Winter hiking can be a beautiful and invigorating experience, but it also requires some extra preparation to ensure that you stay warm and safe. Here are some essential items to pack for a winter day hike.
Layering is key for staying warm in cold weather. Start with a moisture-wicking base layer, add a mid-layer for insulation, and finish with a waterproof and windproof outer layer. For both the base layer and mid-layer we prefer wool for its temperature regulating and moisture wicking abilities, and Smartwool has some great options.
Also don’t forget about warm socks, gloves, and a hat to protect your extremities from the cold.
Make sure to wear sturdy, waterproof boots with good traction. Crampons or slip-on traction cleats like Yaktrax can also be helpful for traversing icy or snowy terrain. If you’re heading out into the snow, snowshoes will be needed depending on the depth. Crescent Moon has a wide range of snowshoe options, including EVA foam snowshoes that are lightweight and easy to bring along.
Bring a map and compass, and know how to use them. A GPS device or a trail app on your phone can also be helpful, but don’t rely on it as your sole means of navigation. And, if you are using your phone, be sure to download the trail or map before heading out in case you lose service.
In Colorado, Colorado Trail Explorer (COTREX) is an app managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and has extensive coverage of trail networks within the state. You can view the maps in your browser or by downloading the app.
Pack a small first aid kit, a whistle, and a headlamp with extra batteries. Bringing a fire starter and a small amount of food in case of an emergency is also helpful, and food is always recommended, no matter the length of the hike.
While not a navigation device, something like Garmin’s InReach is also nice to have in case of an emergency. You’ll be able to text friends and family through the device and its satellite network and if things do go wrong, there is SOS capability that will dispatch search and rescue to find you.
Water and Hydration
It’s important to stay hydrated even in the winter as there’s a common misconception that you can’t get as dehydrated in the winter. Bring enough water for the duration of your hike and a way to purify any additional water you may find along the way in case you run out. It’s also helpful to have a hydration mix like Skratch that you can put in your water to replace lost electrolytes. One other thing to keep in mind is that water can freeze quickly in cold temperatures, so an insulated water bottle or hydration system can keep your water from freezing.
Even on a cloudy day, the sun’s rays can reflect off the snow and cause sunburn. Bring sunscreen, lip balm, and sunglasses or goggles to protect your skin and eyes.
Extra Batteries or Charging Device
Cold temperatures can drain batteries quickly, so it’s a good idea to bring extra batteries or a charging device for your electronic devices.
Winter hiking can be challenging, specially on snowy and icy terrain, trekking poles can provide extra stability and support.
By following these simple tips and packing some winter hiking essentials, you’ll be well-prepared for a winter day hike and able to enjoy the beauty of the wilderness safely and comfortably. Remember to always check the weather forecast and trail conditions before heading out and let someone know your plans and expected return time, even if you are hiking with a group.
If you’re ready to get out there, here are some of our favorite winter hikes within 2 hours of Denver.