Winter Hiking Checklist – What to Bring on the Trail
Hiking in the winter months can be extremely rewarding: beautiful scenery, less crowded trails, no hot weather to deal with. But if you plan to take advantage of cold-weather hiking, there are some things you’ll need to be sure you don’t leave without. Specific winter hiking gear is an absolute must—not just for staying comfortable, but for staying safe on the trail during the off-season. Use this winter hiking checklist as a starting point for gearing up.
Keep comfortable with layers.
Lean toward moisture-wicking materials like Lycra, fleece and Gore-Tex. Fabrics like cotton should be avoided because they retain moisture and will actually make you colder when you work up a sweat. Wear a light layer closest to your body and waterproof materials as your outer layer. As you get moving and warm up, remove layers, and when you slow down or take breaks, add layers back on.
Protect your feet.
The best winter hiking boots are waterproof and insulated. Your quality of experience in any outdoor adventure—whether you're aware of it or not—is directly connected to your foot health. Make sure all footwear fits properly and has room for warm socks – a thinner pair first and a thicker one over it. If you suffer from plantar fasciitis or other foot conditions, an insole is also necessary for hiking. Check out the PowerStep Pinnacle Hiker for arch support and stabilization, and for optimum comfort, the PowerStep Pinnacle Wool for arch support and stabilization as well as temperature regulation.
Warm your hands and head.
Make sure to wear a warm windproof hat to avoid losing body heat through our head, as well as gloves for your fingers. Consider sunglasses or goggles to protect your eyes against wind and sun too.
Pack necessary provisions.
For everything beyond the simplest walk through the woods, you’ll need to carry water with you—it is all too easy to get dehydrated in any weather, not just the sweltering heat of summer. If you're doing anything more than a day-hike, you're going to need more water than you can comfortably carry in flasks. A good water filtration and purification kit will do the job if you can find a stream; If there is no running water source nearby, that's ok—it's winter hiking. Time to melt snow! Any readily-available camp stove will serve that purpose wonderfully. It's best not to eat snow. You're getting less water than you think, and it lowers your body temp from the inside. As well as hydration, Bring along high-energy snacks and meals, a light source, and a navigation tool, whether that’s a map or your phone—but be aware that you might not always have good service depending on your location.
The more digital our gear becomes, it is more and more important to remember spare batteries, and for the rechargeable devices in your pack, a high-capacity battery pack. Keep in mind, though, in very cold temperatures batteries struggle—and some smart devices just plain shut down. Always have an analog back-up for when your electronic gear is no longer available.
If you’ll be doing some extended hiking in the winter months, your list will need to be longer. Pack winter camping gear—a proper cold temperature sleeping bag, tent, additional food and fuel, etc. Take a look at this article from backpacker.com: Beginners Guide To Winter Camping. It’s always a good idea to go with experienced winter campers at first. As much as you can learn from reading and watching videos, you will learn so much more from experiencing an adventure alongside others who already know what they're doing.