Winter is a wonderful time to hike! Trails are quieter and trailheads less crowded, forests are greener, waterfalls are more 'alive,' and you may see amazing, unique conditions like fog, snow, or ice formations--to name a few of my favorite things!
Getting out for a hike in late fall and winter can, however, be difficult when you live in the Northwest. It is generally either cold, rainy or downright stormy; and since we lose up to seven hours of daylight, you're a bit more limited if you wish to accomplish a bigger day hike before nightfall. Accommodating these changes requires extra preparation to stay safe and happy on your adventure.
I'm here to share some advice and key things that will help you get out there while staying safe and warm!
First, check the weather, road conditions and trail conditions for wherever you're headed.
If you know whether the place you're hiking is in the National Forest, State Park or BLM territory, etc., you can call the local office or check their website for trail conditions. Many forest roads are unmaintained or gated off in winter. Moreover, some trails become unsafe or inaccessible in winter without snowshoes or extra traction gear.
Know before you go!
What to Wear in Winter
* Clothing layers:
- Choose synthetic fabrics (e.g. polyester) or wool which wick moisture away from skin-- never cotton, which lowers your body temperature when wet.
- Wear or carry at least one thermal, insulating layer
- Waterproof, windproof jacket & pants will keep you dry on rainy days
- Monitor & adjust your layers: if you're sweating too much from being bundled in too many layers, you may catch a chill from the breeze (or even hypothermia) once you stop moving or if air temps suddenly drop
* Waterproof hiking boots with a grippy tread
* Warm hat & gloves -- best to keep them handy during cool weather days
* Traction gear -- snowshoes or microspikes, among other traction devices, may be necessary for hiking certain trails in winter. Again, best to check trail conditions so you know what to expect.
"The 10 Hiking Essentials" (and know how to use them!)
Do you know about the 10 Essentials? These 10 things are important to have for any outdoor adventure, big or small, but especially so if you're facing the adverse conditions of the "off-season:"
1) Map -- examples: Green Trails maps, topographical USGS/National Forest maps, etc.
2) Compass -- a map is basically useless without a compass, and vice versa
3) Water -- if you aren't staying hydrated during exercise, you're more susceptible to dehydration and other complications
4) Food -- nutrient dense non-perishables, e.g. protein bars, nuts, dried fruits or vegetables, jerky
5) Clothing Layers -- even if it's warm & sunny starting out, bring a sweater and/or rain jacket to protect yourself during unexpected weather patterns (also see "What to Wear" above)
6) Firestarter -- examples: flint, waterproof matches (best to store these items in a sealed container, even if they're waterproof); many other firestarter options are available at most outdoor stores
7) First Aid Kit -- these can be purchased at any outdoor store; some basic contents might include gauze and bandages, antiseptic wipes, moleskin, tweezers, ibuprofen, non-drowsy allergy medicine
8) Pocket Knife or Multi-Tool
9) Headlamp/Flashlight + Extra Batteries -- getting stuck in the woods after dark without a light source isn't fun :(
10) Sun Protection -- i.e. sunscreen and/or sunglasses (especially useful if hiking in exposed places, or near water/snow which magnifies & reflects the sun's rays)
Other Items You May Wish to Carry
A whistle or mirror (helpful if you become lost or injured); paracord; emergency blanket; small water filter for emergencies (LifeStraw is popular); hiking poles; plastic garbage bag (can be tucked away neatly in your bag and forgotten about; has 101 uses for emergencies and more); hand warmer packets; a rain cover for your backpack or airtight storage bags to keep electronics dry
For those in the Portland metro area, I recommend Portland's own Next Adventure for outdoor safety supplies and gear/apparel--and no, they aren't paying me to say this. I just love that place!
Please fill out the contact form on the 'About' page if there's anything I missed! Thanks!
Happy winter hiking!