December 2, 2021

Cold Weather Hiking Essentials

Some of the best hiking memories that I have are from the adventures I've embarked on with friends and solo (but with pup included) in the dead of winter in the Adirondacks. There's nothing quite like breaking trail after a fresh snow. Taking in sweeping views of a powder dusted valley while the sun reflects (often blindingly) off the snow, creating a kaleidoscope of color. The thought that came to mind the first time I experienced a quiet, wintery summit after a fresh snow, trees bowing from the weight of the heavy drifts, was C.S Lewis' Narnia. Just pure, untouched magic - nature is miraculous. While the frigid, icy air is enough to make me want to hop back in the car first thing in the morning, knowing what awaits me is always well worth braving the cold.

During my first year of hiking, I made a lot of (what may appear to be obvious) mistakes. I am not too proud (when it comes to hiking) to admit that there were times when I wasn't sure I was going to make it out of the woods alive, or at least on my own legs. Today, I can tell you that I don't actually regret any of these mistakes because not only did they teach me pivotal lessons in resilience, positivity, perseverance, and determination, but have also brought depth to my friendships through those shared experiences.

I won't pretend that I'm an expert at winter hiking, and I will not be braving Mt. Everest anytime soon, but I'm going to share some helpful tips for winter hiking that i've learned along the way as well as some of my favorite winter (really all season) hiking gear.

First things first, the most important thing to remember is to pack and wear MANY layers. None of these layers should be cotton. It will be cold but you still need to be sure to stay hydrated. I like to start out quick and not stop until I feel dizzy but learn from my mistakes and stop moving to remove layers when you start to get warm, BEFORE you start sweating. The goal is to stay dry. If you stay dry, you will stay warm (and warm is happy, happy is warm!). 

This brings me to the point where I'd like to share some of my favorite winter hiking layers and gear. When it comes to hiking gear I may be considered a little bit of a nerd. I've learned that when you pay a little extra for gear that is made well, it will stand the test of time, hold up against the elements for years and simply just tends to be better quality. I'm that dork that sits in front of her glowing screen reading reviews on - comparing prices, pros & cons for hours at a time, to make the most informed decision when upgrading or replacing items. If i'm going to spend my heard earned money on gear, I want it to hold up outside and also be outrageously comfortable, haha.

Here is my wearing and packing list for winter day hikes and links to my personal gear picks:

To Wear: Avoid cotton
Some final notes - in my experience:

- Leave space in your pack because you will most assuredly be stuffing layers into it once you begin gaining elevation and your heart rate picks up. You will also be pulling them swiftly back out to pile back on once you decide to stop for a snack. I tend to stop to pee or snack and within a few minutes i'm shivering.

- So you checked the weather forecast for your hike every day for 3 days leading up to this hike? It's going to be chilly, a little windy, maybe a picturesque flurry here and there, but nothing you can't handle, right? WRONG. ALWAYS anticipate that the weather is going to misbehave or at the very least be 50% more brutal at the top of the mountain. Plan/pack/dress for the worst. I cannot stress this enough.. bring 3-4 pairs of socks. Wet feet are the very last thing you want to be stuck out in the woods with or trekking up and down a mountain on.

Cold weather hiking can be incredibly rewarding, especially when it means revisiting hikes that you've taken in during the warmer months. It truly makes for an awe inspiring mosquito-free experience! Happy cold weather hiking!

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