There’s nothing more peaceful than a walk in the woods just after a big snow. It might seem “basic” to you, but it’s still one of our favorite things. As routine and simple as it sounds, I can’t stress enough the importance of being prepared for anything. From my experience, the weather can get real dicey, real fast.
A couple years back, the fam and I took a few-mile hike up the side of Storm King Mountain. It was chilly when we started, but there was no sign of snow. As we got closer to the top, snow rolled in and the terrain got super slippery. We all had a few layers on but this was a new trail for us and we really should have checked the weather report ahead of time. Our 3 year-old started slipping and sliding all over the place so I carried him on my shoulders (not recommended, by the way) so we could move along at a quicker pace. Once we realized the snow wasn’t slowing down, we turned back immediately and made it down safe, but covered in wet snow.
It’s safe to say that with roughly 30 years of hiking under my belt, I had to learn a few things the hard way. Here are some of my lessons learned and tips for enjoying your hike whatever the weather throws at you:
The RIGHT Shoes
Terrain can be the trickiest element to navigate in bad weather. Tackling the ice and snow without the right boots can cause you to slip, injuring yourself and/or others. We recommend going to a professional outfitter so you can try on different styles and get properly fitted. Waterproof is always preferable for winter treks!
Did you know that even when sopping wet, wool socks will still keep your feet insulated? Don't leave home without a quality pair!
Insulated Base Layers
You can never have too many layers—unless they’re the wrong material! Moisture-wicking base layers are key. Try a wool or performance fabric (e.g. nylon/spandex/synthetic blend) made to keep warmth in and moisture out. Honestly, you can never have TOO MANY layers when winter hiking. You can always peel off a layer or two as you hike. A good rule of thumb: if you start sweating, remove a layer. You don’t want to keep excess sweat trapped under your coat, especially if you’re wearing anything cotton-based. The concern here is that if you soak through all your layers, you’ll freeze when the weather turns—and since it’s cold, the layers will take a while to dry. Check out our Pinterest board for our recommended layering pieces.
Water-Resistant Outer Layers
Taking chances in icy areas can result in wet feet or pants—and on a long hike, that’s the last thing you want to deal with (read: miserable, or worse—hypothermia). Look for pants that are waterproof or at least water resistant. This will keep you dry if you fall unexpectedly or come across wet terrain. We also recommend a waterproof outer shell (to block both water and wind) over your usual down or fleece just in case the elements turn nasty.
You can still get dehydrated in the winter! Keep your water bottle handy and drink even when you don’t feel like it. Post-hike, there’s nothing more refreshing and rehydrating than an ICB (ice cold beer)—in any season!
Take it Slow
Know that your hike might take a little longer in winter due to icy paths, fallen limbs, etc. Be sure to plan accordingly. Don’t show up an hour before sunset thinking you’ll knock out a 5-mile hike; use your noggin!
It’s OK to Turn Back
PLEASE, don’t let me scare you out of winter hiking. Like I said, some of my most memorable hikes took place during the winter. But it’s also OK to turn back if things look like they might go downhill or your hiking buddy isn’t as prepared as you are. Don’t mess with Mother Nature. She’s powerful!
Partner, Bush Smarts