Winter Hiking Tips

Learn how to stay safe and have fun the next time you go hiking in the winter.

Between the snowy wonderlands and noticeably fewer people on the trails, hiking in the winter can be an absolutely wonderful experience.

As long as you’re prepared with some winter hiking tips, you’ll have a great time on the chilly, beautiful trails.

How to Dress For the Winter

Wearing appropriate clothing is important any time of the year, but it’s especially important when you’re winter hiking. “But it’s cold” can’t be used as an excuse when you’re dressed properly! Plus, you’ll enjoy your time out in the chilly temperatures way more.

So, how should you dress? The short answer is in layers — basically, like an onion. The long answer is a bit more complicated.

Winter Gear For Your Feet

Let’s start with what you should wear on your feet when you’re winter hiking. Regardless of the season, the shoes you choose are super important. Your feet are, after all, carrying you around on your adventure and you need to treat them properly.

Hiking Boots

Thick Wool Socks

Winter Gear For Your Hands

Your fingies are important to keep warm! Many people have cold fingers on a good day, so don’t amplify the issue by forgetting your gloves.

Gloves

Winter Gear For Your Legs & Torso

Layers and insulated clothing will be your best friends for the largest parts of your body.

Base Layer

Mid Layer

Outer Layer

Knowledge & Tools

Besides wearing the right clothing, winter hiking requires much more preplanning than in the summer.

Bring the Right Gear

As always, remember to pack the ten hiking essentials on your adventures. It’s always better to be overprepared than under, especially in the winter. However, winter hiking requires a few other special items that aren’t usually on essential packing lists.

Crampons or snowshoes (depending on your trail) are a great investment because they’ll make walking on snow and ice much easier. You should also bring extra food and batteries, extra insulated clothing, and a waterproof map. Always be prepared to spend the night, even if you’re just planning on a short day hike.

Your bag will be heavier, but it might be the difference between frostbite and a successful adventure. I’ll let you choose which you’d prefer.

Women stands under the frozen Cosesns Falls, looking at an icicle.

Be Hyper Aware of the Weather & Trail Conditions

It might seem obvious, but it’s very important to be aware of the weather before you go winter hiking. Things like precipitation, wind, and avalanche reports are just as important as the temperature. As you gain elevation, the weather and climate will change. It’ll usually be colder, windier, and much less forgiving near the summit than at the base of the mountain.

Remember that the amount of daylight in the winter is much shorter than the summer. Here in the Okanagan, winter days can be as short as eight hours. That doesn’t give a lot of time for long hikes or mishaps before the sun sets.

While I always recommend looking up trail conditions before you go, it’s very important to do this in the winter. Narrow trails, steep cliffs, and water crossings are just a few things that aren’t usually a good idea in the winter. Remember, minorly annoying hazards in the summer are much more dangerous in the winter.

If the conditions look sketchy, head back or postpone your hike entirely. There’s no point in walking into a dangerous situation. The mountains will still be there tomorrow.

Brush Up on Your Navigational Skills

It’s not much of a surprise, but trails look very different in the winter. Even your favourite ones. Well-known markers may very well be hidden beneath feet of snow and barren trees create a drastically different atmosphere.

Make sure your navigational skills are up to par, especially if you’re going on a quiet trail.

Women holds Garmin Inreach Explorer GPS with Kal Lake in the background

Tell People Where You’re Going

Hiking isn’t the time to be mysterious about your whereabouts. Share your route with friends or family and let them know when you’re done your hike. If there are trail registers, sign in and out of them. They’re there to keep everyone safe!

 

Have Fun!

Last, but certainly not least, don’t forget to actually enjoy your winter hike! It can be easy to get wrapped up in all the technicalities and forget why you’re out braving the cold in the first place.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and enjoy all that the winter has to offer! I know I’ll certainly try.