Skip to Content

You’re Doing it wrong: Winter Hiking Tips So You Can Enjoy the Fourth Season

Sharing is caring!

Up to 50% Clearance Clothing & Footwear + Extra 25% Off REI Outlet.

If you think you hate hiking in the winter, if you’re always cold or your phone battery is always dying or your drinking water freezes in your hydration reservoir tube, well then I’ve got bad news for you: You’re doing it wrong. Winter hiking, that is. Fortunately, we’ve got plenty of winter hiking tips so you can get back to a place where you enjoy spending time outdoors year-round. Yup, even when it’s cold out or–God forbid–there’s snow on the ground. Here’s how to stop doing winter hiking wrong.

Winter hikes

You Hate Winter Hiking Because: You’re Always Cold

First of all, if you hate winter hiking because you’re always cold, then you’re probably wearing the wrong clothes. You know what they say: There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. Now, I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but you CAN absolutely enjoy winter hiking more if you learn how to dress right.

Now, we’ve written a whole post about how to layer for winter outdoor activities, so you should definitely go read that, but here’s the nitty gritty: ya gotta dress in layers.

So many layers. But so many LIGHTWEIGHT layers. Wear a moisture-wicking synthetic base layer like leggings and a fitted top and then add on insulated layers like a fleece or a lightweight puffy jacket, maybe another layer in between those if it’s super duper cold. Then throw on a waterproof jacket (we prefer a non-insulated shell) and water-resistant pants.

Voila! You’ve dressed in layers that let you adjust how many you’re wearing at any given time so you don’t get too hot or cold. Never underestimate the power of layers. Just make sure most or all of them–especially those next to your skin–are made of synthetic materials, which dry quickly. 

There should be absolutely NO cotton. There’s a saying in the outdoor industry: cotton kills. Because cotton can way too easily get wet from sweat or snow, then it doesn’t dry, then you get hypothermia, then you die. So no cotton in winter, K!

A man winter hiking in the snow among tall pine trees.

Next, if your toes or fingers are always freezing, then you’re also layering wrong. First of all, you should have waterproof boots in snowy conditions and nice cozy socks and gloves–which can also be layered, by the way–but if no matter what you do your extremities are cold, you should absolutely always pack a pair of hand and toe warmers like our faves from Ignik. They’ll keep you from being miserable and getting frostbite. I cannot underestimate the power of hand and foot warmers in making winter outdoor activities more enjoyable.

Likewise, if you’re only focusing on jackets and pants and such, you’re doing it wrong, cause you should definitely be packin’ plenty of accessories. That means gloves, of course, but also items like neck gaiters and nice warm hats, which make a HUGE difference when it comes to keeping you warm.

A good rule of thumb: wherever skin is exposed, bring something to cover it up. Even if you find you don’t need it, you’ll be glad you have it if you do.

You Hate Winter Hiking Because: Your Batteries are Always Dead

If the batteries in your phone, camera, etc. are always dying too fast, then you’re storing them wrong on winter hikes. Batteries drain WAY faster when it’s cold, so you gotta keep those babies in an inside pocket where your body heat will help keep them warm when you’re hiking in the cold.

You Hate Winter Hiking Because: Your Snacks are Always Frozen

Likewise, if you’ve also nearly broken your teeth when trying to bite into a protein bar, you’re storing those wrong, too. Nobody wants broken teeth on the trail. So stash those babies in an inside pocket, too, at least an hour before you plan to eat them.

Hillsound Microspikes.
Hillsound Microspikes.

You Hate Winter Hiking Because: Trails are Icy or Snow-Covered

If you totally avoid hiking in the winter because there’s snow on the ground and you’re afraid of slipping and injuring yourself, then you’re doing it wrong. ‘Cause you wouldn’t be so afraid of falling if you bothered to wear microspikes, grandma. Here’s a winter hiking tip: get yourself some traction devices. Microspikes strap to the bottom of your shoes are tolerably affordable and help you keep your footing on icy trails.

And bring some trekking poles, too, if you’re worried about balance. They can seriously help keep you upright on slick trails. They don’t even need to be fancy or expensive.

You Hate Winter Hiking Because: It’s Too Cold to Stop and Rest

Now, some folks don’t like winter hiking because the minute they stop to take a break they start shivering. Well first, rewind to my point about layering and make sure you’ve got your layers dialed in.

Then, if you’re still cold when you stop for a snack, it’s time to add a few things to your packing list. Like a heated seat pad or at the very least, an upcycled foam seat pad or part of an old yoga mat, all of which will insulate your butt from the ground and keep you from feeling so cold when you sit down during breaks. Pro tip: bring a second foam pad to put under your feet. You’re welcome.

You might also want to bring an extra puffy jacket to throw on or a nice cozy, packable blanket. Then whip out an insulated thermos of hot cocoa or tea. Nothin’ like a hot beverage when it’s cold out.

You Hate Winter Hiking Because: Your Water is Too Cold or Freezes

Let’s talk about water for a sec. Because if you’re hiking in winter in near- or below-freezing temps and your choice of hydration solutions is a reservoir…you’re doing it wrong. Sure, reservoirs make it easy to stay hydrated without taking a break, but it doesn’t take much for water to freeze in the tube, and then you have no water to drink at all. 

Instead, pack a few insulated bottles–which I like to fill with slightly warmer than room temp water or hot tea so I’m not drinking stupid cold liquid when it’s 20 degrees outside–and stay hydrated that way.

winter hiking tips: a man smiles in front of snowy mountains.

Winter Hiking Tips: Bottom Line

See? Easy fixes. You really don’t have to hate winter hiking. You’ve just been doing it wrong. But now that you know, you can get out there and enjoy all the magic of the fourth season.

So get out there and wander on already. Yes, in the snow. It’s great. You should try it.

This post contains affiliate links, which means when you clicky-click and make a purchase, we may receive some compensation. Don’t worry, it won’t cost you any extra, but you will be supporting Terradrift! That’s what we call a win-win!