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The Essential Winter Hiking Checklist

June 02, 2017
The Essential Winter Hiking Checklist

Hiking can be loads of fun in winter – there’s something really special about walking along a misty track with no one else around. However, if you’re going to head out in the cold, you need to be sure you’re prepared for the conditions.

We’ve compiled a helpful packing list for anyone who is relatively new to the world of winter hiking. Bear in mind this list is just a rough guide. Depending on your location, you may need to add or remove items to suit your planned route.

Backpack

Your backpack is one of the most important pieces of equipment you can take with you into the outdoors. It is going to carry everything else for you, so it’s a good idea to get one that is comfortable, light and the right size for the job.

Especially in the winter months, consider water resistant fabrics so that spare jumper stays nice and dry.

Clothing

Hiking in winter demands that you wear the right clothing. Hypothermia is a very real risk if you don’t take the proper precautions. It’s a good idea to wear multiple layers of clothing that you can remove and add easily to allow for changes in your core temperature as you hike.

Essential winter clothing items include:

  • Boots - Sturdy hiking boots can mean the difference between an enjoyable hike and a miserable trudge. They are designed to keep your feet warm and dry, but also breathe so your feet don’t get too sweaty. Arch and ankle support as well as solid toe construction aids with the climb and protects you from tumbling rocks or the occasional misplaced step. See our blog How to Choose the Best Hiking Boots for You for a detailed guide.

  • Thermal underclothes - Designed specifically to keep you warm and to absorb sweat to help keep your skin dry. Thermals should be worn on your upper and lower body.

  • Fleece/woollen jumper - Either a synthetic or wool jumper is key as they are light but incredibly warm.

  • Hooded waterproof/windproof outer shell- There is a great range of hiking jackets available. They are designed to be light, compact and usually water resistant so they keep you warm and dry but can be easily rolled up and packed away if you heat up along the track.

  • Convertible pants - Hiking pants are usually constructed from breathable yet water resistant material. Even if it’s not raining, moisture on leaves and bushes can leave jeans and the like soggy, heavy and cold. It’s worth considering a pair of hiking pants that are light weight, allow for easy movement and zip off at the knee if you want to cool down.

  • Socks (x2) - Keep a couple of pairs of socks with you of different thicknesses so that you can change them if they get sweaty or if your feet get too hot. A good pair of thick woollen socks and a lighter pair of breathable liner socks is a good combo. Look after your feet on the trail and they’ll get you there and back again.

  • Gloves - If you are planning on hiking in alpine regions, a pair of ski gloves could be necessary on your adventure. Otherwise, a sturdy pair of woollen/synthetic gloves will get you through most situations keeping your extremities warm. Remember your hands, feet and head feel the cold first, and walking along with your hands in your pockets is awkward to say the least.

  • Sunglasses - It’s not always gloomy in winter – indeed conditions can get downright glary. Keep a pair of sunnies in your pack, especially if you are planning on hiking near snow which intensifies the sun’s rays.

Hiking through the mountains in winter


Accessories

There are a few essentials you should always keep in your daypack when hitting the trail.

  • Pocket knife/multi-tool - There is a good chance you won’t need one of these, but they can be invaluable if you have trouble with gear, or need to build a temporary shelter. They’re light and take up hardly any room in your pack – and if you do need it, you’ll be mighty glad you’ve got it.

  • Waterproof matches - These are great for starting fires in damp conditions. Alternatively, if you want to feel like a hard-core survivalist, try using a flint and steel. Just be sure, when lighting fires you are doing so legally. Check the restrictions along your trail and abide by them at all times – or you might find yourself in trouble with the ranger.

  • Hiking poles - Although they are not essential, a lot of people use them once and never go back. Providing balance over uneven terrain or on narrow trails, hiking poles also have built-in suspension that helps take weight off your back and legs as you climb and descend the terrain along the trail.

  • Thermos - Take a hot drink with you! A cup of tea, hot chocolate or coffee is not only delicious but can give your spirits that much needed boost when it gets really cold.

  • Torch - It’s a good idea to take a torch or headlamp along with you even if you don’t plan on being out after dark. Night can descend quickly with the shorter winter days, and the last thing you want is to be left stumbling down the track in the dark.

  • Camera - If you want your hike to be one to remember, be sure to bring your camera to record your adventures.

Safety

  • First aid kit - Make sure you have a complete first aid kit with you at all times. Accidents can happen when you are hiking on uneven terrain so be sure you have what you need to look after yourself, or your friends and family, until help arrives.

  • Sunscreen - Look after your skin, you might be in the sun for hours at a time depending on where you are hiking.

  • Water - Take plenty of water with you and drink often. When it’s cold we often don’t realise just how much we are sweating and have a tendency to neglect our hydration levels. Some packs such as ‘Camelbaks’ have hydration units installed for ease of use and are perfect for hiking.

  • Food- Keep your energy levels high by eating small amounts often. Foods high in carbohydrates are great and a bit of sugar never hurts for that added boost (you’re burning it off anyway). Scroggin or trail mix is a delicious mix of nuts, dried fruit and chocolate: an excellent combination of fats, carbs and sugars.

  • Rope - You never know when you might need some rope: string up a temporary shelter, or tie a safety line between you and your buddy if things get really steep.

Environment

  • Rubbish bag - There’s nothing worse than hiking through the wilderness only to find rubbish someone has thoughtlessly dropped by the trail. Take out what you take in leaving no trace; that way the trails will be beautiful for years to come.

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