December 9, 2022
Getting outside is no doubt more difficult to do in the colder months, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get outdoors safely and still enjoy yourself! There are so many benefits to getting outside, even in the winter, including improving your sleep quality and immune function, reducing inflammation and feelings of depression, and more.
Although, you might not be surprised to hear that these benefits may not be as noticeable if you aren’t properly warm while you are outside. Keep reading below for my top tips. tostay warm and safe if you’re out adventuring in the cold!
How to Stay Warm in the Winter:
WEAR PROPER LAYERS.
Proper layers in cold temperatures typically means a lightweight, moisture-wicking base layer, a mid-layer of some sort such as fleece or down, and then an outer layer to keep you dry and block out wind, often referred to as a shell. You want to make sure your top layer is also waterproof, yet lightweight and breathable so you can move easily and not overheat.
You may want to play around with different weights of baselayers and midlayers depending on the conditions you will be in. In addition to this, proper layers in the winter means absolutely NO cotton, not even cotton socks and ideally not cotton undergarments either. This is because cotton does not dry quickly and holds zero insulative value when wet, which leads to greater risk of hypothermia. That is where the phrase “cotton kills” comes from, and it sadly happens more than you would think. Opting for a synthetic layer like polypropylene, or a warmer layer such as merino wool will likely work best.
It is important to keep in mind that just because you have all of these layers with you does not mean you will be wearing all of them at all times. Keep reading for more info on that.
If you want more details on the specific winter gear items I use, I’ve also included that below!
REMOVE LAYERS WHEN YOU GET WARM.
In addition to having the proper layers with you, it’s important to understand which ones to wear when, and know when to take them off. Your main goal with hiking in the winter is to avoid sweating too much. The reason being to what we talked about above with hypothermia – once you are wet in cold temperatures, it is a lot more work for your body to warm up. Depending on your body’s thermoregulation or the difficulty of the hike you are doing, you may be more likely to sweat, however the more you can avoid it the better off you will be.
You can avoid sweating simply by removing layers as you get warm, and keeping a consistent pace while hiking. My personal favorite way to keep myself at the right temperature is to “BE BOLD, START COLD.” It is common for many hikers in the winter to stop after about 15-20 minutes to shed a layer, which is completely fine, however by this point your body is likely already trying to cool itself down, rather than maintain a comfortable temperature. If you know you will be working up your body heat such as on a steeper hike, try starting with one layer less than you would be comfortable to start in, knowing that you will warm up as soon as you start your trek.
ADD LAYERS WHEN YOU STOP TO REST.
If you’re starting to notice a trend here, you’re right! Thermoregulation is the name of the game; taking the time to keep your body properly warm will go a long way in the outdoors, especially in the winter. Add layers if you get cold, whether that be from wind, you stop to rest, etc.
When you stop to rest, your body temperature will drop because you are no longer participating in all that aerobic activity. The elements such as wind, ice, or shadows can exacerbate this. Something that can help, especially with destinations such as summits and alpine lakes that are very windy or exposed, is to add layers BEFORE you get to your destination, maybe a minute or two prior as you feel winds start to pick up, that way you aren’t scrambling for your layers the second you hit exposure.
PROTECT YOURSELF FROM WIND.
You can protect yourself from the wind by using clothing, nearby shelters or large rocks/boulders. Avoid dead trees or branches that could snap, break, or fall. These are very dangerous and often referred to as “widow makers”.
In extreme winds, you will want to cover as much of your skin and body as possible to prevent unnecessary exposure and avoid frostbite. Use snow goggles or sunglasses to cover your eyes, a balaclava or buff to cover your face, and tuck any layers in to prevent wind from blowing up your jacket. This will also help keep your core more warm.
Hi there! I’m Shelby, a
Colorado hiking guide!
I’m here to inspire you to climb your mountain from the ground UP.
I’m an avid hiker and backpacker, and also love camping, fishing, and anything else I can do outdoors, even if it means going alone! I believe nature is the best teacher of all, and I find joy sharing this knowledge so you can feel empowered on your own adventures!
CHANGE INTO DRY CLOTHES IF YOU GET WET OR TOO SWEATY.
One of the 10 essentials is extra clothing, and this is most important on winter hikes. Again, our whole goal here is proper thermoregulation, staying dry, and avoiding hypothermia at every cost. But I also mentioned above that sometimes it is inevitable that you’re going to get wet/sweaty, or maybe an emergency happens that is out of your control such as ice breaking on a frozen lake and falling in.
Having a backup set of clothing could save your life at some point, so I always recommend keeping this in a dry bag just in case. It may also be helpful to have more than one extra pair of socks, especially if your feet are prone to sweating a bit.
