Five Quick Tips for Winter Hiking

Five Quick Tips for Winter Hiking


 “Proper planning? Bah, who needs that!”.

The “5 P’s”? — I forgot em’. What are the “5 P’s”? They stand for: Proper planning prevents poor performance. Simple enough.

So the other weekend my friend and my son decided to go for a winter hike. No big deal I guess living where we do. However, it’s a big deal at times to peel my kid away from his screen. I spent the drive up to the trailhead explaining in vain how great it will be to get outside today instead of playing video games online with his buddies.

Winter in Colorado transforms a mountain trail. It’s one of my favorite times to hike. It’s beautiful, the contrast of deep green pines, snow-capped mountains against a cobalt blue sky. Maybe a mountain goat will cross your path! Yet hiking takes a little more prep as the weather and conditions can change on a dime. (Yep the Five P’s would come in handy here). Besides a few sandwiches, water, and some layers what else could you need? So we piled in the Jeep and off to the trailhead we went. We got lost. No map. No GPS. 

After finally finding the trailhead, we had hiked for about an hour or so, then I decided to take a new trail that I wasn’t familiar with or the exact distance. I thought who cares, it was a beautiful day, warm sun in our faces, blue skies and snow. Hard packed snow. The kind that sets up like cement. Still, not much of a problem until we started to descend. Not only was the snow hard, but it was also slippery as all hell! And you guessed it. In my haste, I forgot to pack crampons. So as a result hiking became like walking on an icy log in wooden Dutch shoes!

Well to make a long story short, a two-hour hike turned into a four-hour hike, two ripped jackets, some bruised knees, and the pleasure of listening to my son explain all the reasons why today wasn’t a good day for a hike; all the way back to the trailhead. 

So in the spirit of “proper planning prevents poor performance”. Here are 5 quick tips for winter hiking:  

1. Stay Cool

Heat management. As a hiker, you generate a lot of heat, even when it’s cold outside. Try to stay dry and not sweat, because if you stop and your clothes are wet, you’re going to feel cold. That sucks. Layering is the best method to regulate your temperature.

2. Break Trail with Caution

If you’re the first person to hike a trail after a snowfall, you might have to create your path. Forging through deep snow can slow you down, so it’s helpful to have an idea of how much snow is on a trail before you hike it. You can also search for recent trip reports online to get an idea of trail conditions. If you do plan on breaking trail, don’t go it alone.

3. Eat Frequently

Familiar advice? Yes, but it’s doubly important in the winter months. “You’re burning a lot of calories just keeping your body warm, and you’re carrying more gear. Keep eating throughout the day, and it will help you stay warm. As for water, start with near-boiling water and keep it insulated, it should remain thawed for a day hike.

4. Protect Your Feet

Not only should winter hiking boots be warm and comfortable, but they also need to be compatible with your crampons, snowshoes, or other traction devices. What’s more, you want to make sure your boots have sufficient insulation. As for traction devices, don’t do what I did and leave your gear at home. Pack Microspikes, snowshoes, and crampons for any lengthy winter hike. The Microspikes are useful for packed snow that’s not too steep, while snowshoes are good for flat or sloped hikes in looser snow. Crampons come out in steep and icy terrain. Depending on the terrain, you may carry all three and switch as needed.

5. Get Outside

The best way to get comfortable hiking in winter is to get out there, ideally with some friends who are experienced. In addition to building endurance by hiking longer, it also expands your experience level with managing changing temperatures. Better yet, as people increase their experience, they’re able to assess what they’re willing to take on and therefore progress. You’ll learn which layers work well for you and whether you want comfort items, like toe or hand warmers. You’ll also figure out how long you’re comfortable staying out.

By the way, did you notice the mountain goat in the photo? He’s kinda hidden.

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