How To Hiking Guide:
Staying Warm on Winter Hikes
Posted at 09:00 - 25th February - Sarah Booth
Whilst the sun is shining and the daffodils emerging, it's still cold out there, especially up in the mountains. There is a saying in the UK, that ‘there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad equipment’ so here’s some top tips on how to keep warm on those winter hikes.
Most body heat is lost from your core, so you need to protect this area and keep it warm, dry and well ventilated. The best way to achieve this is to follow the 3-Layer Rule, ensuring you are wearing a base, mid and outer layer.
Your base layer should be warm, breathable and designed to wick away moisture. The best materials for base layers are synthetic or merino wool, which keep your body cool if you sweat and warm when you cool down again! Avoid cotton base layers at all costs as they take a long time to dry and lose all insulating properties when wet.
Mid layers are all about retaining body heat. Think insulation and warmth. The best mid layers are made from duck/goose down or fleece.
Outer Layers should protect. A waterproof and windproof shell provides the perfect protective layer as long as they are well ventilated. Good ventilation ensures that sweat can escape as moisture vapour, rather than getting trapped under your jacket creating that clammy boil in the bag feeling!
Finally, take a spare set of clothing with you to put on after your hike. Nothing beats the feeling of fluffy socks and fleecy bottoms after a day in the hills.
2) Protect your Extremities
8% of body heat is lost from our head, fingers and toes, so we need to make sure we protect our extremities. Hats are a great way of regulating heat as you can take them on and off throughout your hike. Your hands should be protected by wearing a breathable lining under a waterproof glove shell but make sure they aren’t too tight as this will restrict your circulation. Similarly your feet should be able to breath! Don’t smother them in numerous pairs of socks and make sure you don’t tie the laces of your boots too tight.
3) Food and Drink
Perhaps the most fun part of hiking preparation is planning your food and drink consumption! Whilst there will be little opportunity to stop for a leisurely picnic, fuelling your body is absolutely imperative during winter hikes. Your body requires more calories for energy – not only is it powering you to the top of a mountain, it’s also keeping you warm in the process. Pack lots of high-energy foods that you can snack on throughout the day such as nuts, dried fruit, bread, flapjacks and hot soups.
In terms of fluids, the cold dehydrates your body faster, and you run the risk of not feeling thirsty because it's cold. It is vital that you drink little and often staying on top of your hydration needs without relying on body signals of thirst – if you wait for these, it’s already too late. If the thought of drinking cold water gives you chills, fill your bottles with a mixture of hot water from the kettle and cold water from the tap, or one of our favourites is hot water with fresh lemon and half a teaspoon of sugar!
4) Safety, safety, safety!
Before you set off, make sure you are prepared for every eventuality. Check a detailed weather report – XCWeather is a great website - know your route, and tell someone where you are going and what time you expect to be back.
Finally, if the weather turns (which it can do very quickly in the UK) don’t be a hero. There is nothing weak about turning back – the mountain will still be there the following day, you just need to make sure that you are too.