Benefits and safety tips for Hiking in Winter
The cold and “grey” time of the year is for couching, chilling, movie time, staying inside rather than do some hiking in winter? Hell nooooo 😀
In winter it is even more important to get out there to get a daily dose of light /Vitamin D and fresh air and moving your body.
Have you ever been sitting inside, being cold, and in a bad mood, but then you got yourself into your running shoes or just walking shoes and got out there and afterwards you felt warm and so much better mentally?
So yes, I know it might be a little harder sometimes to get out of the house in autumn/winter but trust me if you do, you feel much better.
Do you know the quote: “there’s no such thing than bad weather, only bad clothing”? Well it is true.
I worked as a gardener for a couple of years, and with the right clothing I had no problems working the whole day in the cold or rain. The same goes for hiking. With the right hiking gear you can easily enjoy hiking in autumn and winter, in the rain or snow.
The hot tea/coffee and hiking snacks on trail with a view or the soup or cake afterwards will just taste much better than if you wouldn’t go out, I promise 😉
Positive effects of hiking (getting outside) in autumn and winter:
- You will get a small daily Vitamin D dose:
These day’s a lot of us actually have a lack of vitamin D even in summer. Using heaps of conventional sunscreen, eating too much convenience food, staying inside too much, etc. So in winter, if you live somewhere where you do have a “real” winter, where it is darker because the sun goes up later and down earlier it is even more important to catch some daylight. In the northern hemisphere the sun is too far away, so it wont be enough if you really have a lack of Vitamin D. If you feel tired all the time go get your blood checked for Vitamin C. (In Europe every inhabitant of a country north of Italy won’t get enough Vit.D from the sun during the time from October to April) So make sure to get Vitamin D during winter if you live in a northern hemisphere country. If you choose Vitamin D drops or capsules doesn’t matter, just get the right dosis (ask your doctor about the daily dosis you should take).
- Boost your immune system:
A lot of people still blame the cold air if you get a cold in winter, but it is normally indoors you’ll find the cause for a cold: in the office some of your colleges might have a cold, the AC is pumping the air in circles and you might not even be able to open the windows to get some fresh air? Get some warm clothes and get outside even during your lunch break or if you have a cold already, breathe the fresh air. In fact it will help you and your kids to develop a stronger immune system and an overall health.
- Boost your mood:
It is proven that being outside helps people who suffer from anxiety and depression to get better. The vitamin D again is one reason, but colors another. Green areas with blue (grass/park with a lake) seem to have the best effect
- Enjoy the place without crowds:
The crowds are gone and you’ll have the space almost for yourself 🙂 If it even might snow, the landscapes will show of a new beauty.
- You will actually start to love winter:
If you live somewhere where winter is grey, cold, snowy and you hate everything about it, get outside and explore. Realize how much fun and beauty you can find in the winter season. When you wear the right clothes and focus on the positive you will see: winter will become fun 🙂
- And last but not least: let’s burn off some extra calories 😉
Our body is burning more calories when it’s cold to stay warm. So by walking you already burn more calories, in the cold even a little more ;
What to wear when hiking in winter
In summer it is enough to wear shorts a shirt and comfy shoes, but in winter you want to wear proper apparel if you like to stay dry and warm.
Dress like an onion.
When hiking in colder seasons it’s a great idea to dress in layers, like an onion. In the beginning you might be cold, but when your moving you might get warmer, and sweat if you can’t get rid of layers. If you just have one layer to get rid of you might get cold too quick. So by having layers a clothing you can get rid of one piece at a time. Preventing to sweat or freeze. Start with three layers, a base, middle and outer layer.
Body: For the base opt for a fabric that wicks moisture to the exterior layers where it will disperse. The middle layer could be fleece or synthetic down (with attached hood) to keep warm and the outer layer should be a hardshell waterproof coat with hood to keep you covered against wind and rain/snow and keep you warm and dry. Look for an eco hardshell coat. Chemicals used in treatments on jackets and other garments to repel water (PFC) have potential toxic consequences for both humans and the environment. So many conscious brand already use eco treatment or phasing out PFC at the moment.
