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8 Tips for Staying Warm on a Winter Hike

Snow Winter Hiking
Flickr/ Three Pinner

Winter hiking can be a disaster if done wrong, but these tips can help you stay warmer for longer.

Unless you know what you’re doing, winter hiking can seem a bit daunting for the uninitiated, particularly when it comes to staying warm. Of course, part of the trick to staying warm on a winter hike is the attitude of the hiker. Regardless of what you are wearing, you will get wet through sweat, snow and rain.

There are, of course, ways in which you can minimize the impact of the cold, so you can focus more time on enjoying the outdoors.

1. Don’t Wear Cotton

Cotton should be left for the summer when you’re lounging about in the garden and shouldn’t be part of your winter wardrobe. The reason is, cotton loses all of its insulating properties once it gets wet and will draw all the warmth from your body.

Once cotton is wet it acts like a wet cold sponge that will be against your body for a considerable amount of time on your hike, making you shiver. Instead leave your cotton clothes at home.

flickr/aokcreation - always behind
Flickr/AOK Creation

2. Down Jackets

Goose down jackets have become a staple winter insulation clothing piece for hikers and backpackers over the years. Due to its lightweight ability and compressibility it is the ultimate performance piece that provides maximum warmth in cold, dry conditions by trapping heat, keeping you warm for longer. Unfortunately, if it gets wet its insulating properties are useless, which is why it should only be worn in dry winter conditions.

3. Merino Wool

Merino Wool is a natural fiber that is taken from Merino sheep, but unlike other sheep’s wool it is lighter and doesn’t have the scratchy sensation that people often think about when they see woolen clothing. Merino works in the same way as down- the small fibers allow air to be trapped, thus retaining the heat that you create when you are active. It is a breathable fabric, releasing heat as required so the wearer does not become overheated during their activities.

Merino wool also acts like a sponge as it holds water, but unlike a sponge it is able to take in around a third of its own weight before it starts to make the wearer feel damp.

flickr/meg williams2009
Flickr/Meg Williams

4. Synthetic Jackets

Synthetic jackets are designed to wick moisture, such as sweat, away from the body. Unlike down jackets, though, synthetic clothing will keep you warm even if it gets wet which is due to the polyester fibers that enable warm air to become trapped in the air pockets.

5. Hot Beverages and Food

One way of improving your morale when it’s low during a cold hike is to stop and enjoy a hot drink, like a cup of hot chocolate, and some food. Anything hot will instantly warm up your core giving you the energy you need to continue on your way. When it comes to winter hiking it’s important to be able to make hot food and drinks quickly, so you don’t lose too much heat and energy standing around in the cold.

flickr/Andrew Bowden
Flickr/Andrew Bowden

6. Carry Extra Socks

At some point you will have cold wet feet from your hiking and one way of warming your body up quickly is to remove your wet socks and replace them with clean dry ones. Just like eating and drinking something hot there’s nothing quiet as satisfying as putting dry socks on your feet at the end of the day.

7. Eat Eat Eat

To keep your body temperature regulated you should include plenty of carbohydrates in your food plan to fuel your hiking. The body burns energy in order to stay warm in what is known as non-shivering thermogenesis (NST). This is why you should factor in a high calorific diet when winter hiking so that your body’s temperature can remain high to ensure you don’t get too cold.

flickr/oskar karlin
Flickr/Oskar Karlin

8. Buy a Good Hat

The head is the one place you lose a lot of heat from, so it’s worthwhile to invest in a good hat, such as a synthetic or woollen hat, that will trap vital heat for those cold moments. At night, you can also retain your body heat by sleeping in your thickest hat.

These are just a few tips to take on board, but they’ll help you out on your winter hikes and ward off the cold weather for longer.

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8 Tips for Staying Warm on a Winter Hike