11 Cold Weather Hiking Hacks for Happier Winter Treks
Winter brings colder temperatures and shorter daylight hours. For some, these changes can cause a mean case of lethargy or even a bout of seasonal depression. One way to mitigate feeling blue this time of year is to prioritize meaningful movement in the outdoors. But what about that pesky chill? Well, you need some cold weather hiking hacks!
Being able to enjoy time outside during the winter months comes down to being prepared. You’ll want to make sure you have your cold weather layering technique down to keep warm. You’ll also want to take some time to think about which trails you’d like to explore. Additionally, there are some tricks you can employ while you’re out there to make for a more enjoyable experience—and that’s exactly what we’ll cover in this article.
Below, we’ll cover how to learn new cold weather hiking hacks, types of cold weather hiking hacks, and 11 cold weather hiking hacks to get you started. So, bundle up, and let’s dive in!
How to Learn New Cold Weather Hiking Hacks
If you’re newer to cold weather hiking, it can feel a bit intimidating. And, even if you’ve been doing it for years, you might be interested in finding new cold weather hiking hacks to improve your experience. But, where do you look?
Welp, doing a little of that good old-fashioned internet research is always a nice starting point—hey, hi there, we’re glad you’re here! In addition to this article, you can find all sorts of trail stories, tips, and tricks from fellow hikers on Gossamer Gear’s Light Feet blog.
But there are also other resources to consider, including:
- Online Communities: There are many Facebook groups, Reddit threads, and other online forums where hikers swap cold weather tips and tricks.
- Reading Materials: There are some great books out there with cold weather hiking hacks and other trail tips and tricks. You can find ideas in books specific to particular trails, like Sirena Rana’s Best Day Hikes on the Arizona National Scenic Trail, or broader adventure companions like Adventure Ready: A Hiker’s Guide to Planning, Training, & Resiliency by Katie Gerber and Heather Anderson.
- Personal Connections: Have a friend who loves hiking in the snow? What about a friend of a friend? Make personal connections with other hikers looking to get outside during the winter and swap ideas. Maybe even plan a trip together—yay, three cheers for movement outside and social connection, what a winning combo!
- On-Trail Experience: Nothing quite beats learning as you go. Start with some shorter winter hiking trips and take notes on the adjustments you make along the way that improve your experience.
Types of Cold Weather Hiking Hacks
Talking about trail “hacks” is a bit vague. It helps to understand why you might want to learn some more cold weather hiking hacks beyond the idea of being more comfortable.
Cold weather hiking hacks are tips and tricks that can cover several different categories. For example, some cold weather hiking hacks may help:
- Extend the life of your gear
- Keep your pack as light as possible while carrying a heavier winter load
- Maintain your warmth while on trail
- Improve your sleep when backpacking
- Prepare for unexpected winter conditions
11 Cold Weather Hiking Hacks to Improve Your Winter Adventures
Now that you know a few places to look for cold weather hiking hacks in the future and what types of trail needs they can help with, let’s cover 11 cold weather hiking hacks to get you started. To do this, we took our own advice and asked around for ideas!
The cold weather hiking hacks below are thanks to our Gossamer Gear community, including our adventurous brand ambassadors who shared their best cold weather hiking hacks for you to give a try this year.
1. Extend the life of your hand or foot warmers.
If you don't need chemical hand or foot warmers for their full duration, put them in a plastic bag and compress as much air out as possible. When they’re oxygen starved, they deactivate. To use them again, just take them out of the bag and give them another shake to rewarm. (From Nancy East)
2. Protect your water filter.
If you're hiking in temperatures well below freezing and need to keep a hollow fiber membrane water filter (e.g., Sawyer Squeeze) warm to prevent it from freezing, put it next to a chemical hand warmer in your pack. (From Nancy East)
