Hiking In Cold Weather (Full Guide 2020)

Wandering out over the snowy mountain tops, building a playful snowman, playing with snowballs in a winter hike; altogether, sounds like some long-awaited dreamy weekend trip.

It doesn’t always mean you have to wait for an actual winter to enjoy a cold-weather trekking trip. If you are living or traveling in a winter-prevailing country, you can go on an exciting cold hiking tour only with some plans and preparations.

Unless you are prepared enough, your enjoyable tour might give you some unexpected cold-borne illnesses as well.

What do you need to know about hiking in cold weather?

Whether you are a thru-professional hiker or a newbie, those freezing hilltops are going to test your limit of tolerance, if you are not ready enough.

So, get in here and arm yourself with what you need to know and how you need to prepare. Majorly, there are three things to keep in mind:

  • Cold weather hiking essentials.
  • Food and drinks.
  • Cold-borne diseases and how to deal with them.

Cold weather hiking essentials:

For comforting yourself in freezing mountain breeze, it is crucial to be thoughtful about your clothes and gears for a cold-weather trekking trip.

  • Dress in layers: It has a three layers basic principle; the first layer is close to your skin, evaporating your sweat away from your skin. The second layer provides insulation that prevents heat loss. The third one acts as a shield to the wind and snow. 

The mainstay of this system is to add or shed as much layer as your body and outside temperature demands.

So, it will help you not only to keep yourself warm enough not to freeze out but also, at the same time prevent overheating the body.

Avoid getting in touch of water as much as you can, because, in winter, it takes time to dry out the wetness, which might get you cold and eventually, lead to hypothermia. 

Cotton kills: 

cotton should not be a choice when you are taking hiking clothes. If cotton clothes get wet, they take too long to dry; making you feel uncomfortable and damp. So, choose something that’s made of synthetic or wool; it dries faster and keeps you fresh.

Take a good cover: 

Skin that comes in contact with freezing temperature for a long time is prone to get frostbite. So, cover and protect the exposed areas of your body as much as you can; particularly, your face, nose, fingers, ears, and toes.

Cover your hands with woolen mittens under waterproof shell gloves. It’s wise to carry an extra pair in case your worn ones get wet and you need to change quickly.

For the protection of your feet, put on synthetic or woolen socks with a snuggle fit. Avoid thicker ones, because, they are likely to hamper the blood circulation of your feet within your well-fitted hiking boots.

Get 2-3 pairs of extra socks to keep your feet dry, which is the mainstay of preventing hiking blisters. Try boots with gaiters to get extra protection while hiking in deep snow. They will provide better insulation and keep you warm. 

To cover your nose and neck, add neck gaiter incorporated hats with a face mask. For head and ears, a fluffy winter hat or headband should do the task. Use a bandana under your hat to keep your head warm.

Loosen up your clothing:

If your socks, bandanas, mittens are too tight, they are going to impair circulation, further freezing your limbs. It will increase the chances of frostbite. Use hand and toe warmer packets to add some heat.

Protect your eyes: 

you need to protect your eyes from strong wind and direct sunlight. You can choose goggles or photo-sunglasses which help you protect your eyes from conjunctival dryness. 

Take a headlamp: 

While hiking in winter, there are fewer daylight hours available. In case, you have to hike in cold winter night, you are going to need headlamps with new batteries to see better and avoid hitting some uneven rocks in the dark.

Keep your batteries warm: 

Cold weather is a fast killer of batteries. Rather than quick dying alkaline ones, choose lithium batteries which hold up better and give you longer hours of uninterrupted power supply.

Try to keep them warm with your woolen socks and warm clothes. Check your hiking gears: GPS, mobile phone, compass, and headlamp; keep them closer to your body for keeping them from freezing.

Apply sunscreen generously: 

There is no way sunburn can’t get you just because it is winter. In the case of snowflakes, the reflection of direct sunlight is way more enhanced. So, apply a good SPF rated broad-spectrum sunscreen cream or lotion (SPF 30 or above) generously all over your exposed skin and re-apply every 4-8 hours in a similar manner.

Food and Drinks for Cold Weather Hiking: 

The source of heat in your body is the metabolism of nutrients gained from food and water. So, for a cold-weather hiking trip, loading up your body with energy-rich food and drinks is the way to keep you warm inside out.

Take frequent short meals: 

In cold weather, you are less likely to feel hungry. But, without food, it is only a matter of time that you will be out of your metabolic fuel.

So, plan it around, take some homemade food like; club sandwiches, fruit salad, short time pasta for heavy mid-day meals. For lightweight snacks, take chocolates, nuts and granola bars in your food list.

Take them at frequent small intervals to keep your energy level boosted up. 

Keep yourself hydrated:

For hiking, hydration is the key to stay on top of your game. You need to take water as per the duration of your trekking trip suggests. Roughly, an average hiker needs about half a liter of water for one hour of the hike.

So, pack your water and drinks accordingly. Don’t forget taking a quick sip of water in short breaks. This is especially important when you are trekking in chilling weather, because, you are less likely to realize that you are dehydrating.

Take some electrolytes-powder incorporated in your hydration package to deal with electrolytes lost through perspiration.

Prevent your food from freezing: 

A stone-hard granola bar is not something that soothes your appetite when you are hungry from a strenuous hiking trip. Processed food like cheese, chocolates and caramel bars are likely to get frozen in freezing cold trails.

