The Ultimate Guide To Hiking In Snow

When the days start to get cold and short, it is easy to lay low at home and hunker down for the winter. Even though all I want to do is lay underneath a blanket, I still manage to get outside and hike at least once a week in the winter. Hiking helps with my mental health, my strength, lowers my heart disease risk and significantly improves my mood. These are the reasons why I don’t mind hiking in snow. I feel revitalized the next day and ready to take on the world. So make sure you read up on hiking winter tips below. I talk all about safety, things to wear, gear, and much more! This blog post will help you get outside in those difficult months.

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Tips For Hiking In Snow

Snowy Mountain Hike at Mount Rainier National Park
  • Learn how to layer properly and stay as comfortable as possible. Make sure you are not sweating too much. Drenched clothes can lead to hypothermia.
  • Trust me when I say this, it is soooo much harder to hike in the snow than to hike in the summer. If you are a newbie, try a very easy flat, snowy trail. There is no shame in that. My first snowshoe hike was the easiest trail in Washington.
  • If you are located in the north, please note that it tends to get dark real quick. Here in Washington, it gets dark around 4 pm!
  • It is a lot more difficult to spot the trail in the winter than in the summer. This is especially true when it is snowing. I have been in a winter whiteout while backpacking, and the only way we were able to find our destination was by using a GPS tracker on my phone.
  • Talking about phones do not rely solely on phones. When we went winter backpacking during a whiteout, we had an extra battery, a map, compass, and my handy dandy Garmin Inreach. We were texting my mother in law the whole time. I also made sure to keep all these devices warm. They can easily malfunction if it is too cold. Keep them close to your body.
  • Eating helps keep you warm! You can bring some snacks you can munch on while on the trail.
  • If you need to pee, then pee. As weird as it sounds, your body is trying to keep your pee warm, and if you pee, it will divert the energy from the pee to your whole body. Pretty much an empty bladder will help keep you warm.
  • Drink tons of water! Dehydration helps with hypothermia.
  • Try to hike on sunny days.
  • Instead of a water bladder, bring a water bottle thermos. The hose in the water bladder might freeze, so water bottles are a great option. You can definitely heat warm drinks and put them in a thermos.

Winter Hiking Hazards And How To Hike Safely

Basic Tips On Winter Hiking For Beginners

A good example of what can be a tree well. Try not to get near trees that look like this.
  • Let people know where you are going. Tell them how long it should take you to finish the trail (add some extra time), and get them your license plate number.
  • Bring someone with you. I am all about solo hiking. I have done it many times myself, and I usually encourage people to do it. But when it comes to winter hiking, I really recommend going with someone. Winter hiking is a lot more difficult and dangerous than summer hiking.
  • Keep an eye on the weather. Trust me when I say this, hiking in a winter whiteout sucks!!! Even though I knew I was safe, it was still a terrifying thing to experience. Try to avoid this type of weather when winter hiking.
  • Come prepared and bring extra food, extra water, extra clothes in case of an emergency, and bring the 10 essentials.
  • Be wary of natural hazards like rivers that are covered by snow or frozen lakes and tree wells. If you don’t know what tree wells are, they are holes near trees that people get stuck in. As I said above, always try to hike with someone because if you are with a buddy, they can get you out. You can read more and see a graphic about tree wells here.

Avalanche Safety While Hiking Through Snow

Avalanche safety is critical when it comes to hiking in the winter. I feel like every one hiking in avalanche-prone states should at least take a beginner’s course. Don’t worry; most courses are free. REI holds a lot of classes here in Washington.

They don’t teach you everything, but they teach you how to spot avalanches and how to use avalanche websites to make the right decision.

People cause over 93% of avalanches, so you definitely need to be careful out there and try to avoid areas where the danger is great. The best way to do that? Stay on flat surfaces. Avalanches occur in areas that are more than 35-45 degrees angle. If you want to 100% avoid an avalanche, then hike on a flat trail. My first snowshoe trail was flat. No hills, and it was still stunning.

Another way to avoid avalanche-prone zones? Ask the locals! Many trails in Washington have snow but are not avalanche prone. Asking around on safe winter hiking trails is a great way to start.

I also take a look at the avalanche website to see how the conditions are. Spring is usually when the snow starts melting, so please avoid avalanche areas around this time.

Usually, high avalanche zones are for more advanced mountaineers who learned from a qualified instructor how to navigate these dangerous areas. Often, these more difficult winter hikes require an ice axe, avalanche shovel, beacon, and probe.

Sadly, even with this equipment, if an avalanche accident occurs, survival chances are slim. That is why it is so important to receive training! If you can spot an avalanche and avoid it entirely, you might save yourself and someone else’s life.

Please note that I have never received advanced avalanche training or intend to any time soon. I do avoid trails that have high avalanche risk or go on easy flat groomed trails. I also ask around on which trails are safe from avalanches in local Facebook groups.


Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat. To avoid getting Hypothermia while hiking in cold weather, prevent this:

  • Getting too wet/sweaty
  • Wearing improper hiking gear during cold temperatures
  • Dehydration or hunger
  • Drinking alcohol before a winter hike
  • Wearing cotton. I have seen someone get hypothermia that was wearing cotton.

Some of the symptoms include shivering, slow speech, low energy, slow breathing, and lack of coordination. It is imperative to know the symptoms of hypothermia before hiking in the cold. Read More About It Here.

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Layering While Hiking In The Snow

I was hot so I took off my jacket. A good example of how to layer properly. I have on a base layer and a sweater on top.

I know most people who grew up in the North know about layering, but it isn’t so straightforward for people like me who grew up in the south.

