Trail’ology: It’s too damn cold to hike during the winter

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Let’s face it, sometimes the cold, windy, dreary days of winter can make us want to stay in our warm houses rather than get out and play. As part of our Monday morning trail’ology series today we’re talking about a common barrier to winter hiking…the weather.

Tips for staying warm on a winter hike

If you live in Southeastern Wyoming like we do you know the feeling of driving up to a trailhead and being afraid that if you leave your nice warm car you’ll blow off the side of the mountain and into a crusty snowbank. Winter hiking can be a drag, but only if you let the cold weather get you down.

On cold days here’s how I like to stay warm.

  • I fuel up and hydrate. I’ve found that if I’m hungry or dehydrated I’m much more susceptible to the elements. If I’m going to be out in the cold I like to start my morning with a hearty, “stick to your bones” kinda breakfast and have a pack full of snacks and warm beverages. We could go into the science behind this but I won’t- the bottom line is fuel in the tank magically helps to keep us warm.
  • I dress in layers and avoid cotton. This is really a no-brainer and we’ve written about it here, and here.

If it’s really cold outside and I know that I’m going to get cold hands I do two things:

  • I wear one pair of gloves and keep another pair tucked inside my the bib of my pants or under a fleece vest between my base layer and my mid layer. When my hands get cold I pull the warm pair out from underneath my layers and then like magic I have a pair of warm gloves. I tuck the cold pair of gloves between my layers and alternate as needed. This is my favorite way to keep my hands warm. It works with hats and socks too.
  • If my glove trick isn’t doing the trick then I like to do rapid arm circles with my arms, it helps get the blood flowing down to my frozen fingers.

If I know that there’s a good chance that my feet are going to get cold, say if I’m standing around a lot or moving slowly with toddlers down a trail here’s what I do to keep my feet warm:

  • I hop around or jog, works like a charm.
  • Swing my legs forward and back like a pendulum.
  • I try to keep my feet from getting too sweaty. Sometimes this means stopping to change into a warm, dry pair of socks. If I’m doing that out on the trails I like to warm them up again between my base and mid layer.

For frozen cheeks:

  • I apply a thick layer of dermatone, it really helps prevent windburn and frostbite. Plus the smell of dermatone is one of my favorites (call me crazy.)
  • I like a fleece balaclava that I can pull up over my cheeks, fleece is my favorite because unlike some other materials it’s relatively easy to breath through fleece.

And one of our readers, Mark, is spot on with this bit of advice, “Merino woollies like Smartwool keep me warm in the snow. A thin layer like microweight already does the job.
It is that comfortable, you don’t want to get out of it in the evening.”

How do you stay warm on a cold winter hike?


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