So, be wise when you are choosing to bring them on a winter hike. Instead, choose potato chips like pretzels or fruits with you. Preserve them in well-insulated boxes to protect them from unwanted freezing.

If you don’t have any insulated food reservoir, keep these snacks close to your body, like: within pockets of your dress.

Watch out for your drinking tube: 

When you are carrying a water bladder as your hydration pack, there is a high possibility of getting a frozen drinking tube in cold weather. For this, you can buy a reservoir that has insulation over the valve and a drinking tube.

Another trick is to sip frequently from the tube to protect it from freezing. You can also try blowing back into the tub after drinking, to keep it empty and not frozen ice cold.

Water bottles can be a smarter choice: 

In freezing cold trails, it is wise to take water bottles rather than water bladder since the chances of frozen drinking tubes are relatively higher. Bottles can freeze too, but it usually happens from above downwards. 

So, you can turn your bottle upside down to drink, unless your bottle is not protected from leaks. Use insulated sleeves to keep your water at a relatively normal temperature.

  • Take additional hot drinks: Alongside water, you can take hot chocolates and coffee in your insulated flask and drink it as you go along. This will protect you from hypothermia and at the same time, provide you enough hydration and energy.

Cold-borne diseases and how to deal with them:

The primary health problems associated with cold-weather hiking are hypothermia and frostbite. If you are prone to get easy flues, pneumonia is not that uncommon though.


It is the result of the failure of the body’s temperature regulation system, ultimately yielding a body temperature below 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit. It can happen in any season, in case the body can’t warm itself up against the surrounding cold temperature. So, on a winter hike, it becomes one of the biggest health emergencies that can be life-threatening if left untreated.

  • Symptoms of mild hypothermia: drowsiness, shivering, inability to think clearly, confusion.
  • Symptoms of moderate hypothermia: uncontrolled shivering, uncoordinated movement, altered gait, irritability, agitation, disorientation, amnesia.
  • Symptoms of severe hypothermia: shivering decreases due to depleted energy, weak pulse, loss of consciousness, cold clammy skin.

Treatment of hypothermia:

If any of your fellow hikers display any of these symptoms, diagnose immediately as per the mentioned criteria and try to warm up the body temperature by covering with warm clothes.

Give some energy-rich food if still conscious, let him or her drink some hot drinks like hot chocolate or coffee. It will provide the energy for shivering again, which is the body’s own protective heat producing mechanism to prevent hypothermia.

If possible, immediately evacuate from the area and take shelter away from the face of the freezing cold wind. If hypothermia is caused by wet cloths, change and replace them immediately.

Cover the head with woolen caps, put socks and mittens on to prevent further loss of body heat. If diagnosed at the right time, you can save your hiking partner’s life or your own by these small tips.


It is the freezing of body tissue causing decreased blood flow to that part with resultant loss of function, if untreated.

Common sites: Tip of the nose, fingers, cheeks, toes, ears.

Types: frostnip, superficial frostbite, and deep frostbite. They cannot be differentiated superficially unless you can assess the blood flow.

Symptoms and signs: cold, clammy and waxy appearance, a tingling sensation, numbness, the overlying skin might turn dark if the blood flow is impaired.

Treatment for frostbite In Cold Weather hiking:

The mildest form, frostnip can be treated by simply protecting the affected area. If warming it up results in blister formation, then chances are: it has already formed frostbite.

Evacuate immediately and take professional medical help. If you make a delay on that, the affected organ might lose its leftover blood flow with resultant loss of function.

Don’t ever try to rub it or put it under hot water or get warm-ups by soaking heat from the campfire. Since the organ is already less sensitive to pain sensation, it can cause burn instead of treatment.

Prevention of cold-borne ailments:

Stay comfortable and warm: Staying warm is way easier than re-warming the body. So, dress in layers, preserve heat, eat and drink as frequently as you can. Check on your fellow hikers to see if anyone is already having problems.

Know your limits: If you are already feeling colder than comfortable level, stop and check for a pulse and other vital functions, re-warm, take shelter away from cold. If it starts getting colder, don’t test your limits, take a quick detour. 

A chilled, starry winter night or a glacier white snowy day over the mountains is something one can hardly say no to. Well, now, you won’t need to! Put on the winter jackets, grab the trekking poles or the snowboards; go wherever your bucket list takes you, just stay safe!

Hiking in Cold Weather Video Guide.

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What do you wear hiking in cold weather?

Take three layer approch. Dermal layer, insulation layer, wind barrier layer. Firsrsly poly-pro stretchable layer and then wool based and finally a shell to stop heat or wind loss.

How do you hike in cold weather?

Wearing in layers and packing enough calorie boost foods. Wear a warm hat. Keeping foot warmth and boosting internal warmth. Drnink enough to stay hydrated and speed up to make yourself sweat.

How do you stay warm in winter hiking?

Wear warmth socks and proper high boots. Dress in layers warmth instead of wearing a heavy jacket. Pack healthy food that’s have enough carb, fats and protien. Buy icepack. It’s really effective for your cold feet.

What is the best winter hiking boot?

KEEN Summit County. …
Vasque Snowburban II UltraDry. …
Merrell Thermo Freeze. …
The North Face Chilkat 400. …
Oboz Bridger 10″ Insulated BDry Winter Boots. are the best.

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