Winter is upon us – no more leaves on the trees and we have enjoyed our first snow of the season. As winter is officially approaching, some may take one look at snowy trails and pack away their hiking boots until spring. Think again though! Hiking can be a year round activity! Yes, that's right all year long you can enjoy being out on the trails as long as you're prepared. Winter hiking poses a unique challenge that will test you in ways the other seasons don't. Read on to learn some basics on how to have fun winter hiking!
What to Wear
Winter in Boulder varies drastically! Winter weather can mean 60 degrees and sunny or it can mean 0 degrees, snowing and high wind. Don't forget that weather in town is often drastically different from the weather out on the blustery plains or up at higher elevation. When preparing for a winter hike on the front range, it’s wise to be prepared for any variety of conditions. While this list of items may seem fairly obvious, it is important to review it. Unfortunately every year winter hikers find themselves in perilous situations because they went out onto the trails unprepared for the rapidly changing weather conditions.
- Lightweight and mid-weight layers made of breathable, wicking material
- Waterproof outer layer that is easy to move in and easy to pack away, if need be
- Warm socks – I prefer wool
- Waterproof or water-resistant hiking shoes or boots
- Hat and gloves or other head covering gear
- Winter foot traction or snowshoes (depending on terrain) – such as Yak Trax, ICEtrekkers, STABILicers, etc.
Of particular importance on this list is winter foot traction! Winter trails can be snowy, icy, muddy, or a combination of all three which tends to be the greatest challenge in winter hiking. I suggest you invest in at least two pairs of foot traction for slippery trails. Why two pairs when you only have one pair of feet? Well, what if the pair you're wearing breaks on a hike? You'll be super thankful to have that back-up pair. Also, different types of traction work for varying conditions. Simple chains are ideal for mixed conditions on flat or rolling trails. For steeper trails with snow and ice, you'll enjoy having spikes or crampons. If you want to live to see the next season, remember safety comes first. Be smart. Don’t skimp on these essentials!
What to Bring
Often I find hikers out on the trail without the bare essentials for an unexpected situation or even a delay in the length of their hike. In summer, you can get away with a simple bottle of water. However, in winter it is much more crucial to go out prepared with a few key items for comfort and safety. It doesn't matter if you're only planning a short jaunt or daylong trek, remember the old adage, “Better safe than sorry!” Here's a basic list to get you going:
- Plenty of water and snacks, as needed (I also have a freeze resistant water container for those really cold days)
- Extra pair of socks
- Extra pair of foot traction
- Fully-charged cell phone with weather app
- Water and other supplies for your pet/kid(s), if they are joining you
- A map of the area
- Trekking poles for balance and stability (optional and a very personal preference, but come in handy for support if you're tired, injured or it's slippery)
- A hiking partner (recommended)
I know that some of you prefer to hike alone, but in winter it really is more about safety. Consider a buddy especially if you'll be far out in the backcountry or on a daylong trek.
What to Do
Beyond what to wear and bring with you, winter trails can be treacherous with unpredictable weather. You need to be prepared to react accordingly. Before and during your hike, you’ll want to be mindful of the following:
- ALWAYS let someone know where you’re hiking and when you plan to return (even if you’re with a buddy)
- Be mindful of the conditions for your pet and if it's too much, leave them at home. Think about if their presence will compromise your ability to look after yourself or them. (Don't forget the off-leash dog rules with the new Voice and Sight program.)
- Be alert to weather conditions and the potential for storms or rapidly changing conditions
- Check online for any seasonal or weather-related trail closures
Where to Go
With 145 miles of open space trails, City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks offers quite the outdoor playground all year long. Most of these trails are accessible year round. Some are more challenging hikes and some are gentle and great for families or shorter time frames. With the plentiful Colorado sunshine, the possibilities are endless. With preparedness, winter hiking in Boulder can be a wonderful treat and a great way to stay fit throughout the season. Happy trails to you!
Where are you planning on hiking this winter? Let us know in the comments.