Are you dreaming of longer spring and summer days so you can dust off your hiking boots and start exploring the great outdoors and mountain tops again? Do you wish you could keep going throughout the darker, harsher months, but feel like you can’t because perhaps you don’t quite know what kit will keep you warm, dry and – most of all in those gloomier days – visible. Well, your love of hiking can continue all year round, and here’s how…
With planning, winter hiking doesn’t need to be that different from a dryer, warmer hike and there are, arguably, some really exciting hiking opportunities that are better in the winter, either because the terrain and conditions are more challenging or the views more expansive due to fewer leaves on trees. And, let’s face it, there is nothing quite as dramatically picturesque as a snowy landscape and on those glorious days the winter light can make your photos look spectacular.
Physically speaking, a winter hike can certainly get your heart pumping, the calories burning (more so than at mid-temperatures) and is excellent for fitness, agility and mental strength. Generally winter hikes, particularly snowy ones, come without those pesky insects, or, depending where you are, even fewer animal encounters than usual.
Even with the British winter officially coming to an end on 25 March, there is always somewhere in the world you can go to hike across a snowy mountain range.
*Take advice from the Quebecois, who have an expression s’habiller comme un oignon – which literally means dress like an onion and pile on the layers. If you are venturing to the mountains and into potential snow storms, a few of the same principles apply as a winter hill climb in strong, cold winds…it is all about layers, insulation and preparation for all eventualities – in other words, plan ahead.
Your base layers need to be snug, but not too tight. Even sleeves and leggings need to be slightly on the looser side to ensure that your body’s core heat travels to all your extremities freely. Wicking material for your base layer is preferable – this is a modern technical fabric that draws moisture away from the body. It is made of high-tech polyester, which, unlike cotton, absorbs very little water. A lot of sports wear is made of this and can make useful base layers.
You don’t need to get everything new specifically for your hike, but specialist hiking socks would be a good idea –plus a spare pair in case of unexpected puddles. For ultimate comfort they need to be thick yet moisture wicking – try Falke’s Trekking socks for men or women.
Your additional layers should continue with the moisture wicking and lightweight, them, but make sure they’re warm. The layer under your jacket could be a hooded top that then doubles up as a jacket if the conditions warm up. The Proviz PixElite men or women’s training hoodie is a great option. Its warm outer layer is lightweight and incorporates tight knit windproof material, while remaining highly breathable, to keep you insulated without overheating. It also incorporates our highly reflective PixElite material that will help keep you seen if visibility isn’t great. Adjustable waist, drawstring hood and extra length cuffs are just a few features that will help you stay warm when required.
On the outside, you want waterproof trousers and jacket. Not just water resistant – in harsh snow or rainstorms, you need to keep the moisture out entirely in order not to get so cold that you never warm back up.
Your insulated jacket is arguably your most important piece of winter hiking kit, along with footwear. If you expect rain and snow and need waterproofing, you might opt for a synthetic insulation material. But, if your hike is likely to be dry but cold, a down jacket is probably best for you. Synthetic jackets tend to be more versatile and slightly more affordable. However, down jackets are better for general warmth and are more compact when packed away. We really like Patagonia’s micro puff hoody, as it almost combines the benefits of both down and synthetic materials.
As for trousers, again waterproofing and comfort are the key aspects; The North Face have a great selection of mountain active trousers, their most waterproof being their Shinpuru GORE-TEX trousers.
Your feet are obviously key when hiking, so they need the ultimate support – comfort, durability and waterproofing. Can you find a pair of walking boots that keep your feet blister-free, warm, yet not sweaty, and perform well on treacherous terrain? Arcteryx seem to have managed this for both men and women.
In addition to your clothing, it’s worth thinking about the added extras that will really help you. A lightweight, waterproof rucksack to carry your bits in is an absolute must. Try Proviz’s versatile Reflect360 cycling backpack. We designed it for cyclists, but hikers can also benefit from the ergonomic fit and waterproofing, plus it helps keep you visible in low light and has an integrated ventilation system to make sure you don’t get an uncomfortable clammy back. For a souped-up backpack that lets you charge your electrical devices, check out one of the new solar panel rucksacks now on the market.
ECEEN Solar Rucksack and Falke’s Trekking socks for men and women
So now you’re all kitted out and raring to go but before you march up that nearest mountain, you need to make sure you have done some homework and understand the risks involved in winter hiking, such as risky terrain, signs of hypothermia and frost bite and route planning. If you’re new to this activity, it’s a good idea to go in an organised, guided group. If you are more experienced, you probably own some sort of winter hiking traction devices, like crampons and special safety kit.
Above all, keep well hydrated and fuelled at all times. If you get very cold, eat something once you’ve made sure you are wearing all the layers you brought with you. Wiggle your toes and fingers a lot, face down into the wind when possible and keep your backpack on whilst resting, as it preserves your body heat.
Good luck and don’t forget your crampons! We’d love to hear your winter hiking tales and any further tips you’d like to share.
The reflective capability of our REFLECT360 material helps other road users to identify a runner or cyclist’s position on the road at night.