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How to Dress and Pack for a Winter Hike

This last year I have been doing a lot of hiking. It also feels like the rest of the world has as well. One reason for this is connecting with more adventure friends and my new relationship, and his willingness to go hiking.

In the past, for the winter, I've gone skiing, snowboarding, even dabbled in a little snowshoeing. Before this year, I had only gone on one winter hike. That hike was maybe two miles total.

This year hiking has been such a joy that I wanted to keep doing it this winter. Now maybe starting with a shorter hike to make sure my layers were color might have been the better way to go. Being in Northern NJ, we get all four seasons, and the fall is a great way to get used to layering properly and delayering.

My first snowy hike was at Balsam Lake Mountain in the Catskills State Park in New York. This hike was a perfect introduction to winter hiking.

Sunrise winter walk at Eagle Rock Reservation

Hiking Resources

There was snow on the ground, and the temperatures weren't extreme. When testing out gear or testing the elements, the best thing to do is monitor the weather and talk to people. If you don't know anyone with experience, here are great YouTube channels or blogs I use for my resource:

Amanda Outside, I found from searching for camping meals. She has so many great resources about backpacking, hiking, and preparing for all different conditions on her YouTube channel.

Summit Searcher and Total Catskills came from searching on Instagram. If you're planning to hike a specific area, explore the geotag for photos posted by hikers. You will see if anyone has blogs or YouTube videos you can use as a resource.

Summit Search also has entertaining Reels on Instagram that are also practical resources for hiking. She shares very practical hiking advice. If you're new or not, her advice will be super helpful!

Total Catskills details blog post on Balsam Lake Mountain made me feel knowledgeable about the trail before going. I will say, do additional research. Further research can be other blog reviews, links that a person shared about trail knowledge, reviewing recent comments about trail conditions on All trails, and a hard copy map.

Necessary Prepping For a Winter Hike

In the previous blog post, you'll see me mention the importance of a printed out map. A printed map will help with trail safety, and you can navigate the trail while you do it.

Now, are you able to see how much needs to be done before you even think about packing? If you don't prepare properly, you can face the challenges of knowing how to pack and what to wear.

I will use Basalm Lake Mountain as my baseline example for what to pack. The weather for the day was projected to be partly cloudy, snow coming around 3 PM and a high of 28 degrees.

The week leading up to the hike, I kept an eye to see any fresh snow, drastic change in temperature to be prepared for icy conditions and watched the wind speed.

The wind speed to essential to take note of. If the wind is in certain ranges, it is not safe to be on the trail. The wind is an excellent check to know if the conditions should keep you off-trail or not.

Be mindful of the sunrise and sunset. When researching a trail, you can get a gist of how long a trail can take on average. Account for an additional 30 to 45 minutes to be on the safe side. Knowing when the sun will set is key to pace your hike and knowing when to start your hike.

By monitoring the weather, you can better prepare for how to layer appropriately.

Must-Have Items For Winter Hiking

Base layers are fundamental for all seasons of hiking. A base layer for winter is vital to think through. I recommend doing a compression hiking top. Compression tops help aid circulation through your arms that should help keep your hands warm.

A fleece line base layer will get uncomfortable. As the second layer, it is better. Have you been sweaty and have fleece against your skin? I don't recommend it.

Base Layer:

  • Tommie copper

  • Fila

On top of the fleece or the love sleeve top, follow up with a pullover type. Then jacket. I will say 2-3 shirts under a pullover. It is always better to have layers on to remove during the hike than not enough.

Second layer brands I enjoy:

  • Fila

  • LL Bean

The type of jacket should be waterproof. If you're planning to not use a waterproof jacket on a winter hike where there is snow or ice, you're off to a bad start. Snow can fall from trees, getting you wet. Or the snow on the ground can get you wet.

Recommended jackets:

  • Patagonia hooded jacket

  • Northface Winter Jacket Shell

Next to think through is the gloves. Please make sure they are waterproof. I did not know I needed to be correctly layered, and I also didn't wear gloves for most of the hike. The lack of gloves fitted the climate of the day. Other days I've had hikes where I ended thinner gloves and gloves you used for playing in the snow and waterproof. Waterproof is key.

From there is protecting your neck. Thy kind of neck guard is key. Will you go with a fleece neck cover or buff? I recommend packing both! A fleece neck cover like turtle fur is my preferred choice.

Neck covers I like:

From there, I turn to protect my ears. I know this may seem strange to some, but as someone who has easily gotten an ear infection over the years, I want to ensure my hat protects my ears. I will say, I have a large head. Getting a hat to fit can be a challenge. I recommend for really cold days, have a headband and then a winter hat.

Hats that I love:

  • Coal

  • Turtle fur

  • Neff

Consider Your Gear

A thing to keep in mind as you get warm and safe from the elements, you delayer. When you get too hot, you delayer and put those layers in your pack.

This raises the next important consideration, your pack size. If you're going for a winter hike, I do not recommend a daylights pack. If you delay, you most likely won't fit the clothes with the pack essentials you'll need.

I used my Osprey Tempest 20 L pack for Balsam Lake. My bag was a bit tight on space from my camera, food, bladder, and hiking safety items.

My next size is a backpacking pack. I would say it is better for winter hiking to have space for any layers you are looking to take off, have enough food and extra water.

Water is vital for winter hikes. Since you're not sweating like in the summer, it's easy to neglect proper hydration. Whenever I go for a hike, I always make sure to have a spare water bottle in the car if I run out of water on a hike.

Mental Game of Winter

When snow or cold is involved, it can easily cause overthinking. The game of how long to the top? How much light is left? When will it end?

Yes, as much as I love to hike, the wall of wanting to get off trail happens quicker when it's the winter. However, the moment you get to the car, that rewarding feeling is amazing.

Key Take-Aways:

🍍Be as prepared as you can

🍍Dress properly

🍍Take the right gear

🍍Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

Save this Pin to be prepared for your first or next winter hike.

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