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:
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:
- Buff Lightweight 100% Merino Wool Hat (Great for cold weather hiking and running.)
- Julbo Cham Sunglasses (So good on glaciers or snowpack in general. Spectron 4 lenses.)
- Outdoor Research Versaliner Gloves (Pretty much any OR liner glove is golden.)
- Outdoor Research Arete Gloves (These stayed in my pack)
- Patagonia Air Merino Baselayer – My top and bottom (Relaunching for Fall 2018 as the Capilene Air)
- Eddie Bauer Microtherm Stormdown Jacket (My insulated layer stayed in my pack on this hike)
- Marmot Eclipse Jacket (Not insulated, but when paired with a good enough baselayer, the perfect shell for protecting against the elements while moving fast on chilly days.)
- Patagonia Powslayer Bib Pant (These are pricy, but if you’re looking at new snow pants, go for bib pants.)
- Injini Liner + Hiker Sock Combo (Injinji toe socks have easily, quickly, become my favorite socks for running and hiking and really anything.)
- KEEN Durand Polar Hiking Boot (If I’m not doing any technical climbing, and it’s winter, I’m in these.)
- Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters (My go-to gaiter to keep the snow and dirt out of the boots.)
- Hillsound Ultra Trail Crampons (The best I’ve used for trail traction.)
- Black Diamond Carbon Z Trekking Poles (I always go with the z-poles. They pack way smaller!)
- Patagonia Ascensionist Pack 30L (Favorite pack for nearly everything. So simple, so perfect.)
- 1 Liter of water in an insulated thermos
- 1 Clif Builder Bar and 1 package of Clif Shotbloks
- 1 Untapped Maple Waffel and 1 Untapped Maple Syrup Packet
- My iPhone, my Sony a7riii with Peak Design Capture Clip, and the DJI Osmo Mobile 2
- UCO Vapor Headlamp (Managed to get off the mountain before it got dark! But this headlamp is sweet.)
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:
- Top and Bottom Base Layers
- Insulated Upper Layer
- Outer Shell Jacket
- Snow Pants
- Warm Socks
- Winter Boots
- Trail Crampons/Microspikes
- Trekking Poles
- 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.
- Lock in a steady, sustainable pace with smaller steps up the trail to conserve energy. Really, easy, steady, baby steps.
- 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.
- Bring poles to help with balance because your footing will shift on snow with every step.
- 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)
- 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!