What you need to know, and what you need to bring, when it comes to essential winter hiking gear. Considering the essential winter hiking gear you need is a must. Not many people think of hiking when they think of winter weather, but this can turn out to be an awesome experience that molds memories that last a lifetime. Winter Hiking has fewer people, a new view of nature in a winter setting, and new challenges with winter terrain. However, winter hiking is only enjoyable if you are prepared for the hardships that will come. This is no walk in the park, so be ready for everything that gets thrown your way.
Winter Hiking Essential Gear
Being prepared is the best step towards a successful trip. Certain items are very necessary to thrive in the winter. There are a lot of items that you may bring camping in the summer, but there are a few things that are specifically aimed toward winter hiking. Here is some essential winter hiking gear!
Layered Clothing for Winter Hiking
First off, dressing in layers is crucial. Your worst enemy when being active in the winter is sweat. Hiking is a strenuous activity that burns a lot of calories. So, when burning calories, your body can overheat, which causes you to sweat. Sweating in winter is quite dangerous because once you stop working, that sweat will freeze and you will become colder than ever.
The best way to avoid sweating is by dressing in layers. This means not wearing a huge down jacket and nothing else. You should have a solid base layer, then add small-to-medium warmth layers on top of it. For example, you could be wearing long johns, a t-shirt, a pullover, a hoodie, and an external layer all at once.
As you get warmer, you simply shed a layer and vice versa. This helps you regulate your body temperature and keep you comfortable. Rather than being warm, ideally, you want to be cool, but comfortable.
Hydrate, Hydrate, and Hydrate Some More
In the winter, it is easy to forget to drink water and become dehydrated. I mean, it’s cold out, I’m not sweating, I don’t need water, right? Wrong.
After all, the temperature isn’t hot, so your body might not be telling you to drink water as often as you should be. However, it is super important to force yourself to drink a lot of water. Taking a hydration bladder is a simple fix to this, they often carry a large amount of water that will last you throughout your hike.
Winter is an easy time to become dehydrated, it can sneak up on you before you know it. Be sure to take plenty of breaks and replenish your fluids to stay at the top of your game. Generally speaking, having four to five liters of water on you at any given time allows for plenty to drink and cook with. I am personally a fan of Osprey Packs as they are affordable and very high quality, the SKARAB 30 model is a beast that can handle it all.
First Aid Kits For Winter Hiking
Hiking injuries do not only happen in warm weather. Having a first aid kit on-hand is crucial in the winter. Depending on the area of travel, you could be up against inches of snow, ice, and dangerous terrain. This makes it pretty easy to twist an ankle, take a slip or fall, and be in a world of hurt.
Think about it, you’re away from society, and you generally have either limited or no cell service. To top that off, even if you were able to call for help, it’s going to be a while before help arrives, just due to the nature of where you are at.
Carrying OTC painkillers, tracel splints, tweezers, assorted bandaids and a torniquet, is a good choice no matter the season. Overall, carrying first aid gear should not be overlooked no matter what season you are hiking in.
Another must-have in terms of hiking first aid is moleskin. Moleskin is a fabric that is used to treat blisters, especially on your feet. This can be a true lifesaver as a bad blister can derail your hike. Just because it isn’t the hot summer does not mean you can’t get blisters.
If your not sure where. to start with first aid kits, check out our helpful write-up on Adventure First Aid kits where we break it all down and provide options for DIY kits and feature some brands that make incredible Adventure First Aid kits like MyMedic and VSSL. The full writeup on our site can be found here, click this link.
Gloves for Winter Hiking
Your hands are very important tools, so keeping them safe is key. For less active times, having warm mittens or large gloves is good. Once you have to use your hands for cooking or whatever tasks you need to accomplish, it is important to have thinner gloves that allow more mobility. It is the small aspects of cold weather camping that you need to keep in mind when preparing for your next trek!
Food Tips for Winter Hiking
Food like snacks or dehydrated meals is another key element to essential winter hiking gear. Snacks are a great choice for short day trips. Trail mix, snack bars, and jerky are great options. If you plan to be out all day or overnight, you are going to need the substance and nutrients that a dehydrated meal will offer.
When the temperature drops, cooking hot food becomes slightly harder, but so much more important. The best option for the winter is a white gas stove. White gas is one of the few gas-powered stoves that can operate in subzero temperatures. This is because the gas vaporizes very easily and allows for seamless lighting and operation.
We use the MSR Pocket Rocket and absolutely love the built-in fire starter, its seriously worth a look. Traditional gas stoves will have a very hard time lighting and keeping a flame in cold temperatures. You no longer have to rely on cold food or lighting a fire to cook this winter. Although white gas stoves are a bit expensive, it is very worth it as eating hot food in cold temperatures is a game-changer.
The best hiking meals are the dehydrated bagged meals made by, Good-to-Go, Mountain House, and other companies. To cook these hearty meals, all you have to do is add hot water and stir. Because everything is precooked and dehydrated, this saves you space and weight in your pack. This might not sound like the most appetizing option, but they are pretty good and require very little preparation. Some popular flavors include beef stroganoff, spaghetti, biscuits and gravy, and so much more.
Now that you have a way to cook food, it is time to decide what food you want to take on your next winter trek. When hiking and backpacking, weight is everything. You can’t afford to pack really heavy food because this will cause a lot of stress on your body. Thankfully, there are some fantastic, light meal options for you.
UV Protection for Winter Hiking
Winter Hiking and UV protection? Yep. The sun is out in full-force, even in the winter. Just because you’re not hot, doesn’t mean you’re not soaking up the sun’s rays, and soaking up more than you think.
Polarized Sunglasses: In the winter, the sun is shining just like in the summer and is bright. On top of that, if you live in an area with snow, you know the sun can reflect in all directions, and keeping your eyes protected is a must.
Sunscreen: People only seem to associate sunscreen with hot summer days at the pool or beach. However, like before, just because you don’t feel it, doesn’t mean you’re not getting all sorts of UV rays. Using sunscreen in the winter is just as important as in the summer.
Think about it, you’re outside, in the sun for hours on end….you’re gonna need to protect that exposed skin in areas like your face, hands, or any other exposed area. Our co-founder CJ, was diagnosed with skin cancer and had to undergo surgery to have cancer removed. I recommend checking out his informative writeup on Protecting Yourself from the Sun While Enjoying the Outdoors.
Face Coverings and Other Winter Essentials
It may seem obvious, but the smaller winter essentials can be easily overlooked. This includes a face shield, winter hat, gloves, mittens, and warm socks. All of these are super important as staying warm is a constant battle while winter hiking.
Cold weather is no excuse to not get outside and enjoy the outdoors. A little bit of planning and preparation beforehand can mean the difference between a great trip and a miserable (or even dangerous) one. Follow the tips about and go enjoy yourself!