5 Ways to Stay Warm While Hiking (or Sleeping) in Winter

The hills may have succumbed to their pre-winter brown and grey hues, but this has done nothing to hush the call of the wild in the ears of us who love the open trail! Here are a few of our favorite cold-weather tips to keep you warm as you explore.


Your body will need more fuel to stay warm in freezing temps, so stock up by eating a calorie-packed meal before you set out. Fats are a great choice because they burn slowly, unlike sugar and processed grains. Butter and bacon are two backcountry favorites, or, for the vegans among us, olive oil, nuts and avocados.


“There is no such thing as bad weather,” a wise one once said, “Only wrong clothing.” It’s a bad idea to allow your body to sweat in cold weather, because sweat is designed to air-condition your body. Sweat will dampen your clothes and skin and drain your energy as your body works to reheat them. Solution? Layers! Start hiking in a lightweight layer, but have a second layer handy. If you are not at least a little chilly in the first 10 minutes of your hike, you have too many layers on. It is not wimpy to pause in order to add or remove layers--it is the sign of a professional hiker who is aware of his body’s needs! Before hiking up-hill, remove a layer. Before hiking downhill, add a layer. When hiking on a ridge with wind or snow in your face, you may want to conserve energy by breathing through a Buff. Rain gear is a great wind barrier, but it will not allow your skin to breathe (IE, your skin will become clammy because your sweat can not evaporate.)

The same technique goes for sleeping in cold weather. Your sleeping bag is an insulator, not a heater. If you are hot when you go to bed, take off a layer or you will sweat in your sleep and wake up clammy and chilled. If you are cold when you go to bed, do 25 sit-ups inside your sleeping bag, or take off all your clothes and put them all on again while inside your sleeping bag. If you are just right, woohoo, you earn a gold star! Keep your dry clothes inside your sleeping bag. They will help to insulate you overnight and you’ll save energy in the morning because they’ll already be warm.


Continue to fuel your body! It’s hard to take time to eat and drink when it’s cold out, so plan ahead by packing energy-packed, easy to chew snacks and storing them in a handy location to munch on while hiking. One way to make sure you're staying hydrated is to take a drink of water at every landmark.


It’s not always comfortable to answer the call of nature when sleet is pelting down, but your body will thank you if you do. It’s a waste of energy to heat unnecessary volume, and you’ll be noticeably warmer afterwards. This is an especially important part of preparing for a good night’s sleep. Plan ahead and drink early so you aren't thirsty near bedtime.


Good circulation is a key part of staying warm, and an often-overlooked hero of circulation is spicy food! Many winter hikers carry hot sauce, to be dashed liberally on their meals or even swigged from the bottle in a moment of crisis. Can’t handle red peppers? Crystalised ginger or strong ginger tea will do the same trick!

Now, let's get out there!