For your hands: Gloves and mittens, fleece or wool gloves and then a pair of mittens on top. Waterproof would be the best choice here.-a base layer will wick moisture off your body. Like long underwear made of merino-wool or synthetics. Next layer is for insulation and warmth. This can be something made of wool or synthetic fleece. If you go somewhere where it is freezing you might want another layer like a heavier insulated jacket made for winter hiking.
For your feet: get some heavy wool socks. And always bring an extra pair in case your socks will get wet once. Very important in the cold, your boots must be waterproof. If it gets very cold you might get frostbite if not.
Head: A lightweight wool or fleece hat (and maybe even a face mask) makes your onion style perfect.
I love to wear clothing made of organic cotton in my daily life (the feeling, no micro plastic fibers go down the drain while washing), however it’s not the right fabric for winter hikes. If it get’s wet it won’t insulate against the cold anymore. So you need to choose a synthetic fiber or wool for you winter hikes. (to prevent (reduce) the micro plastic fibers go down the drain and pollute our water you could choose to hand wash your synthetics or you could buy a Guppy Friend Washing Bag
Hiking in winter: the right Food
Since your body is burning more calories in winter than in summer, you might need more food than for a summer hike. If you don’t eat enough you might get cold and feel out of energy. So you should bring some high calorie snacks/food with you.
Like nuts and dried fruits, cheese bites. Bananas. Oats to make porridge with melted snow in the morning. A hot coffee or tea in the morning shouldn’t be missed while camping in winter.
For dinner it might be a hot soup with rice or pasta or potatoes. Get a hot cocoa and chocolate bar or energy balls as dessert. Now it’s the perfect time to indulge your favorite sweets without a bad conscience 😉
If you are on a longer winter hike plan your daily calorie intake. Do the math on how many calories you need in a day of winter hiking, then rationalize your food, so you don’t eat too much on one day and then go hungry and lack energy on another day.
Hiking in winter: Planning
It is a great difference if you hike in parts of the northern hemisphere where we don’t have much snow (then you don’t need a lot of extra equipment) and parts where we do have heaps of snow (you might consider some extra planning here).
1) First of all: please check the weather!
In some parts of the world this is more important than in other parts. But if you want to hike in a very wintery, cold and snowy place please make sure to check the weather
2) Choose a route that fits to your fitness level
If you are new to winter hiking, chose a shorter route, maybe one you already know.
In the snow the terrain looks different, so it would be good to start with a shorter and safer route.
3) Start early:
it get’s dark earlier in winter, so you might want to start early to come home in time.
4) Weather can change quickly
In some areas and above treeline weather can change quickly. So be prepared for that. Carry enough layers with you to keep warm. Heavy wind, snow, limited visibility, etc. could appear so be prepared to turn around if it get’s too dangerous. Don’t continue because your pride says so…
5) Stay hydrated
Even though you won’t feel as thirsty as in summer, you need a lot of water to stay hydrated. Just because you don’t sweat doesn’t mean you need no water. So prepare your bottle with room temperature warm water and stick the bottle into a woolen sock or something to keep it from freezing. You could also bring an insulated bottle with tea. If you are somewhere in the snow melt the snow for your coffee/tea and to refill your water bottle.
6) Bring high calorie snacks.
You are burning more calories in winter! Yay?! BUT this means you need to eat more than on summer hikes to keep energized. You need to pack enough food/calories for whatever hours, days you are going to be on the hike. Not enough food can mean: lack of energy, and that is dangerous if you are out in the wild.
7) Count calories and portion your food
If you stay overnight or even go on a few days trip count your calories and have them proportioned for each day. This way you won’t eat too much on one day and then haven’t got less and maybe lack of energy the next day.
