6 Winter Hiking Mistakes to Avoid (and what to do instead)

The winter is a beautiful time to go for a hike, but there are certainly some winter hiking mistakes to avoid! In this post, I’m sharing my top tips for winter hiking, and the common mistakes to avoid.

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four people hiking in the winter snow

In the winter, not only are there fewer people on the trails, but the snow-covered trees and mountainsides are an incredible sight. Everything seems to be quieter, and it’s a perfect way to get some fresh air and sunshine during the colder darker months of the year. Let’s dive into the tips!

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snowy landscape with one person snowshoeing

Winter Hiking Mistakes to Avoid

1) Not dressing properly

Hypothermia is when you have an abnormally low body temperature, and it’s one of the biggest concerns I have when hiking in the winter.

Hypothermia can be life-threatening. While it often occurs at very cold temperatures, it can occur in cool temperatures above 40°F if you’re wet or sweaty.

That’s why I want to make sure I dress properly for winter hiking.

Simply put, I choose moisture-wicking clothing and I dress in layers.

As I mentioned, hypothermia can occur more easily when you’re wet and sweaty. Wearing moisture-wicking clothing such as wool will help you stay dry.

In addition, dressing in layers will allow you to quickly and easily adjust as you get hot or cold.

This ability to adjust is key.

In other words, I never go on a winter hike with a thick down jacket and a t-shirt underneath. Then I only have 2 options: really cold, or really hot. That’s kind of an extreme example, but you hopefully get my point.

Believe it or not, it’s actually not that hard to get hot while hiking in the winter. Having appropriate layers for your activity will help you adjust as needed so you can maintain a comfortable temperature.

day hiking in the winter months

2) Letting your water freeze

Mistake #2 is all about water for hiking.

If you use a water reservoir as I do, the water inside the hose can and does freeze. Once it’s frozen, it’s difficult to thaw it on your hike making it hard to drink water.

To prevent hose freezing you can:

Lastly, if you carry a water filter, beware that you must not let it freeze!! This is really important.

If you leave your water filter in your backpack, depending on the weather, it might freeze and will need to be replaced.

Freezing ruins the filter (because water expands as it freezes) so if you’re carrying one, make sure to put it in a pocket close to your body so it can stay warm.

Most of the time, I leave my filter at home and simply melt and boil snow. I like to carry a small backpacking stove and some fuel, so this is a nice option if I need more water on the hike.

girl hiking in the winter with a backpack

3) Not packing enough high-calorie snacks

I’ve noticed that I tend to eat a lot more on cold winter hikes.

In the cold, it takes a lot of energy and resources for your body to keep you warm.

Make sure you pack enough high-calorie hiking snacks to keep your energy levels up!

In addition to snacks, I love to pack a small backpacking stove with fuel to make some hot cocoa or instant coffee during the hike.

Having something warm to drink is so nice on a cold day!

four people hiking through the trees in the winter

4) Not packing emergency and survival gear

This mistake is probably one of the most common winter hiking mistakes.

What if something happens on your hike and you need to stay out longer than expected?

What if you have to stay out overnight?

These are not fun scenarios to imagine, but it’s so important to be prepared and pack survival gear in case things go wrong.

Specifically what you pack can depend on personal preference, skills, and specific outdoor conditions, but these are the general categories to be thinking about:

  • extra clothes
  • extra food
  • extra water
  • illuminationsuch as a headlamp with extra batteries
  • firesuch as a Ferro rod, lighter, waterproof matches, and/or tinder and striker kit
  • sun protectiondon’t forget about protection for your eyes! The sun reflecting off the snow can be harsh.
  • emergency shelterI always carry at least a small emergency blanket
  • first aid
  • knife/multi-tool
  • navigationmap, compass, GPS
  • signalingsignaling mirror, Garmin InReach

Your safety outdoors is really important, so taking the time to make a plan and pack the right gear is crucial.

mountain landscape with snow

5) Not checking current conditions

Does your trail access or travel through potential avalanche terrain?

This is a serious concern when hiking in the winter.

Make sure you do research on current conditions and any local avalanche warnings before you head out. You can even take avalanche safety training to be more prepared and aware.

Just because you hike on a trail in the summer, does not automatically mean that it’s a safe place to hike in the winter.

sunset over the mountains in winter

6) Not turning around soon enough

My last winter hiking mistake to avoid is simply not turning around soon enough.

Turn around if the conditions are more intense than you’re comfortable with.

Don’t get so fixated on getting to the end destination that you put yourself in a bad situation.

Along those lines, make sure you’re mindful of the time!

The days are so much shorter in the winter and likely, your hiking pace will be a lot slower in the snow. Make sure you factor all of these things into when you turn around.

Be mindful and plan appropriately so you have enough time to get home.

women and a dog hiking in the snow

Hiking in the winter is an amazing experience!

With proper planning and awareness, you will set yourself up for a fun and safe winter outdoor adventure.

I hope you found this post helpful. If you have any questions, please comment below!

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