What You Need to Know Before You Go Snow Hiking

If you don’t want to go skiing or snowboarding, a fun way to enjoy the winter is by going winter hiking. For those that don’t know what winter hiking is, it’s the same thing as regular hiking except for this time, you’re in the snow with big ol’ snow boots and you’ll need much more than a bottle of water.

 

For example, typical winter weather includes:

  • Temperatures: from 40 degrees down to 20 below zero (Fahrenheit)
  • Wind speeds: up to 50 mph
  • Sunlight: from intense sunshine and snow glare to heavy clouds or dense forest cover
  • Precipitation types: including blowing snow, freezing fog, sleet, freezing rain, and rain
  • Surface conditions: ranging from deep snow to bare rock, bare ground, packed trails, frozen bodies of water, and soft or hard ice

Layering

In addition, you need to dress for a wide range of activity levels; when you are generating a lot of body head or when you are at rest and need to warm up.  Try adding clothing layers when you get cold and take off layers when you start to sweat.

When starting a hike in winter, you’ll probably be wearing gloves, hat, long sleeve jersey, long underwear, boxers jocks, hard shell pants, a fleece pullover, a hard shell jacket, warm socks, insulated boots, and high gaiters. After about 15 minutes, you’ll probably take off your hard shell and unzip your pants to vent body warmth. That’s called layering and it occurs when someone in your group shouts out “layer break!”

Important: Do not wear cotton on winter hikes because it takes so long to dry. The same holds for clothing made of wood fibers including modal, rayon, viscose, tencel, and lyocell.

Winter Day Hiking Gear List

The following day winter day hiking clothing and gear will keep you safe and comfortable in below-treeline conditions. Below treeline hikes are usually protected by forest and are warmer and less windy than above-treeline hikes, which are on top of exposed mountains or ridgelines.

  • Footwear
    • Insulated hiking boots
    • Warm socks (sock liners optional)
    • High gaiters
  • Hats
    • Lightweight fleece or wool hat
    • Heavyweight fleece or wool hat
  • Gloves
    • Lightweight fleece or wool gloves
    • Waterproof shell mitts or gloves, with insulated liners
  • Jackets
    • Puffy insulated jacket with attached hood
    • Waterproof and windproof jacket with attached hood
  • Pants
    • Hard shell pants that are waterproof and windproof with full-length zippers along the sides
    • Softshell pants (optional)
  • Mid-Layer Insulation
    • Fleece jacket, fleece pullover, fleece vest, insulated vest or softshell jacket (at least one, possibly several)
  • Base-Layer Insulation
    • Long sleeve jersey
    • Long underwear
    • Boxer jock underwear to prevent chafing
  • Spare Clothing
    • Long sleeve jersey
    • Long underwear
    • Extra pair of socks
  • Winter traction aids
    • Microspikes
    • Snowshoes (depending on conditions)
  • Water Bottles
    • Two or three 1-liter wide-mouth water bottles (hydration system hoses freeze up and should be avoided)
    • Water bottle insulation, if bottles are stored outside your backpack
  • Backpack
    • 35-45 liter backpack with side compression straps or a shovel pocket for attaching snowshoes and microspikes to the pack
    • Extra webbing straps as needed for attaching more gear
  • 10 Essentials
    • Map
    • Compass
    • Whistle
    • Headlamp with extra lithium batteries
    • Personal first aid kit
    • Fire starting materials
    • Small knife or multi-tool
    • Gear repair supplies
    • High energy snacks
    • Sun glasses and sun screen
    • Toilet paper
  • Survival Gear – this can be distributed among hiking group members, or carried if hiking alone
    • Sleeping bag
    • Sleeping pad
    • Lightweight bivy sack or tent body without tent poles
    • White gas stove, fuel, pot, stove base
    • Group first aid kit

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