Tips for hiking in winter

Tips for hiking in winter

Hiking is a great low-impact activity (as long as you stay on the trails and take your litter with you!). It can be done all year round, but there’s a few extra things to consider when the temperatures are lower. Stay on this page to read all about my (beginner) tips for hiking in winter. Of course, these also apply on cold days in autumn and early spring. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for a summary. And please let me know if you find this article helpful.

The benefits of hiking in winter

You might be wondering: why would I go outside when it’s cold (and wet)?! Let me explain some of the reasons why I love a good winter hike. First, I think the low sun in cold air makes for stunning views! I would argue some places look much prettier in winter compared to when the sun is shining full blast in summer. Especially when there is snow or frost, the landscape has just magical. Another big advantage is that the trails are so much quieter. Lastly, as the dark winter can be a bit depressing, I like to make the most out of the daylight hours by going outside.


Public transportation

Now let’s dive into my actual tips for hiking in winter. If you’re taking public transport, keep in mind that there may be a reduced number of trains/buses at off-peak times. Some public transport providers even run a winter schedule with less frequent options. So, make sure to plan your hike in such a way that you won’t have to wait several hours for the next train/bus when you’re done. In countries that are not well-accustomed to snow or other ‘extreme’ weather, cancellations are also more likely.


If you plan on going to your chosen trail by car, parking is likely to be less of an issue compared to summertime. On the other hand, the more remote your hiking destination is, the less well-maintained the roads might be. Whereas city roads are often cleared from snow and ice, smaller rural roads might not be. Avoid becoming stuck by getting winter tires and checking road conditions in advance. And as the sub-heading for this paragraph suggests: only go by car if you’re with multiple people in terms of sustainability.

Plan a realistic route

Daylight hours

In winter, you might not be able to hike as far as you’re used to in summer. This is probably my number one winter hiking tip! As there are less hours of daylight, a full day hike should be shorter when the days are shorter, too. I’ve made the mistake of going on a summer-length hike in december, and it meant the descent had to be done in the dark. Hiking in the dark is fine if you’re prepared for it and brought a headlamp, but I wasn’t. So try to be realistic and opt for a shorter route. In addition, if there is a strong wind, choose a route with less altitude so you’re more sheltered.

Meeting other people

Because popular trails will be quieter in winter, this is the perfect time of year to explore them. If you don’t want to be all on your own in the middle of some hills or mountains, the popular routes are still the places where you have the highest chance to come across other hikers. For those who do not want to see other people, doing a more challenging or less known hike maximises the likelihood of solitude.

General safety

Adding to the previous point about meeting other hikers (or not), definitely bring your phone in case something happens. In case of an emergency, you are less likely to be found by other people, and you cannot survive as long when it’s cold. It’s also always a good idea to tell someone where you going and how long you plan to be hiking. Or if you want to take it a step further, share your GPS location with someone as the ultimate safety measure. To deal with battery issues, you’ll want to have a powerbank in your backpack at all times. And as an altogether back-up for your phone, bringing a map is essential! As long as you know how to read it…

Staying warm and dry

Wearing multiple layers

The first tip concerning warmth is a no-brainer: wear extra layers! I get cold quite quickly, so for winter hikes I usually start with a base layer. This can be a t-shirt with either short or long sleeves. The most important feature of the base layer is that it absorbs sweat, so the moisture doesn’t stick to your skin to cool you down when you take a break from walking. Cotton is a good fabric for soaking up some sweat, unlike nylon and polyester. Next up, I pick one of my thick jumpers. You can choose to wear an insulated hiking jumper, but a normal one will be fine, too. The fabric doesn’t matter too much in my experience. On top, I wear a double jacket: it has a warm inner layer, and a waterproof layer on the outside. These two layers can be detached and worn seperately. But as long as your jacket keeps you both warm and dry, you’ll be fine.

Good preparation

In terms of trousers, I typically only wear leggings. When I’m expecting rain, I might bring an extra waterproof layer with me. What’s more important in my opinion are gloves and a hat. When the temperatures are really low, you can even opt for two pairs of gloves: thin running ones, and thick ones that are snow-proof. In terms of shoes, make sure they are waterproof! If you are in doubt whether your hiking boots are fully waterproof or if your feet often get cold, try putting plastic bags over your socks as you put your shoes on. Another thing you really shouldn’t forget to bring is a rain cover for your rucksack.

During the hike

If you find yourself getting cold during the hike, try picking up the pace. Moving really helps to stay warm. Only take short breaks and try to find some shelter from the elements when you need to eat or rest for a bit. Sit behind a boulder or find some trees for a bit of cover. Though with the right clothes, you really shouldn’t be cold. If anything, you should be getting warm from the exercise!

Food and drinks

The last of my tips for hiking in winter concerns food and drinks. Don’t forget to drink! You might not notice being thirsty due to the cold, but it’s important to stay hydrated nevertheless. It might help to bring a warm drink, or keep room temperature water in an insulated bottle. I personally don’t really like super cold water on an already cold day. The same is true for food: something warm might be nice. I’d also recommend bringing food that you can eat rather quickly, with cutlery (so you don’t have to take your gloves off) and/or something that’s edible whilst walking. And some emergency snacks like (dried) fruits and granola bars are always a good idea for a sugar boost.

Most important tips

  • Don’t forget to wear a hat and waterproof layers, including a rain cover for your rucksack.
  • Bring warm food and drinks.
  • Plan your hike around public transport, as train/bus operators sometimes run a reduced schedule in winter.
  • Be realistic in terms of the length of your hike, as there are fewer daylight hours.
  • Let someone know where you’re going and bring a phone, a powerbank and a map.

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