Cold Weather Hiking Tips

With the cooler temperatures finally upon us and even a slight dusting of snow in the high elevations of the mountains of East Tennessee, we can finally look forward to getting out and enjoying cold weather hiking days.  While I love all the other seasons, winter is definitely my favorite season to get outside and enjoy everything the outdoors has to offer!  While the trails are less traveled and the parks are less crowded, there are still challenges to getting out and enjoying everything the trails have to offer in the wintertime.  This is post is all about my tips to get you out and enjoying the great outdoors during those cold winter months!

Dressing in Layers

It's no surprise that I recommend dressing in layers as my number one tip for getting outside all winter.  In fact, many people would say this is the key to getting outside in the cooler months. What does this mean though, especially for people spending hours on trail?  The key to dressing in layers in winter months is choosing the right fabric.  I highly recommend merino wool for layering due to the wicking and temperature-regulating properties.  Synthetic base layers are a close second.  One thing that should have no place in your winter layering system, however, is cotton.  Cotton definitely breathes well, but doesn't help regulate temperatures and isn't quick drying.  You get a t-shirt or a pair of jeans out in the snow and you'll see very quickly just how cold you can  be! 


Keeping warm in the winter can be helped along by taking plenty of snacks.  Simple carbs, protein, and fat are the key to keeping your body burning calories effectively and keeping you nice and toasty.  Trail mix, nuts, beef jerky - all of your favorite snacks have a place on a winter hiking trip!

Drinking Water

Yes, even cold water can help keep you warmer on the trail.  Staying hydrated is important to not only keep you safe, it will also help you digest your meals out on the trail.  While it's hard to remember to drink while you're out in cooler temperatures and not sweating like you would during other seasons, sipping frequently will help keep your body temperature regulated.  Take a flask of warm soup , hot tea or warm apple cider and you'll definitely be toasty!  It should be noted that alcohol thins the blood and that consuming alcohol to "stay warm" is definitely an old wives' tale!

Hand Warmers

Those cheap hand warmers they sell at convenience stores and sporting goods departments have a place even during shorter day hikes during the winter!  Put them in your shoes to help keep toes warm during the entire length of your hike.  By carrying a few inside your day pack, you'll ensure that even if something unexpected happens during your day hike you'll have a fail-safe way to add extra warmth to your makeshift shelter/emergency blanket in case you end up spending a winter night in the backcountry.  

Spending the Night?

One of my favorite easy ways to stay warm at night is to fill a water bottle with near-boiling water at night just before climbing into my sleeping bag.  Make sure to close it tightly and then take it into your sleeping bag with you for a makeshift backcountry hot water bottle.  If you're concerned about leakage, make sure to put it inside a gallon-sized Ziplock bag first!

Looking for a way to get active this winter? Check out this post from my old Appalachian Trials archives about beating the winter blues!

These are just a few of my tips for staying warm on a winter day of hiking.  What are your fool-proof ways to stay warm during the cooler months of the year?