Winter Hiking for Beginners

winter hiking for beginners

Winter hiking is something that most Beginner hikers are afraid of. And not so long ago, I was also the one who was afraid of winter hiking because I was not adapted to cold temperatures, and I guess most of us are not.

But this should not keep any beginner from hiking in winter. To conquer the steep and difficult hikes in winter, here are some ways to prepare yourself in advance. If you are a beginner at winter hiking then this guide will be helpful and knowledgeable for you. 

This winter hiking for beginners guide is simple and basic, but if you are going out there in winter, you should at least know these basic things first. I have prepared this by gathering the information from different hikers, by reading articles, and my own opinion. So let’s begin 

Winter hiking for beginners (guide)

Choose the familiar trail

It’s best for beginners when hiking in winters to pick the right trail. The best option would always be a trail that you are familiar with. 

Picking the trail that you never hiked will be challenging in many ways, like, judging the weather on the trail gets unpredictable, you are not familiar with the trails, etc. 

If you are going on thru or multi-day hikes like these – Thru Hikes in Europe: Underrated and Popular among Hikers then you need to prepare yourself for the worst.

A backup plan (always tell someone) 

It doesn’t matter if you are a complete beginner or an experienced hiker, you should always let someone know about where you are going and when you are returning. 

Due to bad signals, most of the time a phone call is a temporary backup. So, let your family member or friend know the trail you are going for hiking and the time you will be back.

They will know, there is some problem if you are not returned after the passing of the hours of deadline you gave them. Tell them to wait for one or two hours more after the deadline, before taking any action. 

Read about trail

It always proves to be a good idea to read about the trail or you can ask other hikers about the trail before your hike. Read about the weather conditions on the trail, and how predictable the weather is on the trail.

There are many trails where weather is unpredictable, you don’t know how bad it is going to be when you start. To get more confidence ask other hikers, on forums who already have been to the trail. 

The second thing you need to make sure of is how safe the trail is from wildlife. As winter is the favorite season for some animals like bears to come out and enjoy the snow, it is important for you as a beginner to prepare for it in advance. 

How to deal with bears while hiking?

  • The best way to prevent any attack from bears is to hike in a group of people as bears feel difficult to attack a group. 
  • The next important thing is you should always carry bear spray. 
  • And lastly, avoid hiking in the dusk or when there is no daylight as it is the favorite time for bears to get out. 

Moreover, hiking while making noises can also be helpful in some way. 

Wear proper hiking boots or snow boots

A regular trail runner or light hiking shoes is a big no for winter hiking, as they get wet easily and provide very low traction control on the wet surface. So, always wear winter hiking boots or snow boots if it’s snowy on the trail. 

Snow boots can be a real bet for snowy trails as they provide more surface area and traction. And lastly, they also don’t dig deep in the snow while stepping forward. 

—-If you are a woman and confused if you can wear men hiking boots, then check this article – Can a woman wear men’s hiking boots?

Wear appropriate clothes for winter hiking

In summers where clothing is not a big issue for hiking, in winters you need to cover your body up in layers to get warmth. 

The rule of thumb is to start with two layers and carry an extra layer for later. To more on layering check this article here-What to wear hiking in 30-degree weather?

The base layer should be your armor or anything that sticks to your body. The mid-layer is to trap the heat and provide you warmth, so a fleece would be a great option. For the outer layer, you can go with a rain jacket or snow jacket if it is snowy. 

Your legs don’t require too much layering as they can handle the cold, so you can wear thick pants, and for backup carry gaiters with you for lower legs. 

Wear a beanie to cover your head. For hands, either go with waterproof gloves or mittens. 

Last but not least, avoid cotton or natural fabrics in winters as they retain water for long and make you wet. Instead, go with synthetic materials like polyester or nylon.

You can also go with blends of wool as wool is a warm fabric. This is why I suggest you wear merino wool socks for winter hiking. 

Take essential gear for winter hiking

As a beginner, there is some important gear you should always take with you on a hike. Below is a list that you should have with you on a winter hike. 

  • Headlamp – it gets dark early in winters, that’s why most people start their hike early. However, carrying a headlamp can be very useful in winters as you don’t want to stop in the middle because of no visibility. 
  • Lighter – lighter is important to build a fire because using matchstick and any other method sometimes takes too much time and still doesn’t work. 
  • Tent– there is no way you are going for winter hiking without a solid tent. Check here some of the best and ultralight tents.

Here are some helpful guides for you to set up a tent – Which direction should a tent face?Can I use a tarp as a tent footprint? Should you pitch a tent under a tree?

  • Sleeping bag – sleeping bag is very important to trap the heat of your body inside to keep yourself warm and safe from hypothermia and cold. For more check here –
  • Sleeping pad – well sleeping on a hard surface is not easy, however, some people can do it. But the hustle is real in winter. 

