Now that winter is in full swing, it’s time to get out and enjoy the crisp cold weather. Many adventurers will pack their gear and shy away from the cold weather, but I encourage you to go out and enjoy the winter. But, before you go out hiking, make sure you are fully equipped to handle the cold temperatures. Under the usual temperate conditions, you need to be careful. But, in the winter you need to be even more considerate of your surroundings and your gear. Here is some advice to make sure you can enjoy hiking in the winter.
Layering your clothing is critical. Your ultimate goal is to set up a hiking outfit that is comfortable in a range of activity. Ideally, you shouldn’t feel cold when you’re standing still, or sweat when you’re active. Avoid sweating as best you can. Remember, sweat evaporates extremely slowly in the winter. Once you stop exerting yourself, the remaining sweat can leave you cold and clammy. You can avoid this feeling by maintaining a steady pace during activity, and removing layers as you see fit. It is inevitable that you will spend some of your hike standing still, whether you’re waiting for a slower hiker, or stopping for a meal. So, whether you’re moving around vigorously or taking a pause, your clothing should be comfortable at any given moment.
You may be accustomed to dressing for the winter in your day to day life, and while the same basic strategy will apply to your hiking gear, you will need to be more thorough when dressing yourself. Your base layer is the foundation for your hiking outfit, it should keep you dry and move sweat away from your skin. You should wear something made of wool, or similar wicking fiber. Typically, hikers will wear their base layer with an additional layer, like a thin jacket or windbreaker. Next, you should add layers for insulation, like a fleece or wool sweater. The insulating layer should provide the most warmth, and should be easily added or removed. On top of your insulating layer will be a shell to protect you from the elements like wind, rain, or snow. Ideally you want your shell to be made of Gore-tex, or a similar all-weather waterproof but breathable material. The last layer will be your puffer jacket. Look for something with a down or high-quality synthetic filling, depending on your preference. This layer should be easy to put on or take off.
When you’re looking for layering pieces, stay away from cotton, even with your socks or underwear. While cotton is comfortable and breathable for everyday wear, it will absorb your sweat and trap it near your skin while you hike. Your cotton layers will become cold and damp, which is dangerous and could lead to hypothermia once you stop moving. Remember, the key is to stay comfortable and dry. Do your best to avoid sweating, so start out cold by removing a layer before you start hiking, you can add or remove layers as your conditions change. Adjust your pace to optimize your body temperature. Slow your pace as you hike uphill to avoid overexerting yourself, and move faster downhill to keep warm. Most importantly, communicate with your group. Do not force your slower hikers to overexert themselves, have them lead the group, or position them near the front of the group to set the pace. Hiking is an adventurous activity, but it is important to stay safe!