I know some people are probably reading this and rolling their eyes, but I truly had no idea how to layer properly when I first started hiking. So I know these tips will be helpful for someone out there.

First, let me say that layering is essential when it comes to winter hiking. It can help prevent hypothermia, and if you do it correctly, you will feel very comfortable when hiking in the winter. Not cold or hot.

So I recommend making sure you are as comfortable as possible throughout the hike. Take off a layer if you are hot, put on a layer if you are cold. Try to prevent yourself from sweating too much. If you are soaked in sweat, and it is freezing outside, guess what can happen? You can get hypothermia.

Layering is more crucial in the outdoors then when walking around in the city.

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Winter Hiking Gear And Clothes

10 Essentials

No matter what time of year it is, you should always bring your ten essentials. It is even more true in the winter. The ten essentials can potentially save your life in case you get lost. You never know if the weather turns into a whiteout, and you lose track of the trail. They include:

  • Extra Food
  • Extra Clothing
  • Emergency Shelter
  • Knife
  • Map/Compass
  • Water
  • First Aid Kit
  • Fire Starter and Matches
  • Headlamp Or Flashlight
  • Sun Protection (yes even in the winter)

Most of these items are in my backpack untouched. Luckily, I never had to use my emergency shelter (as expensive as it sounds, they are only about $7).

Read More About The Ten Essentials: Ultimate Guide On The Ten Essentials


A backpack is not part of the ten essentials officially, but it is just as important. How are you going to carry all this important gear that will save your life? Put them in your pockets? No! A backpack is the best way to carry them. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on backpacks either, as REI has some great-quality low-priced daypacks. If you are a more advanced hiker, then Osprey is a great choice. >>>Check Out this REI Backpack Here >>>Check Out This Osprey Backpack Here

Read More About Backpacks: The Ten Best Hiking Day Packs For Women

Water Bottle

As much as I love my water bladder, it is best to use a water bottle in the winter. There is a potential that your water bladder hose will freeze. I like to use Hydroflask in my adventures. >>>Check Them Out Here

Trekking Poles

Trekking poles help with balance on slippery areas and deep snow. >>>Check Out These Poles

Read More About Trekking Poles: The Ten Best Trekking Poles For Women


Arc’teryx Jacket as a top layer

You will need a base layer, mid-layer, insulated jacket, and a waterproof jacket for the top layers. I always wear my base layer and take off /on my mid-layer and insulated jacket as needed. I try to remain as comfortable as possible on the trail. Winter hiking is hard, so you will get hot!

When it comes to my waterproof jacket, I rarely wear it. I only wear it when it starts snowing, so it is always handy in my backpack. Rain jackets don’t have good ventilation, so I try not to wear them on the trail if I don’t have to. Skiers wear these jackets as a top layer all the time, but you have to remember that most skiers are constantly falling on the snow, so they need a waterproof jacket to prevent their whole outfit from being soaked. Here are my winter hiking go-to clothing:

  • Base Layers
  • Mid Layer
  • Insulated Jacket
  • Waterproof Jacket

Read More About Jackets: The Ten Best Women’s Hiking Jackets


My north Face Fleece Lined Leggings

What you need for the bottom of your winter gear are base layers, leggings, and hiking pants. I don’t always wear every single item on every hiking trail. I usually assess the weather situation and go from there. For example, if it is a sunny, warm day, I only wear my fleece-lined leggings but carry the other layers in my backpack. Or if it is snowing a lot, I wear all three layers.

The trick to winter hiking safely is to remain as comfortable as possible. Wearing too many layers and getting hot can be as dangerous as being too cold. You can check out my favorite gear below:

  • Base Layers
  • Fleece Lined Leggings
  • Hiking Pants


Gloves are so important when hiking in the winter. The trails can be slippery, and if you fall, you want to catch yourself easily. If you have your hands in your pockets for warmth while walking, you might be too late on catching your own fall. >>>Check Out These Gloves Here


I usually hike in the winter with a beanie. It not only looks cute but keeps me warm. It really does make a difference in staying warm. >>>Look At This Beanie Here


Hiking In Snow Boots: Oboz Bridger Insulated


Having some extra warm wool socks are best for hiking in the winter. I really recommend using wool socks for hiking any time of the year. They prevent blisters and are the most comfortable. I love the Smartwool extra thick socks because they keep my toes nice and warm. >>>Check Them Out Here


I also love using insulated hiking boots on my winter adventures. These boots do better with snow and ice more than regular hiking boots and keep your toes warm. I do feel like these are one of the last things you should buy for your winter gear. They are nice to have but not necessary because you can usually get away with regular hiking boots. It would be best if you still used crampons with snow boots. >>>Check My Favorite Out Here

Read More About Winter Boots: The Ten Best Women’s Winter Hiking Boots


Crampons are one of the first things you need to buy on this list. They help so much with slippery and icy trails. I don’t always use them on every trail, but they are always in my backpack in the winter. They are lightweight and small, so they are easy to carry around. >>>Check My Favorite Ones Here


Snowshoes are essential when the snow is pretty deep, and you start to sink. They help you comfortably hike in the winter. >>>Check Out My Snowshoes Here

Read More About What To Wear: What To Wear For Hiking In Winter

Final Thoughts On Hiking During Winter

So I hope this blog post helps you get outside in the winter! Winter hiking can seem uncomfortable, but it can be an enjoyable and warm time! Check out some of my other popular winter hiking post below:

  • Beginner Guide On Backpacking In The Snow
  • Best National Parks To Visit In The Winter
  • Winter Hiking Gear And Clothes
  • What To Wear Hiking In Winter
  • The 12 Mind-Blowing Health Benefits Of Hiking
  • Hiking Photography Tips And Tricks

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