Winter Hiking For Beginners: Video & Gear Guide

There is a certain magic to winter hiking that’s hard to explain. In fact, I’d rather hit the snow covered trails in 20-degree temps, trudging softly through powder and ice, than go for casual summer hike. I just find it peaceful.

Not everybody shares this sentiment.

But the more I talk to the wintertime nay-sayers, the more I realize it’s because they just haven’t gone! That’s like saying you don’t like pizza, but you’ve never tried pizza.

I get it. It’s cold. Or wet. And you might have some old snow pants from when you used to go sledding as a kid (or with the kids), and maybe you have some Bean boots for shoveling city slush, but the thought of trekking up a mountain in the winter sounds miserable! Right?

It is. But as Keith put it… “miserable good!”

If you watched the video above, you saw that my friend Keith’s first ever winter hike was quite a struggle. I don’t think everybody should take on the White Mountains’ North and South Kinsman, a 10 or 11-mile out and back checking off two of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers on a casual March Saturday. But thankfully, I look for a special kind of crazy in my friends.

The kind that says, “yes, absolutely,” when they get a text from me at 11 PM on a Friday saying “I’m packing two ice axes, grab your winter wear, I’m picking you up in 6 hours.”

That’s how it went for Keith, but maybe you take the intro to winter outdoors a little slower. Maybe you start on some tamer hill or hiking trails near you.

The lesson here isn’t that winter hiking is brutal. It can be, but Keith is already ready to get back at it! The lesson is that you can get out there and enjoy winter much more than you think.

I find that the people who dislike winter just don’t know what to do with it. They don’t ski, snowboard, climb, hike, run…they let it keep them inside!

Nobody likes being limited. But the truth is, you’re limiting yourself if you’re not capitalizing on the most fun, and most challenging, most rewarding, season to be outdoors.

Here is how to get started winter hiking:

Gear

I could go on for days about everything you could possibly need or want to winter sports, but for the sake of brevity and just helping you get started, I’ll list off what’s featured in the video. That way, you have a good frame of reference for seeing exactly how something worked for what kind of adventure.

The gear I wore for this:

Those are the specifics are far as what I had on, but in general terms, the gear checklist you need to get started winter hiking is:

  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Top and Bottom Base Layers
  • Insulated Upper Layer
  • Outer Shell Jacket
  • Snow Pants
  • Warm Socks
  • Winter Boots
  • Gaiters
  • Trail Crampons/Microspikes
  • Trekking Poles
  • Backpack
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Camera
  • Headlamp (for early starts or just in case)

Now that you have the gear, here’s some lessons gleaned from Keith’s experience, so you know what you’re getting into and how to make the most of your outing.

  1. Lock in a steady, sustainable pace with smaller steps up the trail to conserve energy. Really, easy, steady, baby steps.
  2. Always start with less layers. You’ll feel cold, until you get going. Start colder than you want to be, but have enough with you so you can bundle up at any time.
  3. Bring poles to help with balance because your footing will shift on snow with every step.
  4. Turn around before your tired. (I pushed Keith to go further than his body wanted to, but you might want to listen to what your body tells you and there’s no shame in turning back if you’re too tired and continuing is dangerous)
  5. It’s hard work. Winter hiking is hard. But so, so rewarding. And when the alternative is sitting inside being a Debbie downer about winter, choose/try the outdoors.

What do you think about getting outside in the winter?

Do it all the time and love it? Never tried, but willing? Let me know in the comments below!

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Jonathan Ronzio
Jonathan Ronzio

Founder

Adventure filmmaker/photographer, outdoor athlete, & speaker. Director, Between The Peaks. Founder & Chief Editor, Explore Inspired

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