Winter hiking 101: 5 basics

I love hiking in the winter. I don’t do it every weekend – binge watching a new series is always fun – but when I do, it’s pretty magical, right up there with unicorns and the ageless Paul Rudd.

If you hate being cold (which I do) and don’t want to ruin that, then winter hiking might not be your thing. That’s okay! But if you hate cold AND you’re feeling jealous of perfect Jenny Beckman who hiked that ridiculous mountain with her hardcore friends and you want to one-up her, then this is for you. Trust me, I’ve been there.

1. Over-prepare


I’m not saying bring sled dogs and musk ox pelts to keep you alive (although if you have those, wow, I’m honored that you’re reading my blog), but hey, maybe wearing an undershirt, overshirt, sweatshirt, sweater, jacket, coat, hat, scarf, snow pants and overlarge boots isn’t too bad of an idea! It helps you realize that 1) Wow, the weather isn’t as bad as I thought and 2) Liesl, you’re such a wuss and 3) layers make the outside bearable.

If you over-prepare, be ready to peel off layers and carry them with you. This is what backpacks are for. That and lots of water, some food, and your phone for when you get lost and need to find the nearest McDonald’s.

2. Start off in well-trafficked areas

No backcountry for you! Unless you’re with some guide who knows what’s up. But if this is your first time, I’d go where everyone else goes. It’s great to be unique and think creatively, but when it comes to hiking in the winter, especially when it’s snowing, it’s just smarter to do what everyone else does.

Stay on the trail. If you hike a certain trail in the summer, it’s likely to be just as good in the winter. Living in Utah allows for a lot of different hikes and I’ve seen some cool things. An advantage of hiking in the snow is that you can go shorter distances and still work up a sweat and experience the ~magic~ of walking in a winter wonderland. That way you don’t venture too far beyond your comfort zone, but still have a fantastic time.

3. Avoid bad weather, ideally go during the day

This should be a “no duh” for most people, but surprise! People are fools. I don’t care how hardcore you think are or that you were a scout at one point. I have done dumb things myself, like hiking with minimal water or being caught in the middle of a storm. Don’t be dumb like me. Be smart, especially by yourself. Tell someone where you’re going, check the damn weather, and go during the day when visibility is best.

4. Just keep moving

This is a good rule of thumb, but it becomes an especially important rule with the higher elevation you get and the longer you stay out. I once hiked Y Mountain in January with my husband and when we stopped for lunch, we discovered that our peanut butter sandwiches were freezing, our water was freezing, and if we didn’t start moving soon, we’d be freezing. It was hard – some parts of Y Mountain are pretty steep and we were moving slower than a beached whale. But as soon as we started moving, we warmed right up.

5. You don’t need to be a pro


Just go. You don’t need crampons or hiking sticks, although those will help. I have gone hiking in the snow wearing just my trail running shoes and while I have emerged with slightly damp feet, it was a ton of fun. In my opinion, getting outside and hiking has raised my confidence, given me a workout that’s 20 times more interesting and fun than running on a treadmill, and given me a higher tolerance for pain. Now that’s impressive.

Published by Liesl Hammer

Copywriter. B2B, B2C. I've written in the travel, ecommerce, health, and marketing niches.

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