Hiking much this winter?
If not, it’s time to start! The hills are green, it’s nice and cool, the creeks are flowing, there are fewer people on the trails and the air is fresh with the smell of recent rains. It’s one of the best times of year to get outside in my opinion.
The only bummer is it can get cold and wet. And, I don’t know about you, but getting hypothermia never really appealed to me. I just never got into it. I like being comfortable—having feeling in my fingers and toes, that’s more my style. And I’m here to assure you that you don’t have to suffer either. Don’t do it.
Before you take to the trails, here are some tips on what to wear, how to stay warm and, dare I say it, enjoy yourself hiking this winter:
In this analogy, you, my friend, are the peanut (stick with me here). Surrounding you is a warm, thick layer of chocolate. The chocolate is your insulating layers—the lofty, soft, light-weight layers that create a warm cushion of air between you and the cold winter air. The more chocolate, the warmer the peanut.
The outside of a peanut M&M is the hard, candied shell, an impenetrable layer of goodness that protects the chocolate and, ultimately, a very special peanut. This is your waterproof layer, the final article of clothing layered on top to protect the rest.
Congratulations. You now have a very robust understanding of the important concept of “layering” and, most likely, a hankering for something sweet.
One thing that has taken me a while to learn is to choose layers that are easy to pack away. For a longest time, I was that guy who was cold in the parking lot and started hiking with a huge parka only to get hot ten minutes in and be forced to awkwardly carry the fifteen-pound heap of fabric for the entire hike. So, here’s a pro tip from the school of hard knocks: pack light layers that compress well, making them easy to stuff in your pack.
There’s a popular myth that most of our body heat is lost through our heads. Even though that myth was recently dispelled, I still think that keeping your head warm and dry is critical to maintaining a cheery disposition on the trail. There are so many options when it comes to hats and, to each his or her own in that department. All I’m saying is, mind your melon.
Let’s face it: your lower half is going to be doing most of the work out there and there’s nothing worse than an uncomfortable pair of pants on a long hike. Death by chafing? No thanks!
Find a pair of pants that you feel you can walk a long time in and still be comfortable. They don’t have to be a fancy, synthetic or even made by an outdoor company. They just need to be comfortable and warm.
When it’s dry, cotton is a terrific fabric—comfortable, warm and relatively lightweight. But when it gets wet it’s pretty useless for insulating and, since it absorbs water so well, it gets really heavy. So know what you’re getting into if you decide to wear that favorite pair of cotton jeans for a long hike on a wet day. Maybe pack a lightweight, synthetic pair of pants as back up? Maybe you risk it? Maybe you make an awesome pair of garbage bag pants and become the envy of everyone on the trail? Your call.
Plan to get your feet a little wet and muddy for your next winter hike. You can come prepared with some waterproof boots (something with some tread so you don’t slip), but if you don’t own any, don’t let that deter you. Again, wear what’s comfortable and what you have. It’s ok to get your feet a little wet, especially if your socks aren’t cotton and will keep you warm once wet. You can also pack some thick, dry socks to put on as soon as you get back to the car. Ahhh.
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