WEAR HAND AND/OR TOE WARMERS.
Having toe and hand warmers on a winter hike are a game changer. The best part? You make the rules! So you can put these wherever you want. I often am hiking in below zero degrees Fahrenheit winter conditions, so I always put an extra pair in my chest pockets to keep my core warmer, especially in high wind conditions. Toe warmers are great if you are prone to cold feet, will be hiking in snow for a while, are planning on staying put for a while such as ice fishing, or wearing tight boots such as skiing or ice climbing. However, for some people that might be too much heat, especially if your feet typically sweat more. The best way to test what works best for you is to get out on a shorter hike with a few pairs of socks just in case, and just hike to figure out your perfect system! If you’re interested in a good, breathable yet warm winter hiking sock, these socks are my favorite.
EAT PLENTY OF FOOD.
This one is important, because our bodies burn a lot of energy from being in the cold, since they have to work harder to stay warm. Loading up on carbohydrates beforehand such as oatmeal or eggs and toast will help pre-fuel your body. If you’re prepping for a hike ahead, doing a big pasta night the day before will make you feel great and prepared the morning of your adventure! In addition either bringing a warm meal in an insulated food jar, or bringing cookware to heat food up on your hike will prove to be worthwhile. Our bodies can experience discomfort from eating cold foods in colder weather, becuase they have. towork harder to digest them and heat them up when our cores are already trying to keep warm. Not only will eating a warm meal keep you feeling warmer, but it will also help avoid any gut issues.
BRING HOT TEA TO WARM YOUR CORE.
This is perhaps my favorite cold weather hiking hack, as it works AMAZING and is so refreshing on the trail! I struggle with asthma in the colder months, and some peppermint or green tea warms my lungs right up on my ascents and breaks, making breathing a much easier endeavor. This is especially true on windier days when sometimes you can get the breathe knocked right out of you. Just be sure you put it in a completely sealed container so it doesn’t spill on your gear inside your pack!
DRINK LOTS OF WATER! And perhaps even more important, be cautious how you store your water so it doesn’t freeze. The water bladders that a lot of us use and love in the summer time will quickly freeze in winter temps, the first to go is always the hose. And then getting to your water to stay hydrated becomes a bit more complicated.
Storing your water really comes down to preference, some people will opt for an insulated bottle, which is perhaps the easiest method, but others don’t like carrying that extra weight. If so, using a Nalgene bottle and either storing it inside of your pack wrapped in clothes, or an insulated bottle carrier will do the trick. If you don’t want to go that route either, you can also start with warmer water that will have to cool longer before it’s able to freeze. Take sips of water regularly to stay properly hydrated on your hike, especially in the winter when we often drink less water because the colder temps make us feel less thirsty.
It may sound silly, but having fun on your winter adventures will make you warmer. You won’t be focusing as much as how cold it is outside because you’re enjoying yourself, however I will say that it is a lot easier to have a good time when you are properly prepared and have what you need to make yourself more comfortable in these conditions. The outdoors are supposed to be enjoyed, teach us more about ourselves and how we deal with hardship and challenges, as well as provide us with a sense of peace and connectedness to something much greater.
Some of my favorite and most rewarding adventures have been in the winter months. I love hiking this time of year because the adventures feel more peaceful and the payoff is great, not to mention the quieter trails, brighter sunrises, and it being a fantastic test of your outdoor skills and mental strength.
So what are you waiting for? Get prepared and get outside! I can’t wait to hear about your adventures 🙂
*Please note that some links above are affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission on any purchase you make – at no additional cost to you. If you use any of these links, thank you for your support in advance!
Read next: 10 Things the Wilderness Has Taught Me
I’ve trekked through forests, scaled mountains, and camped under the stars to bring you this trail-tested gift guide, sure to cover every outdoor enthusiast on your holiday list. If you’re shopping for a seasoned backpacker, an avid day-hiker, a summit crusher, or even someone just beginning their hiking journey, this guide has it all.
Discover the profound mental and physical benefits of hiking. Learn how hitting the trails can boost your well-being, and get wellness tips to enhance your hiking experience. Step into the great outdoors for a healthier you.
Discover the ultimate guide to cold weather backpacking attire, with expert advice on layering, materials, and must-have items to ensure you stay warm, safe, and comfortable on your fall and winter adventures.
Stay Up to Date With The Latest News & Updates
Book a Guided Hike
Explore what the Rocky Mountains have to offer and expand your outdoor education along the way with a guided hike with Ground Up Adventures.
Join the Adventure Squad!
Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly for hiking tips, adventure stories, and outdoor news.
Find more free resources and educational content on my socials!