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15 Tips for a Safe and Enjoyable Experience Hiking in Winter

Hiking is an incredibly fun experience that is no longer considered merely a staple of warm weather months! Every year, more and more hikers are discovering the joys of hiking in winter. But along with these joys comes a lot of responsibility—to prepare oneself for a different kind of hiking that comes with its own risks and rewards.

Read on for some tips to help you make the most of your time hiking in winter…to keep you safe, healthy, and full of joy while you experience the wonders of winter hiking for yourself.

Hiking in Winter

Why Hiking in Winter Is Good for Your Health

When you approach the subject of hiking in winter, you will often find yourself embattled with warnings about the risks of the cold, the hazards of snow and ice, and similar concerns. All of these worries are certainly valid! But did you know that hiking in winter is actually good for your health?

Winter is a time when both mental and physical health tend to be at all-time lows. The modern lifestyle has developed a sedentary approach to the cold months, which deprives us of exposure to sunlight, fresh air, and the great outdoors.

Conversely, when you spend time hiking in winter, it can improve your mental health, stabilize your mood, encourage better circulation, cognition, and muscle retention, and help stave off unwanted weight gain that tends to hang around in the cold weather.

For many folks, hiking in winter is actually preferable over hiking in the hotter months. If you suffer from quick-onset heat exhaustion or simply can’t enjoy a vigorous, sweaty hike in the heat, then you may find an unexpected joy in chilly weather hiking.

Of course, this all hinges on learning how to safely hike in winter! Luckily, there are plenty of tips and little hacks to help make hiking in winter a safe, fun, and enjoyable experience.

Tips for Hiking in the Cold

1. Avoid Wearing Cotton–Opt for Warmer Fabrics

Though cotton is among the most sought-after and widely lauded fabrics for clothing—particularly among folks who are conscientious of sustainability and try to avoid synthetics in their fabric—this is not the best material for hiking in winter.


On the contrary, cotton is too lightweight and breezy to help keep you warm. It can also be a struggle for cotton to dry quickly and effectively, so if you’re wearing it in winter weather and it gets wet, your cotton clothing can raise your risk of developing frostbite or hypothermia.

Instead of cotton, you should opt for insulating layers of fleece or wool. These are better at retaining body heat, creating warming pockets for your skin.

2. Avoid Tight Clothing Spots

When hiking in winter, you do want clothing that is snug enough to help retain heat near your skin. However, things like tightly cuffed gloves, tight ankle bands on socks, watch bands, and boots and gaiters that are too small can all lead to poor circulation.

On a winter hike, poor circulation can dramatically increase your risk of developing frostbite. So you want to avoid any clothing or accessories that fit too tightly. This can even mean leaving your wedding ring or smartwatch at home to reduce the risk of impacted circulation while hiking in winter.

3. Wear a Hat

Much like helmets for motorcyclists, hats are sometimes viewed as more a matter of style than safety. But the fact remains that you lose a great deal of body heat through your head, and loss of this body heat can increase your risks of a health crisis while hiking in winter.

Earflap Hat

Be sure to bring a hat when you go hiking in winter—and make sure it’s the right kind! Ideally, you want to aim for a hat with earflaps, which will add extra warmth to your ears—a part of the body which is more often prone to frostbite.

4. Dress in Layers

Layering your clothing is one of the biggest keys to a safe and enjoyable experience hiking in winter. Wearing three layers of various materials is considered best practice to keep your body temperature optimal and to avoid the risk of hazards such as frostbite and hypothermia.

Ideally, you want to start with a moisture-wicking base layer. Athletic wear is often a great option for this, as the synthetic fibers are designed to quickly do away with water, sweat, and all types of moisture.

Next, you want an insulating layer. This is where you will want to rely on wool or fleece instead of cotton. Finally, a shell layer goes on top, with the purpose of keeping out the elements—the wind, the wet, and more. For your shell layer, you will generally want to opt for a waterproof, padded coat.

As you hike, you can remove and add layers back on as needed to maintain a balanced body temperature. This will overall help you remain as warm and dry as possible throughout your winter hike.

5. Keep as Much Skin Covered as Possible

Frostbite can begin its advance quickly in particularly cold or breezy winter weather conditions. So can skin chapping. The best way to protect your body from the elements is to cover as much of your skin as possible while hiking in winter.

This means wearing gloves, a hat, sometimes a scarf, and even a ski mask if you are hiking in particularly icy temperatures or with frigid winds blowing.

6. Invest in Under-the-Earmuff Headphones

Do you love listening to music while you hike? Well, good news—you don’t have to sacrifice your favorite jams in order to stay warm and safe while hiking in winter! You just need to plan for having your headphones in and staying warm at the same time.

