickly without notice. So, be prepared for anything.
Winter Hiking in Warmer Climates
If you are hiking in Texas, Arizona, California or other warm weather states during the winter, you likely won’t need a pair of crampons. You will still want plenty of water, layers (it can get chilly in the evening or early mornings) and snacks.
Also, don’t forget the sunscreen and sunglasses. These warm weather states provide plenty of sunny winter vistas.
While you probably won’t encounter snow, you may get to splash in a few rain puddles. Be sure to keep an eye on the weather and prepare appropriately. You may want waterproof shoes and a rain jacket tucked in the backpack just in case.
Be Prepared for Emergencies
There are times when I do hike alone. I always bring my cell phone. But many trails are out of service area. I make sure that my family knows exactly when I left and where I am going.
If you are going out into the backcountry a beacon may be a really good idea.
Beware of Frozen Water
Is that body of water frozen through? It is a good idea to avoid walking over seemingly frozen water. Even if it is shallow, the last thing you want is to break through and get your feet soaked in cold water.
Do you know how to recognize frostbite? Be sure to research this condition. If you get numb and then start getting clumsy those are a couple of signs. Mild frostbite will often heal itself. But if you have blistering that is a sure sign to call your doctor. Here’s what the Mayo Clinic says about frostbite.
Carry a First Aid Kit
Whether taking a day hike, or hiking overnight, it is always a good idea to carry a first aid kit in case of emergencies. Here’s what else to pack for a day hike with kids.
Be Sure Fido is Prepared
Are you bringing Fido? Make sure your dog is also prepared. If it is below freezing, a coat and booties may also be in order for him. I always thought that coats for dogs were silly, until I moved to Colorado and adopted a short haired dog. When she gets cold, she shivers.
Also, consider booties for their feet. Snow can get caught up between their toes and make it painful for them to walk. If you are bringing along your furry friend, it is just as important to make sure they stay warm as it is for you to stay warm.
Are you backpacking to a hut? That trekking experience is an entirely different ballgame.
You will be bringing gear for overnight. You’ll need a good backpack with a warm, but lightweight sleeping bag. You will probably also be carting in water, wood and all kinds of food and cooking supplies.
Do you hike with your family in the winter? If so, any winter hiking tips we missed? If not, what’s stopping you? Tell us in the comments below!