By Lucy Higgins • November 11, 2022
Winter is coming. Here’s how to still hit the trails and make the most out of the season.
It’s that awkward time of year—the leaves have fallen and, in most places, we’re still waiting for snow to follow suit. But even when the trails get buried over the next couple of months, there’s no reason to plan out your hibernation. While it can seem daunting to still venture out in winter, the season offers some of the best access to parks, trails, and exploration. Here’s how to get out and stay out this upcoming season.
Dress to Impress
The first step for getting on trail this winter starts at the closet. And surprisingly, layering is a game of quality, not quantity. The fabric you choose to dress in has a huge impact on how warm—and cool—you stay while getting active in cold temperatures. Consider materials that are both warm and wick away sweat, like merino wool and fleece, as baselayers and midlayers. The last thing you’ll want after a long trek of breaking trail is for sweat to dry and freeze, lowing your body temperature. A water-resistant outer layer for your hardshell and pants is just as important to dispel the elements. On extra cold days, a down or synthetic insulation layer tucked under a hardshell can add extra hours of time on piste.
Pack It Up
A carefully curated pack is always important on the trail. In the winter, stakes are elevated, given the cold conditions you’ll be dealing with. A first-aid-kit and extra dry layers stored in a waterproof bag are paramount. Equally important: extra batteries for a sat phone/GPS and extra calorie-dense snacks. Be mindful to store your phone on your body close to your skin so it doesn’t get cold and shut off; and store water in a spot in your pack where it’s both easily accessible and not going to freeze—close to your back is a good choice.
Do Your Homework
You’re kitted up and the bag’s packed just right. Now what? Knowing where you’re going, forwards and backwards. Winter is no time for improvised excursions; cold temperatures and changing weather patterns provide too much risk to wing it.
An easy way to get your mind wrapped around potential conditions is to begin checking the weather every day. Storms and winter weather events can easily compound upon each other, and knowing past conditions can be crucial for understanding where to go, when, and for how long. If you’re traveling into, near, or around avalanche terrain, this is non-negotiable. Understanding the past, present and forecasted weather and the avalanche forecast and rating can quite literally save your or a friend’s life. Begin reading your local avalanche forecasts and reports as soon as possible, and if you have questions about what you’re seeing, ask a professional at the avalanche center. If anything raises a red flag, it’s always a good idea to err on the side of safety and pick a different, lower angle zone to venture into.
On a more granular level, read up and ask around about the specific trail you’re headed to. Some parks, forests, and regions are specifically for non-motorized use, others offer over-the-snow motorized access—which is mainly utilized by snowmobilers. Consider what you’re hoping to get out of your time on the trail, and choose accordingly: If you’re hoping for a quiet snowshoe, for example, we’d suggest shying away from a trail near a popular snowmobile area.
Once you’ve focused in on the trail you’re heading to, it’s important to note how long it will take to navigate the terrain and trail. If you’re basing your time estimate off of a summer or spring excursion, be sure to tack on a sizable amount of extra time to your calculation. Wading through snow or slippery conditions can considerably slow down a winter excursion. Compare this adjusted outing time with the amount of daylight you’ll have—shorter days doesn’t necessarily have to mean shorter trips, but it does mean bringing a headlamp (and extra batteries) and reflective outerwear just in case.
In researching the trail, it’s also important to factor in the best equipment to get safely out and back. Maybe it’s a rolling trail through untracked snow—classic skis may be your best bet. Headed up a somewhat rocky and icy section? Better throw some crampons or spikes into your pack. Winter outings can call for anything from hiking boots and poles to snowshoes, cross-country or backcountry skis, and having the right footwear and equipment will make the difference between a delightful day in nature and a sufferfest.
Hit Up the Hygge
Sometimes, the best part of getting out is coming back home. A dose of cold, fresh air makes the couch all that more cozy, and gives you a chance to rest up…before heading back out for more tomorrow.