Here’s what you need in your winter hiking backpack, plus winter hiking tips
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — Now that snow is finally falling across the country, it’s important to know what items to bring for a winter hike. Although many items are needed year-round, some can be especially useful during the colder months of the year.
Here is a list of essential gear for winter hiking, along with some additional tips for winter hiking:
winter hiking gear
Shoe Traction: Bringing microspikes or hiking shoe cleats is a great choice when it comes to navigating slippery terrain. While you may not need the extra traction every time, it’s one of those pieces of gear that’s better to have and not need than to need and not to have.
Ski Goggles: If ski goggles are good enough for downhill skiing, they’re probably good enough for hiking. Goggles can be a great goggle option on a snowy day, providing shade and protection from intense sun and high winds.
Mountaineering Axe: Whether it’s a great self-stopping tool on slippery terrain or a balance aid in deep snow, a mountaineering ax can be a great tool for the winter bag. Although an ax is not necessary for most beginner or intermediate hikes, it is essential for those traveling in steeper terrain.
Trekking Poles: On flatter terrain where an ax may be overkill, hiking poles or ski poles can be a great balance aid. Many opt for collapsible hiking poles so they can be stored away when not in use.
Extra Socks: If your socks get wet, it’s good to have a spare pair. Extra socks can also be used to double the layering if your toes get cold.
Extra Gloves: Like socks, gloves can also get wet. Having a spare pair can be crucial when the snow melts inside the glove or the glove becomes too clammy. An extra pair of gloves is also useful if a glove gets lost – perhaps blown away.
Hand warmers: Whether you’re using hand warmers to keep your extremities warm or to keep your cell phone battery warm (more on that below), having a few hand warmers in the backpack isn’t a bad thing. never a bad idea.
Extra Layers: Winter hiking can be a delicate balance between staying warm and not getting too hot and therefore sweating too much. One way to find and maintain this balance is to have multiple layers of clothing that can be interchanged. Having multiple diapers can also be important if wet diapers need to be replaced. Generally, a thin, moisture-wicking base layer, an insulating mid-layer, and some sort of waterproof and windproof outer shell are recommended. A fire trial method is a good way to slowly land on the perfect layering combination for any given day.
Sunscreen: The sun is powerful and it can be even more damaging to the skin when it also reflects off the snow. Always bring sunscreen and apply it regularly to avoid serious burns. Even if a small amount of skin is exposed on a winter hike, that skin is still worth protecting. ChapStick can also be essential.
Shoe gaiters: Seal the space between the pants and the shoe with a gaiter. It can help keep snow out of your shoes and can help keep socks dry.
Waterproof Boots: Having a pair of boots that can stay dry and warm while stomping through the snow can be key to winter hiking success. Many boot brands sell winterized options, including Danner and its Mountain 600 Insulated style.
Snowshoes: If you are traveling in fresh powder, snowshoes can make the experience much more enjoyable. Rackets come in a wide variety of options, with durability and weight being two determining factors. Some opt for a more typical option, like those sold by MSR, while others opt for a snowshoe that caters to a different experience, like the all-foam Crescent Moon Evas.
GPS Communication Device: Another “better safe than sorry” feature, a GPS communication device ensures your line of communication stays open in the backcountry. With the increased risk that comes with winter hiking, bringing a GPS device is the most responsible choice. Using one that also tracks your way to the trailhead in limited visibility via route tracking, like the Garmin inReach, is the best bet.
Along with all that winter-specific gear, you’ll also want to bring some hiking essentials like a map and extra food.
Water can be tricky: Store water bottles upside down to prevent them from freezing at the neck of the bottle. Water that touches the air bubble in the bottle is usually the first water to freeze, which can make the water inaccessible when held upright. It is also important to know that Camelbak pipes can also freeze. Some backpacks, like the USWE Pow packs, offer insulation for the plastic tubes.
Snow-covered tracks are quickly covered: even on a day with no fresh snow, don’t expect to be able to follow your tracks back to your place of origin. Blowing snow can quickly obscure footsteps, making it crucial to understand how to follow a trail when the trail is not visible. Tracking yourself with a GPS system, like the Garmin inReach, so that a return route can be easily found can be a real lifesaver.
Avalanche risk also applies to hikers: you don’t need to ski or snowmobile down a mountain to trigger an avalanche. If you’re hiking in the backcountry in the winter, knowing how to avoid avalanche terrain is crucial. Even if you are on a flat path, you could trigger an avalanche elsewhere on the mountain that could injure you or someone else. An avalanche safety course is recommended.
Always know the forecast: it is important to know the forecast for your destination, as well as the weather in the area in recent days. This will help you know if you are going to be breaking fresh snow or walking on groomed trails when you are building your hiking pack. Check sites like the National Weather Service and OpenSnow for information on avalanche forecasts and risk.
Ice can be extremely dangerous: If you are near ice, it is important to fully understand ice safety. Remember that no ice encountered in the backcountry is 100% safe.
Hand warmers can help keep batteries warm: Tired of your cell phone battery dying on a hike? Throwing a few hand warmers in a pocket with your phone can help keep the battery warm, preventing the cold from draining it quickly. While doing this, you’ll also want to monitor your phone to make sure it’s not getting too hot.
Wool is a great option for winter insulation: not only is wool water resistant, lightweight and durable; it is also filled with air pockets that help create natural insulation. For layers included in your outfit to keep you warm, wool can be a good choice.