Hiking in Winter by a Chunky Middle Aged Woman

First of all, let me say that I have not always been a fan of winter hiking.  In fact, up until a few years ago, as soon as that first cold wind blew, I went into hibernation mode, staying inside nurturing other hobbies like reading, sewing, drinking hot chocolate…embracing the chunky until Spring came around again.

I don’t know when it changed.  Trail Dames had something to do with it for sure.  I found out I could and would hike in winter IF I just signed up to attend a hike with Trail Dames.  Fast forward to NOW!  I love winter hiking.  The silence, the crunch of snow, the briskness of the air, NO BUGS, NO STICKY HOT HUMID AIR!!!

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Along the Appalachian Trail in Maryland

And the views! I can see through the trees and see the distant mountains!

No "green tunnel" here!

No “green tunnel” here!

And anyone for waterfalls???

White Oak Canyon in SNP

White Oak Canyon in SNP

But to love it I had to figure out how to happy in the cold.  That was my challenge!

Layering:

Everyone tells you to layer in the Winter, but what does that mean?  Well, don’t buy any cotton layers, that is for sure.  No cotton tshirts, no cotton long underwear…Cotton gets wet with sweat, which will chill you beyond belief and possibly right into hypothermia!  No cotton!!!  Here is how I layer…

  • Start with a moisture wicking base layer on both top & bottom.  I have a lightweight base layer and a heavyweight base layer.  If the temps are 30 – 50 I use the lightweight, anything below 30 and I choose the heavyweight.  It is a matter of choice…and only experience will tell what is comfortable for you!
  • For my legs, after the base layer, I put on wind pants (like gym pants).  This is enough on bottom for 99% of my hikes here in the MidAtlantic.  For the other 1% (when it is God-awful skin lashing cold) I put fleece pants on after the base layer, then the wind pants.
  • For my core (top), I follow the base layer with a typical short sleeved hiking shirt.  Then a long sleeved hiking shirt with a hoodie, then a fleece jacket, and finally a wind breaker.  That wind breaker is a key piece of the layering for me.  Wind can flippen freeze me to death…Do not underestimate the power of wind chill.
  • Okay, now let’s talk about head wear, and yes, you better have a good hat.  Not some chintzy piece of crap made out of fibers that won’t keep you warm.  Try a good wool hat…know why? Because wool will insulate even if it gets wet!  Also, make sure that hat pulls down over your ears, or even better, invest in a balaclava because you are going to need something around your neck!
  • My hands are covered with glove liners as well as a heavy glove.
  • For my feet, I just use my usual wool hiking socks with silk liners and a waterproof hiking boot.  My feet generally stay plenty warm (sometimes they even get hot).

So you are all layered up nicely and ready for your first winter hike!  Where do you go? My advice, so you can try out your layers is to pick a route, either on a trail or in the neighborhood, that is around two miles.  In two miles, you will know whether your layers need adjusting.   You do NOT want to find out that you have inefficiently layered on a long hike!!  If you get too warm, that is fine…because you can shed a layer or two as you warm up.  But if you are too cold, then you need to start off with better layers…either heavier weight or more layers.

View from Washington Monument, Boonesboro, MD

View from Washington Monument, Boonesboro, MD

Water:

Okay, the layers are working, yay! What’s next?  Let’s talk about water and staying hydrated.  In the winter you may not feel as thirsty as you do on a hot summer day. You might need to force yourself to take a drink of water as you hike down the trail. Camelbak has a neat hydration calculator you can use to give you an idea of how much water you should be taking in as you are hiking.

Sidekick Pauli and BoobOnARock at Possum's Rest along the AT in SNP

Sidekick Pauli and BoobOnARock at Possum’s Rest along the AT in SNP

Food:

Yes. Yes, take food.  Yummy stuff high in calories…you get to splurge here!  On a five mile hike I usually take a pb&j sandwich on multigrain bread, trail bar, m&m’s, and something salty, like pretzels.  Sometimes I carry a thermos with a hot beverage, which makes my break extra nice. If you hike with a canine companion, then bring snacks for him/her as well.  🙂

Not all winter hikes are snowy...30 degrees...Sidekick Pauli takes a break in Gambrill SP!

Not all winter hikes are snowy…30 degrees…Sidekick Pauli takes a break in Gambrill SP!

Take Breaks:

Definitely!  I usually hike on the Appalachian Trail, so there are shelters where I can stop, get out of the wind and relax while eating my lunch.  Try to plan your hike so there is a good break place in the middle somewhere.  If it is super cold, an emergency blanket can keep you comfortable so you don’t have cut your break short.

Jim & Molly Denton Shelter on the AT in VA...Nice break spot.

Jim & Molly Denton Shelter on the AT in VA…Nice break spot.

In addition, take little breaks along the way.  You might want to take along a pad to sit on…otherwise you could find yourself sitting on an icy log or in the snow!!

Sometimes I get so warm hiking some of the layers come off...like my hat and gloves.

Sometimes I get so warm hiking some of the layers come off…like my hat and gloves.

That’s it!  Seems like a lot, but with each hike out the prep gets easier!  I usually keep many of these items handy, either in my pack or a designated drawer in my dresser so they are ready to go when I am.

Have fun, stay safe and Hike on!