3. Go pee if you need to go pee.
Dehydration is a common contributing factor to hypothermia. If you sleep cold, make sure you’re hydrated before crawling in your sleeping bag. Also, your body has to work hard to keep urine warm. If you’ve ever felt like you need to pee more often when you’re cold, it’s your body’s not-so-subtle hint that it wants you to eliminate the urine that it’s wasting energy keeping warm for you. (From Nancy East)
4. Use your pack for added sleep comfort.
Sleep with your pack underneath your feet. It elevates your legs, which helps to prevent soreness the following morning from your long hike due to lactic acid build-up. It also adds an extra layer for “insulation” between your body and the ground. (From Michelle Zhang)
5. Increase the effectiveness of your sleeping pad.
To increase the R-value of your sleeping system, bring a Gossamer Gear thinlight foam pad as your back panel and use it under your inflatable air mattress to have a warmer sleep at night. (From Steven Shattuck)
6. Be prepared with a dry, warm layer during breaks.
It’s nearly impossible to not sweat if you’re exerting yourself with a winter climb, but try to have a layer handy to change into quickly whenever you take a break, especially for your upper body. Drying off and getting wet layers off will help you stay warmer while on a break. This is especially useful when stopping for a full night. (From Steven Shattuck)
7. Reuse your old socks.
When a pair of socks wears out, cut the cuff off and use it to cover the wrist gap between gloves and shirtsleeves. This works best with wool socks. (From Heather Anderson)
8. Be prepared to start a fire.
Carry a plastic baggie of cotton balls coated in a generous amount of petroleum jelly. You can use these to start a fire for warmth, even in wet conditions. (From Kathy Vaughan)
9. Remember to pack your scarf.
Carry an extra wool scarf. They are a lightweight addition to your pack that can be used in many ways. They can be wrapped around your neck and tucked into your coat, which can feel like wearing a blanket. You can also use one as a headwrap for sleeping in a tent in cold weather, a lap blanket for taking a trail break, a barrier from the snow to sit on for a trail break, or an extra wrap for your feet in a sleeping bag. (From Kathy Vaughan)
10. Preserve warmth in your feet.
If you are camping and traveling on snow and you only have thin-soled trailrunners on, consider standing on a closed cell foam pad while packing up your bag, taking a break, or hanging out at camp. This will insulate your feet from the cold snow and save some of the warmth that you have built up for when you need it. (From Jeff Podmayer)
11. Make your water bottle work for you.
If you bring a mini Nalgene bottle with you as a mug or extra water container, you can use that as a little heater. Boil water, pour it in, and make sure it is closed tight. Stick it in your jacket for warmth; let it sit in your sleeping bag to pre-warm it before you get in; or hold it between your legs, in between your armpits, or on your stomach to help you stay warm on a particularly cold night. Beware, though, to not pour boiling hot water into a thin, one-use water bottle like a Smartwater bottle. There is potential it may explode from the heat and cause a burn injury—yikes! Make sure to only use a hard-sided plastic water bottle that can effectively hold boiling water. (From Jeff Podmayer—and seconded by many others!)
Use Cold Weather Hiking Hacks to Stay Outdoors Longer
Winter can be a hard time for many, but finding ways to keep your outdoor adventures going throughout the chilly months can help keep your spirits up. We hope you are able to use some of these cold weather hiking hacks to have some fun outside this winter!
Hungry for more trail tips and stories? Check out some of our other articles on the Light Feet blog:
- Cold Weather Layering for Hikers: The Ultimate How-To Guide
- Post-Trail Depression: You're Not Alone and There’s Help
- Peeing in the Woods With Help From Your Pelvic Floor
- How to Take Care of Your Gear Post-Hike (And Get Motivated to Do It)
- 8 Tips & Tricks for Solo Hiking Trips
- Hydration 101: Your Guide to Water While Hiking
And, if you’re looking for a super stylish beanie for keeping your noggin’ warm, make sure to snag a Gossamer Gear beanie for your chilly hikes ahead!