8) Wet shoes.
If your socks or boot are getting wet, take them with you into the sleeping bag. If not they will be frozen next morning and you need to wait until they thaw out..
9) Frozen food
Pack frozen food instead of dried food.
Trailmap, compass, GPS, don’t forget that snow is changing how the terrain looks like, so you should need to know the terrain to be safe.
Know what kind of gear you might need
For our hike in the snowy mountains of Zakopane (Poland) we didn’t have any gear for snow because we weren’t even planning to go on a winter snow hike…. We stayed in Krakow (Poland) for a month and I wanted to go to the mountains badly, and in a hurry I couldn’t find a place to rent gear…. Well we made it, safe in running shoes (facepalm), but I would not recommend it 😉 Take a look at our video and see how I DIY´d some “crampons” made out of rope 😀 (Note: It wasn’t my first winter hike and it has been a very safe trail with people passing by on a regular basis, no climbing or anything involved… I would never have made this without the right gear in a more remote area)
Other Snow Hike Equipment
- Snowshoes*: can be helpful in deeper snow
- Crampons*: helps you get grip on icy surfaces. This is what I missed on our Zakopane hike;)
- Hiking poles*: helpful on long hikes, or uphill hikes but also in the snow. Read more about my recommendations why hiking poles are a great thing to have.
- Camp stove*: great if you need to heat water, make some soup or porridge while being out camping in winter (or summer)
- Bring two stoves in case one fails to work. And make sure both need the same kind of fuel. White gas stoves are the best choice for hiking in winter.
- waterproof matches.
- Winter goggles* or sunglasses to wrap around can help you against getting blinded by the snow
- Sunscreen for your face. The sun is much more strong in the mountains and even more stronger if there’s snow.
If this is your first winter/snow hike, plan a short one first. Even if you might know the route, winter conditions can make it more difficult so you might plan more time.
- Be prepared to stay over night: Be prepared to sleep in the outdoors even if you don’t plan to (depending on where and how far you are walking from civilization). If the weather stops you from walking any further it is a good thing if you have equipment on you to sleep in the wild/snow. Bring a lightweight winter sleeping bag, a winter tent, or learn how to build a winter shelter.
- Always tell friends or family where you are going and how long your planning to stay away.
- If you can, bring an experienced friend.
- Take a map with you and know how to read it. Take a GPS with you if you can’t read maps.
- Bring a rechargeable hand warmer*.
- First aid bag.
- Emergency blanket/sleeping bag*.
- Flash light/head light and spare batteries.
What is Hypothermia and how can you avoid it?
If you are planning to go hiking in winter please be prepared against the cold to prevent frost bites and hypothermia:
Hypothermia: below temperature (referring to your internal body temperature)
If you get too cold on the outside (when you are outdoors) you will get too cold on the inside (below body temperature).This will cause trouble for the functions of your organs (heart, lungs, etc.).
If your body is giving your these signs/symptoms it is telling you something is wrong, it cries for more warmth.
stuttering (or having trouble to recall facts)
acting a little weird
suddenly don’t want to move anymore
Those signs should alert you or your buddies, if you hike alone pay close attention to your body.
sleepy or disoriented
feeling like you want to vomit
a pounding heart
increase in the rate of your breaths, like a nervous break down.
Action steps to reverse hypothermia while hiking in winter:
(Please Note: This is NOT a medical advice, just some practical ideas!)
get the hiker/yourself into a warmer situation/shelter
offer some food and drinks
get rid of wet clothing
create body heat by jumping around and then hug the cold person (open the jacket, crawl into the sleeping bag)
is a fire possible?
How to avoid hypothermia:
Always look for the weather forecast. Take enough warm clothing with you, wear layers and don’t get wet on top of cold. Take shelter before you start to shake and get cold.
(Read more about Hypothermia and how to avoid it here-> https://www.wikihow.com/Prevent-Hypothermia
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