Besides sleeping bags there is another option that hikers consider which is underquilt, but is it good enough? to know that check these articles in detail – Do you need a sleeping bag with an underquilt? Are quilts more comfortable than sleeping bags? 

  • Stove for camping– camping stove can make things easy for you. You can boil the water and make black coffee to feel motivated in the morning. 

These things are important to survive outdoors in cold. However, there are some things you need to avoid taking with you on a hike, to know that check this article – What should you not take on a hike? 

Protect yourself from hypothermia

If winter hiking is new for you, then you should know that there are two health conditions that you need to maintain distance from. 

Though hypothermia is common to Mountaineers, it is not deadly until it is mild. However, its mild symptoms can convert into deadly, if left untreated. 

The best thing to protect yourself against is to never let it happen. Yes, first you should never get dehydrated during your hike in winters as this is is the major reason behind hypothermia. That is why you should always drink water by taking small breaks. 

Lack of nutrition and bad conditions are other causes of hypothermia. So, you should take good Nutritional food with you on a hike that will provide energy to your body. 

Lastly, you need to protect your body from cold weather by covering it up in layers.

For more onhstopc heck here  – How To Avoid, Recognize and Treat Hypothermia

Know when to quit the hike

More than anything, every hiker should know when it is right to quit. It’s not a competition and you don’t have to complete the task to win a trophy.

If you think that further journey is tough and your body doesn’t allow you, then it’s the right decision to quit and give yourself the next chance by avoiding any severe situations. 

Dispose of human waste

It is better to keep the trail hygienic. Collect the waste anything from leftovers to human waste in a plastic bag and dispose of it by digging a 10-inch hole in the snow.

Do this on low elevation, and put something over it to prevent animals from digging it. 

Take calories between breaks

Your body will be burning a lot of calories during the winter hike, so you need to provide your body fuel to stay energetic. Moreover, it will also help your body to stay warm. 

I suggest you pack dry food on winter hikes. Take nuts with you that are a high source of fats and protein. You can also pack sandwiches for a day hike. 

However, if your plan is to camp, then you can carry other food also that is easy to make and doesn’t require too much effort. 

Eggs, brown bread, and peanut butter are some things you can take with you on a hike.

If you want to know more about food, check out this article- What to Eat Before a Hike

Secure your food from bears

If you are taking food on a hike with you and I guess you will, then make sure to secure it from animals like bears. Bears can smell your food and can take your food easily if you leave it in the open. 

Secure your food at night by hanging your food with rope over a tree or find a place where you can secure your food.

Winters is the favorite season for many wild animals to come out and you might see them during your hike, maintain a good distance and keep yourself as far away as possible. 

Besides all these, there are some other dangers also that you should be aware of, especially if you are hiking solo – Is it weird to hike alone? 

Carry mild hot water

It is unlikely that you will get thirsty while hiking in winters, however, you still need to keep yourself hydrated during the hike.

I suggest you carry mild hot water in an insulated water bottle and connect it outside of your pack. Lukewarm water is easy to drink in winters and you also drink more of it in contrast to cold water.  

If you are spending a night or more during a hike then you can always boil the water whenever you are at your camp. 

Melt snow in emergency

In emergencies where you need water for drinking or making any food, you can melt the snow. It is impossible to get fresh water from frozen lakes in winters. 

To melt snow, search the white snow and light up your stove. Add some water before in a pot and put it on the stove, then add snow. Let the snowmelt and later store it in an insulated water bottle for use. 

Emergency shelter in the snow

It’s also best to prepare yourself for the worst when you are hiking in winter for the first time on an unknown trail, especially if the trail is filled with snow. The three main emergency shelters you can build in snow are snow cave, tree pit, and quinzee

If you know how to build them then you are good, but if you don’t know, then don’t worry I will tell you(if you already know how to build shelter then you can skip this part) 

Before that, you should always check the weather on the trail before starting your hike. 

In circumstances where Strom starts suddenly and you don’t find any shelter, then you are left with one option and that is hunkering down in a snow cave until the storm stops. 

While doing so you should remain calm and know that you will starve to death, as most storms only last no more than 24 hours. 

Check this video out if you want to learn to build a  snow cave

Get used to maps and compass

If you are a serious hiker or a beginner who wants to be a hiker, then navigating with the help of maps and a compass is one of the backcountry skills that you should know.

I know today most hikers use GPS for navigation, and that’s fine unless problems like the network won’t show up in the middle of the hike. 

The chances of this particular problem increase when you are hiking in the winter as due to conflicts between signals, the network gets down.

And if you are in the middle of an unknown trail then, you don’t want yourself to be lost.

So, it’s best to get used to maps and compass, especially if you go on multi-day hikes or on trails that are not popular. 

If you want to know more about this topic than please check here –