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10 tips for cold weather hiking

Posted: 2:28 PM, Nov 15, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-16 06:10:49-05
Icy St Mary's Falls Trail

During the cold season in Colorado, hiking can become a gamble, with the cold temperatures and icy trails. But, the fall and winter can bring some of the most beautiful scenery!

Due to the low sun angle the sun will set even earlier in the mountains than in the plains. Typically, snow will linger longest on north facing slopes and in the canyons. Temperatures are highly variable this time of year. We can easily see a 30 degree difference between the plains and mountains. It will also feel very different in the shade versus full sun.

Here are several tips to help you stay warm and dry while out hiking:

1. Dress in layers
There are a few ways to go about your attire on a winter hike. At the very least, wear multiple layers, including a bottom thermal layer and a top wind-breaking, waterproof layer. This will not only keep you warm and dry, but allow for adaptation to sudden temperature swings. Extra add-ons, like mittens, a hat, and warm socks keep your extremities warm.

A step above will be avoiding cotton fabrics! These will take much longer to dry if you sweat or step in a creek, leaving you at risk for hypothermia. Wool or synthetic materials are good options.

2. Microspikes or Crampons
If you have never tried these, trust me you won't regret it. They are basically attachable spikes for your boots. Put them on and away you go, like Spiderman, up an icy switchback. Microspikes are best for general hiking trails, crampons have longer spikes for ice climbs or very steep terrain.

3. Hiking poles
These will assist in your stability on slippery ice and snow patches.

4. Hike Early
In the summer you hike early to beat thunderstorms. In the winter you hike early to beat the sunset. Don't get stuck in the dark!

5. Research your trail
Know before you go! Check the map. Is your hike in a shady canyon or on a sunny peak? Will you be on a north or south facing slope?

6. Check the forecast
We've got that! Click here.

7. Food
A cold body is still a hungry body. Fuel yourself!

8. Warm Hydration
A water bottle or hydration pack is a good first step. If you have room in your pack, bring a thermos filled with something warm. Try tea or warm water with lemon.

9. Sunscreen
Snow and ice are highly reflective, so protect yourself from the UV radiation.

10. Hand Warmers
Hand warmers are great, mini heat sources. Stick 'em in your socks, in your gloves, in your pants, in your coat... wherever!