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Beginner’s Guide to Winter Hiking

Winter hiking is so rewarding, but the reward is not without much hard work. Fortunately, we’ve cut out some steps and Willow, our mountaineer, has written a guide as to how to get started winter hiking!

Rime covered Cairn on Moosilauke.

I have always loved hiking and I have always loved winter.  In my youth, I spent my days hiking in Acadia National Park, the Camden Hills, Western Maine, Baxter State Park and Vermont.  Despite my lifelong love for the mountains and love of winter, I always hiked in the spring, summer and fall, but hitting the high peaks in winter had never occurred to me.  The first year I was on Instagram, my feed started filling up with gorgeous shots of alpine snowfields, glistening trees coated in ice and endless layers of blue peaks, I felt like I had discovered a world that I never knew existed for regular, everyday adventurers.  

What gear do you need to get started winter hiking?

I knew I belonged out there too, but had no idea where to start.  What kind of gear would I need? Was I experienced enough to do it?  Could I solo hike in the winter?  After a first successful season hiking in winter, I am here to tell you that with a little research and a solid base of hiking experience, it can be done.

All of my winter gear lined up before my first winter hike.

Where do you start learning how to get started winter hiking?

  • Read every blog post and article you can find on the subject to learn more about the challenges and rewards of winter hiking.  
  • Study gear lists, and gear reviews to find the best equipment and clothing for all conditions- Look for great sales and coupons to double up on to save on items you need.  
    • Outdoor Gear Lab has great reviews on all kinds of products to help you get the best gear, for the best value.    
    • Active Junky is a great way to earn cashback on purchases from many outdoor retailers and get notified of sales and promotions.  Sign up is easy and the rewards are great. Use this link to get $10 cashback for setting up your account.  
  • Find tutorials on how to escape spruce traps, how to keep your water and food from freezing, and what essential gear you need in the event of an emergency.
  • Read Not Without Peril to instill a healthy sense of respect for the mountains and remember, they will always be there.  
  • Read the Maine and White Mountain Guides to familiarize yourself with trails and which are less accessible in winter.  Knowing which trails require a road walk in winter and which hikes are sheltered or exposed will help you adjust your plans with the weather. 
  • Familiarize yourself  with the various weather sources to get the best possible forecast for your trip. I like the National Weather Service because it allows you to pinpoint a location on the map and see the forecast for higher elevations.  It also has a detailed hourly breakdown with temperature, wind chill, wind speed, cloud cover and precipitation that will allow you to make the best decisions possible.   
Grey Jay on Jackson.

Take Action!

  • Hit some local trails to learn about what layering system works for you.  Check out your local hills to see how your body responds to different conditions and learn how to layer so you can regulate to avoid being too cold or too hot.  If you start sweating too early in your day, it may be hard to stay warm.  
  • Practice with your gear ahead of time- You don’t want to be fumbling with your crampons for the first time on an icy trail, in freezing temperatures.  
  • Talk to other experienced hikers about their experiences and study trail reviews to see what the conditions are like ahead of time. Let them teach you their tricks.  
  • Watch the weather like a hawk, look for the best possible conditions for the peaks on your list and know which peaks are better suited for a windy or snowy day.   

I will never forget my first breathtaking glimpse of the winter alpine zone, the contrast of the blue sky against the white trail was everything I had imagined it would be.  I knew that it was the start of a brilliant love affair with the high peaks in winter.  If you are interested in winter hiking, do not let your fear stand in your way because the bright days of winter lay ahead.  

Are you a winter hiker?  Do you have a favorite piece of gear or clothing for winter hiking? Comment below to share your tips and experiences. 

Happy winter!

Willow- @LoveMaine207