Winter Hiking 101

As the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, it’s easy to lose motivation to get outside. Hiking in the winter can be beautiful and a great way to combat the winter blues. However, it definitely takes a bit more planning, preparation and gear than summer hiking.

2021 First Day Hike at Perry State Park.

Layer Up!

Consider your own preferences with this. In order to wick sweat, your layers have to be touching your skin – go for comfortably snug but not too tight. If you’re always cold when others are warm, or if you’re quick to cool even when moving, consider heavyweight layers. Usually, mid-weight layers are good for midwestern winters. If you’re planning to camp or observe nature at a slower pace or if the temps are below zero, you will want heavyweight layers. Know that even though it’s cold out, your body will warm up when moving. Over dressing is as bad as underdressing so really pay attention to the weather forecast.

Don’t wait to adjust your layers

Throw on a shell at the first sign of rain or wind, and remove your insulating jacket theminute you start to sweat. Staying warm and dry is easier than warming up or drying out.

Layers should work well together

Middle and outer layers need to glide on and off. When they fit too tightly with the layers beneath them, then adjustments become cumbersome and you risk constricting circulation.

Base-layer: The goal is to keep you dry

Synthetic polyester, merino wool, even silk –these fabrics are the best at wicking moisture away from your body if they fit snugly – not tight. Go for a good fit.

Mid-layer: The goal is to keep your heat close to your body.

Generally, a warm insulating layer will be made of wool, down, or fleece. Keep in mind that down isn’t warm if it gets wet. If you live in a wet or humid climate, you should opt for a synthetic alternative to down.

Outer-layer: The goal is to protect from moisture and wind

Look for an outer layer that is water-resistant but still breathable. You’re either looking a simple waterproof shell, or an outer layer with a light layer of insulation. If you choose a shell with light insulation, you might not need one of the previously mentioned layers. Make sure to consider the layers you’ll be wearing underneath when figuring out what size you need.


Wool blend socks, waterproof shoes/boots if the temps are conducive to slushy conditions – avoid your summer mesh topped trail shoes. Go for sturdy, grippy soles and ensure that your pants protect your ankles so you don’t get snow inside your shoes. You may prefer gaiters – these wrap around your leg and secure beneath your shoe to prevent various things from getting inside.


Your head is a great way to regulate your body temperature while keeping your core warm. Letting off a little steam by raising your hat up or off for a few minutes will cool you down. Consider a heavier hat for slower movement. If it’s windy or you’re prone to cold, a neck gaiter or complete balaclava head covering is good. A scarf or neck gaiter is an easy addition to add warmth and protect your heat from escaping from your jacket.

What’s in Your Pack?

H2O – your reservoir will potentially freeze, so plan to carry a water bottle or two. If you put your Nalgene bottle in your side pouch upside down the mouth won’t freeze!

Food – good easy to reach snacks with protein and carbs to keep you moving are important! Make sure they’re easy to eat while moving so that you don’t get too cool when you stop.

The Usual – first aid, whistle, headlamp, map, ER blanket, poncho/rain shell. Extra clothes or dry socks.

Where to Go?

Watch the sunset time and know that it’s darker in the woods – make a good plan and ensure that someone knows where you’re going and when to expect your return.

2021 First Day Hike at Perry State Park.

The 10 Essentials for Hiking

  1. Navigation: map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, personal locator beacon (PLB) or
    satellite messenger
  2. Headlamp: plus extra batteries
  3. Sun protection: sunglasses, sun-protective clothes and sunscreen
  4. First aid: including foot care and insect repellent (as needed)
  5. Fire: matches, lighter, tinder and/or stove
  6. Knife: plus a gear repair kitFire: matches, lighter, tinder and/or stove
  7. Shelter: carried at all times (can be a light emergency bivy)
  8. Extra food: beyond the minimum expectation
  9. Extra water: beyond the minimum expectation
  10. Extra clothes: beyond the minimum expectation

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