Winter Hiking Tips for Staying Warm on the Trails

Winter Hiking Tips

Don’t let cold weather keep you indoors! Winter is one of the most magical times of year to get out and experience the outdoors – most of the trees have shed their leaves, there are fewer people and the brisk air is seriously invigorating! Winter hiking is definitely a “thing”, and you absolutely can stay warm and toasty the whole time! Check out this guide to find out the best ways to stay warm and cozy out there on the quiet winter trails.

Dress in Layers

Dressing in layers when hiking in cold temperatures is one of the most important things to do to ensure you stay warm and comfortable on the trail. You can take off or add layers for warmth when you’re hiking. Avoid cotton and denim – cotton and denim are not good fabrics to wear when you’re doing anything outdoors. Cotton absorbs moisture like a sponge from the air and your sweat. Cotton will remain damp and keep you very, very cold. Denim behaves in the same way and also becomes incredibly heavy when wet. Layer clothing items with polyester fleece, merino wool, and other fabrics specifically made for the outdoors.

Cover Exposed Skin

Depending on how cold it is where you’re hiking you will want to take measures to cover all of your exposed skin. Consider your hands, feet, ears and even your nose and cheeks! These areas are all susceptible to frostbite when you spend any amount of time in very cold weather. Waterproof fleece gloves, wool socks, a facemask, and a great beanie will keep you covered – literally.

Bring Hand and Toe Warmers

Perhaps some of the greatest inventions of the last century – hand and toe warmers can feel seriously luxurious when you’re hiking on a cold, blustery day. It’s hard to do anything when your hands are freezing. There are many different types: disposable, electric and reusable – and they all provide several hours of warmth. Stock up on some hand and toe warmers here to keep your digits warm and functioning on the trail.

Make Hot Drinks or Soup

Winter Hiking Tips to Stay Warm

Bring along a compact, portable camp stove to heat up some soup or water for tea and hot cocoa while you’re hiking. Taking a break to have something tasty and warm will help you feel warm and refreshed and provides a little bit of coziness to your cold hike. A Jetboil is great for this – it boils liquids in just over 2 minutes and has an insulated cup with a lid. If heating something up along the trail isn’t your thing, bring a thermos of your favorite warm beverage or soup. Creature comforts, y’all.

Bring High Protein Snacks

Your body will burn twice as many calories hiking in winter to stay warm so be sure to pack snacks that are high in calories and protein. Ideally, you’ll want to bring along snacks that are easy to access and eat without stopping like protein bars and jerky. Consuming a lot of high protein snacks will keep your energy up and help your body keep itself warm.

Start Early

Try to time your hike to have the most sunlight as possible. The day will be at it’s warmest during the afternoon when the sun is shining, and there are much fewer hours of daylight in the fall and winter. Though it doesn’t seem like much, having the sun shining on you will help keep you a little bit warmer on your hike.

Choosing the Trail

Gaining some elevation or hiking a semi-rugged trail will help keep that blood pumping and keep you warmer. You will burn more energy this way, but choosing a trail with some elevation gain or physical obstacles will give you that cardio boost needed to keep you feeling toasty.

Invest in Great Socks

When you’re hiking in cold weather, not just any socks will do. Look for insulated boot socks made from warm fabric such as Merino Wool. Never use cotton socks for hiking for the same reason that you want to avoid cotton apparel – it absorbs and holds any moisture, providing no insulation. Proper winter hiking socks are very cushioned, tall, thick and bulky.

Wear Insulated Winter Hiking Boots

Crampons, Ice Cleats

If you’ll be taking a lot of winter or cold-weather hikes, it is a good idea to invest in some winter hiking boots. Winter hiking boots are insulated and waterproof for hiking through snow and other wet conditions. When shopping for winter hiking boots, take into account the thickness of your winter hiking socks – you may need to purchase ½ to a full size bigger than your regular footwear.

Understanding Hypothermia and Frostbite

It is important to understand the signs of hypothermia and frostbite in order to prevent them. It is rare to experience these situations when you are prepared, however, it is best to know the signs and how to prevent them. If you or a friend experience any symptoms of hypothermia or frostbite, remove yourself from the situation and seek medical attention as soon as possible.


Hypothermia happens when your core body temperature drops below 95 degrees from an extended skin exposure to cold. This can occur from wearing inappropriate material like cotton, not eating or drinking enough when out in cold weather, and when drinking alcohol – alcohol tends to make you feel warmer than you actually are. The symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Severe Shivering
  • Loss of coordination and confusion – stumbling, slurred speech, memory loss, etc
  • Lethargy or lack of energy
  • Weak pulse and/or slow, shallow breathing


Frostbite is an injury that occurs when your skin and underlying tissues become literally frozen. Frostbite is most common on the fingers, toes, nose, cheeks, ears, and chin. Frostbite occurs in stages and the symptoms are as follows:

  • Pins and needles feeling, the skin will become cold, numb and white or red
  • The area will begin to feel hard and frozen
  • Waxy looking skin
  • In severe cases, blistering after rewarming due to tissue damage

Decrease your risk for hypothermia and frostbite by ensuring that all of your skin is properly covered and wearing the proper materials. For those with perpetually cold feet, toe warmers stuffed inside your boot or socks work wonders!

Treat Yourself

There is almost nothing better than coming off a long, cold or strenuous hike than treating yourself with your favorite comfort food! Besides, who wants to cook after a day on the trail? Get yourself all warm and cozy with some good food and beverages as a reward for a successful day.

Cold weather is no reason to not experience the great outdoors! If you enjoy your first cold-weather hikes, invest in some good, long term equipment to keep you warm for years to come.

Interested in learning more? Check out our blog post: Your Essential Gear Checklist for Winter Day Hikes

Winter hiking tips for staying warm on the trails


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