Winter hiking tips to keep you safe and warm. Winter is a season of unpredictable weather and trail conditions. However, it is a magical time to hike in Colorado and a time not to miss!
Being prepared makes all the difference to make it an enjoyable and safe experience.
First and foremost check the weather before hitting the trail. If it’s obvious the day is treacherous, stay home. It may appear nice and friendly when you begin your hike but don’t be misled. It changes in minutes in every area of Colorado.
Clothing, footwear, and some kind of traction support are important for ever-changing conditions throughout your day.
Conditions I have experienced on various day hikes are:
Rapidly changing temperatures.
Wind gusts up 60 mph.
Fog setting in bringing a chill!
Blowing snow – cold!
Sleet – frigid cold!
Even on clear sunny days, one wind gust and you feel it in winter.
Trail conditions change too, Wind causes snowdrifts over the trail and it can become harder to navigate. (this is when I turn back). Deep snow, packed snow, bare ground, frozen creeks, rocks, ice, and slush are examples of what you might encounter. Gaiters will be your best friend.
Once I became prepared with the right gear I found I love winter hiking! It’s quiet, beautiful and one of Colorado’s best-kept secrets. Not everyone hikes in winter so the mountain trails become yours!
Below I’ve written my clothing and gear items (mostly for women) but still the same for men. I get cold easily so I am loaded with all the right stuff to keep me warm and safe.
At the bottom is a link for Colorado Avalanche updates. MOST important for any adventure in Colorado’s mountains in the winter.
The main purpose of a base layer is “wicking”, which means keeping sweat away from your body. Help keep you dry, from being chilled, and helps prevent hyperthermia. A wicking base layer should be on your skin as the first layer. My favorite fabric is merino wool. However, it is really your preference. Polyester, nylon, and silk are popular also. Avoid cotton as it tends to hold moisture and keep you wet which gets you chilled and once chilled it’s hard to get warm again.
1. Base Layer – Is actually long underwear, keeps the moisture off your skin.
2. Mid Layer – Preserves body heat – I sometimes add a vest instead of a jacket over my mid-layer, depending on the day.
3. Outer Layer – Protects against wind and wet weather.
Below are links I’ve added for a look at the winter hiking gear I use that keeps me warm, safe, and happy. Of course, all items are a personal preference and with so many outdoor venues there are many options regarding price and quality. I’ve had my gear for 3 years now and they are still in great shape and hopefully will keep me outside for years to come!
>LAYERS: When hiking, I tend to get warm as the day heats up and will begin to sweat even in winter! I take off my jacket and use my mid-layer with a vest, putting my jacket back on if it starts to get colder. Or use my base layer with a vest if conditions become hot. Which it often does in our Colorado sun.
>JACKET: My most essential item in winter is my insulating jacket. I prefer a light one and wear a down vest under it.
>DOWN VEST: I love my vest. I tend to wear it often in most seasons. Adding it under my jacket allows me more warmth. Also, having the option to take off my jacket and keep my vest is a plus when getting warmer, but it’s still chilly out.
>OUTER LAYER: I don’t use an Outer Layer as it gets stifling and hot, and I am more miserable with it on; instead, I bring a >HIKING UMBRELLA: which I love. (not significant in the wind, but it keeps me dry).
>HIKING PANTS: For hiking pants, I like winter leggings lined with fleece instead of pants; I have an extra pair of fleece pants that I can pull over my leggings if need to, but I rarely even bring them with me. I find my legs do not get as cold as my upper body. Over my leggings, I add gaiters to prevent getting wet in my boots, ankles, and calves. I’ve owned the same pair of leggings for three years.
>SOCKS: Socks are essential! Use wool socks to keep your feet dryer and warmer. I use >SKI SOCKS in winter and pull them over my leggings and under my gaiters. I prefer lite socks, but any degree of thickness is good as long as they are wool.
>HIKING BOOTS: I usually wear my regular hiking boots with foot warmers inside. However, I got a pair of insulated >WINTER HIKING BOOTS and found when it’s freezing in deep snow; they keep me warmer and dryer.
>HAT: I can’t even go out in the cold without my beanie —Any hat to keep your head warm. A headband works, but a hat covering your head and ears is best when cold.
>GLOVES: My hands get cold quickly, and in all conditions, I use hand warmers in my gloves. I prefer ski gloves in the most challenging part of winter and use wool gloves only if the weather permits. I carry both with me.
>MICROSPIKES: Don’t leave without them! Attach them to the bottom of your hiking boots, and hiking in winter will be safer, easier, and much more enjoyable. Easy to carry in your backpack for changing conditions.
>SNOWSHOES: I find it a rare occurrence when I need my snowshoes with so many trails packed down from previous hikers. However, I had to turn around when I did not have snowshoes, which disappointed me! Postholing is not fun! So if heading up into a high elevation, I recommend attaching them to your backpack.
>TREKKING POLES: Add winter baskets to your poles, make hiking in winter much more accessible
>SUNGLASSES: A must in Colorado sunshine. The snow glare is intense.
>GAITERS: Essential for deep snow, which I often encounter somewhere along a trail, even if most areas are minimal snowpack. They help keep the snow from getting down in my boots. Plus, they keep my legs warmer.
GET OUTSIDE MORE!
One thing I’ve learned is owning gear has given me the freedom to get outside on a whim without any excuses! Even if it’s winter. Once I purchased everything I needed I only buy hand and foot warmers on a regular basis. Otherwise, it simply watching the weather, and off I go.
Over the years I have rummaged through numerous outdoor gear consignment shops, watched for sales at name-brand stores, and yes, I have bought full price. Whatever your budget, it’s attainable, and once purchased it is an open door to getting outside.
WINTER TRAILS WE LOVE
Spruce Creek Trail Loop – Breckenridge, CO
Wild Basin, Ouzel Falls – RMNP, Allenspark, CO
Mayflower Gulch – Freemont Pass, CO
Davos Trail – Vail, CO
Emerald Lake – Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Baker’s Tank Trail – Breckenridge, CO, on Boreas Pass
Loch Vale – Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
North Ten Mile Creek Trail, Frisco, CO
CHOOSE A TRAIL – There are abundant trails in Colorado for winter hiking. When you pick a route, check out AllTrails App for your chosen path and read what others have said about conditions on previous days. It is where I go first then CHECK the WEATHER.
Note: Many of the links are affiliate links which means I receive a very small commission (at no added cost to you).
CHECK OUT THESE OUTDOOR SHOPS THAT SPECIALIZE IN THE OUTDOORS!