Hiking has always been a love of mine, but one I didn't necessary prioritize until this past year. Now that we're sitting in the middle of one of the worst winter storms we've had in years, I am still eager to get outside, but aware that I need to go in well-prepared. I am just not ready to shelf my #wellness #goals until warmer weather arrives, and a few of my hiking buddies have shared that winter is their favorite season for hiking. I am intrigued enough to want to discover where they have found joy in hiking in the snow.
At the start of the year, I accepted the challenge of finishing #52hikesin2021 and essentially, aiming for at least one a week. This is much easier to accomplish in the warmer seasons, but again, I am hoping to keep up this activity through the cooler temps as well. Our immune systems really need this movement consistently. However, these winter storms make it tough to get to the car, let alone through trails in the state parks!
One thing that I have discovered about hiking in the warmer months, is there is significantly less traffic. I don't necessarily mind having busier trails, but I do notice how quiet and peaceful it is when there are fewer. There is also less need to slow or stop your pace so you can get off and let someone else pass while maintaining the six foot social distance rule. The downside to this though, is if you set out on a hike you are unfamiliar and don't pack sufficient clothing or water then it may be longer until you come across someone to guide you.
Snow on the rocky trails has meant a more flat and less risky terrain for the ankles as well. I do love the rocks, but they are a challenge and one where I often feel like I am just biding time until I eventually injury myself. Overall though, I would argue that hiking is snow is a bit more of a workout. It requires more energy to remain warm and even more to remain upright. You really are zoning in more mentally to assure you have safe footing, which can be great for anxiety or overthinkers.
Not embracing the winter would be super unfortunate as this really is an incredibly beautiful season. There is a saying among hikers that the weather is never too cold, but rather, one has too few layers of clothing. I do believe one can be just as active, healthy, and happy during the winter as any other time of the year, as long as we are creative about how we approach enduring the weather. Here are some thoughts as I learn to navigate this challenge.
Wearing Layers of Great Clothing
Part of the fun for me really is in the researching and preparation. There are so many clever ways to approach hiking and I do enjoy exploring all the many gadgets and options. Whatever you choose, try hiking around a large park before heading into the trails to sort of trial your new gear and winter clothing. New boots may take time to break in and jackets may not be as warm as you thought they would be. This is also a great way to get your body primed for hiking if you haven't been regularly moving.
The easy tips are dress in layers and avoid cotton. If you run, ski, or cycle in cold weather, this clothing is likely to work well for winter hiking as well. Merino woold or a synthetic fiber will breathe out the moisture from the inside while also keeping out the snow. Merino is a bit more expensive, but it also highly breathable and doesn't hold in much odor as other types of fabric.
Merino wool socks is an absolute must, in my opinion. I have several, sort ankle and taller, and never leave home without them - winter or summer. These not only help keep your feet warm, but they are great for reducing sweating and friction which lead to blisters. There are an incredible number of brands for merino wool, although I am really enjoying the SmartWool brand.
Many are choosing to hike with their masks, or are required to in some states, and this particular mask is interesting for a few reasons. It doesn't wrap the ears so avoids discomfort from friction and it also slides open in the front so you can quickly hydrate without having to touch or remove your mask, which in itself increases risk of contamination. I appreciate the elastic band right at the side of the cheeks as well, offering a more customized fit. Further, and especially important while working out, is the moisture wicking technology so the wearer remains dry.
Another more important item of clothing in the winter is your hat. I have a standard knit hat from TJ Maxx, as pictured above, and I've purchased a full facial covering that allows just my eyes to peek through or it can be pulled down to allow my mouth or chin to become free as well. It is amazing how much more cold you can tolerate when your head and face are protected from the cold. Hats offer an opportunity to add reflective gear as well, and this company has some great options including hats with small openings for your ponytail. Funny enough, the same company also offers perfectly weighted gloves for high-cardio activities with a much-needed fleece patch for wiping your nose and dexterous finger pads for using your phone.
Base layers is the key when temperatures really drop. There is some debate as to whether one should opt for merino wool verses polyester, but I personally prefer the wool. I've found this brand, which look amazing comfortable and super cute, but I haven't purchased these to offer you a review just yet. I do have a pair of fleece #yoga pants which have kept me warm down in the single digits. I do worry about overheating in these layers and not wanting to carry anything, as I am quite warm blooded, and Kari Traa offers a lightweight Merino wool base layer as well, which are more intended for the warmer seasons but work well for the high-cardio activities in winter.
After a breathable base layer, you'll want to put on a warm layer, like fleece. Top that off with a waterproof, windproof jacket. All of these layers come in different levels of warmth and breathability so I suggest trying out a few different brands and styles to see what you like. I do like shopping in person for clothing, until I know what I really like, but I can be fairly tactile and want something that feels good.
Hiking Footwear for the Winter
A few weeks ago, I hiked with a new hiking buddy and he shared lots of new information with me. He is more of a hike in, camp, and hike out sort-a-fella and is an Eagle Scout, so had some great tips. We talked a bit about hiking footwear, as I had finally made the decision to move from my long time hiking boots to trail runners and was really quite happy about my choice. He shared though that the boots are particularly nice in the winter, which I really hadn't considered. Thankfully, I did keep my boots so have that option now too.
As you can see in the reflection of my glasses in the picture above, and even in the picture below, the trails in Indiana are also being used for skiing. I think of Colorado or Wisconsin when I think of skiing, so it was a surprise to me to find these tracks. It's now on my list of things to experience into the future. Because of this though, when you are hiking in deeper snow, it really is proper etiquette to hike wearing #snowshoes. This prevents those deep post hole traps for skiers or deep holes left by boots. When I hiked in Costa Rica, where it rains almost every day, I can't even articulate how incredibly challenging the holes left in the mud by the donkeys made our travel. It was more like jumping from one steep, tower of mud to the next. If the snow is soft enough that you're sinking to your ankles, it is time for snowshoes.
Check out these Yaktrax Pros! I am so excited about these spike slip-ons that offer traction on ice! I can't wait to get me a pair so I can walk the trails in them. Admittedly, slipping and falling has proven to be more intimidating to me than the cooler temperatures. Worth the money as I am told. Oh, and although I wrote previously about swapping from #hiking boots to trail #runners, and don't regret the transition at all, it did occur to me that keeping my hiking boots might be especially wise for winter use. I've also seen hikers wearing the more traditional snow shoes which look much like tennis rackets. Adorable!
Enjoying the trails at Eagle Creek!