Acuvar Wireless Bluetooth 5.0 Rechargeable Over The Ear Headphone Earmuffs with Extra Soft and Warm Fabric, Microphone, Powerful Surround Stereo Bass and Passive Noise Cancelling (Pink)

You have the option of using wireless earbuds underneath the flaps of your hat. You can also invest in some earmuff headphones for an added layer of snug warmth while listening to your music.

7. Prepare for a Longer Hike

Hiking in winter does tend to take longer than hiking in summer, especially if there is snow present or a risk of ice. You should prepare and pack accordingly. Make sure you have enough water and snacks to last on a longer hike, and anticipate when dusk will set in. This way, you won’t be caught off guard in the dark if your hike takes longer than usual.

8. Pack a Headlamp for Longer Hikes

If you are planning a winter hike that you expect will last for the majority of the day, it’s wise to pack along a headlamp. Remember that days are much shorter in the winter, so depending on where you are, sunset can set in long before you’re ready to call it quits on the trails.

9. Watch for Trail Markers

While many national and state parks and other such locations will tend to keep their open hiking trails plowed during the winter, this is not the case with all areas, and certainly not at many local parks.

Bearing this fact in mind, you want to keep a close eye out for trail markers to ensure you are staying on the proper path and not getting lost. Snowstorms, ice, and other winter elements can hide the trail or bury trail markers, making it a lot easier to get lost when hiking in winter.

If you are not an experienced hiker, it may be best to stick to trails you already know when hiking in winter just to diminish the risk of getting lost or leaving the trail in the event of snowfall.

10. Stay Nourished and Hydrated

You may tend to think of dehydration as more of a hot weather problem, but staying hydrated is equally crucial when hiking in winter—if not more so. Dehydration in the cold months exponentially raises your risk of frostbite, so it’s imperative that you drink plenty of hydrating fluids, and often, while hiking in winter.


In addition to your water intake, you want to plan for plenty of snacks when hiking in winter as well. Winter hiking actually burns more calories as your body works to warm itself and as you conquer various challenges along the trail. So you want to be sure you have enough food to sustain you throughout the duration of your winter hike.

11. Prepare for Technical Difficulties

Perhaps one of the biggest differences between warm weather and cold weather hiking is the risk to one’s technical devices. Smartwatches, smartphones, musical devices, handheld GPS, and other battery-powered devices tend to malfunction more often in cold weather.

With this in mind, it’s important to keep battery packs on hand to keep devices warmed up. You can also keep your phone in airplane mode while hiking in order to conserve power and help keep it warm as well. You should have a plan to keep your batteries and battery-powered devices warm, as they will tend to malfunction quickly in cold weather.

Don’t plan to rely solely on technical devices to see you through your winter hike. Having a printed map and a good lay of the land is crucial to ensure you are as safe as possible in all conditions, even if your phone or other devices malfunction.

Tips for Hiking in the Snow

12. Be Sure to Wear Goggles or Sunglasses

The glare of sunlight off snow is no joke. Couple that with the brand of a bitter cold wind against your eyes, and you can suffer some serious eyestrain, develop a nasty headache, or worse while hiking in the snow in winter.

With this in mind, you want to be sure to bring along snow goggles or your favorite pair of sunglasses to help protect your eyes from the elements.

13. Invest in Sturdy, Waterproof Hiking Boots

It comes as little surprise that a good pair of sturdy, waterproof hiking boots is one of the most important investments you will make for your winter hiking adventures, especially if you will be hiking in the snow. You want to choose boots that will not only withstand the elements, but that will last you at least a few years in the cold and the elements.

Be sure to do your research and find the best winter hiking boots for your specific needs. This can really make the difference when it comes to hiking through snow.

14. Use Gaiters for Deep Snow

Gaiters are an extremely useful item to have in your repertoire for hiking in the snow. They help you keep your balance in deep snow, they help keep the snow out of your socks and pants…a good pair of gaiters can really make the difference in your comfort level while hiking in the winter.

Pike Trail Leg and Ankle Gaiters for Men and Women - Waterproof Boot Covers - for Hiking, Research Field Trips, Outdoor Trail Use, Snow and More - Adjustable Closures

While you may not use gaiters as often as some other hiking items, these are still good to have on hand. You will certainly miss them when you do need them, if you don’t have them.

15. Wear Sunscreen on Exposed Skin

When hiking in the snow, if there are any parts of your skin that are exposed, you will want to coat them in sunscreen. Sunburn is not merely reserved for the hotter months, and the reflection of light off the snow can give you sunburn in places you would not usually expect.

Keep sunscreen applied on your chin, neck, and the underside of your nose to avoid a reflective sunburn from the snow in these sensitive spots.

Wrapping up Tips for Hiking in Winter

Feeling prepared to go hiking in winter? Before you set out on your adventure, be sure to brush up on your knowledge of how to prevent frostbite and overall wilderness first aid. These skills will help ensure you are prepared to stave off or efficiently address any crises that might arise during your winter hiking excursion.