I often marvel at those that look forward to winter hiking. As the leaves change and temperatures drop there are people that get excited for their favorite hiking season – winter hiking. You may be one of those people. I honestly have a deep respect (and a bit of envy) for you if that is the case. I, on the other hand, love the carefree enjoyment of summer hiking. Lighter packs, lighter clothes, less layers and less gear (just say no to needing micro spikes).
My first attempt at winter hiking was the Webster Jackson Loop and I like to believe it was an especially icy winter that year. I like to believe this because I was clinging to every tree branch within my reach pulling myself up the scrambles like I was fighting for my life. And this was the ‘easy’ hike others had told me about. By the time I reached the summit of Mt. Jackson it was dark due to a late start and early sunset. It was also cold. Freezing cold. It was so cold that I couldn’t think clearly. If I didn’t have others with me I’m not sure I would have found the trail to get down off the summit in the dark. And where did the trail lead? Certainly not over that iced over slab straight off the mountain into the depths of cold darkness. Actually, yes, that was the trail. This was my only attempt at winter hiking. It’s just not for everyone.
I’m a 2-season hiker – Summer and Fall. If you are like me you realize that December thru June is a long time to not hike and it’s a lot of time to get hiking withdrawals.
Below are some tips for the off-season that I find helpful in keeping me motivated, inspired and preparing me for the snow melt and my first hike of the year.
Choose a hiking goal for the summer
Anytime is a great time to make a personal hiking related goal. When you have months to plan and prepare, it’s even better. Think about pushing your limits to grow as a better hiker from the experience. A few years ago my goal was to hike the Bonds. I’ve seen the celebrated picture of Bondcliff and was determined to stand on it that coming summer. That winter I posted pictures of Bondcliff ad nauseam with inspirational quotes and affirmations of my goal to stand on that cliff that summer.
- Choose a goal that challenges you. It should be realistic and achievable but out of your comfort level. Push yourself.
- Make yourself accountable to hitting your goal. Write it down. Tell other people.
- Own it. Know you are going to achieve it.
- Research and plan. Reevaluate and plan some more. You’ve got plenty of time to perfect it.
It’s hard to stay motivated at the gym for 6 months without hiking. Your hiking goal from the previous step is the perfect motivator to keep you consistent throughout the winter.
Of course, the best physical preparation for hiking is going for a hike. If that is not an option then gym workouts can be quite effective.
Keep your workouts geared towards making yourself a better hiker. This could be different for everyone as everyone has different strengths and areas needing improvement. Try to mix up your workouts but always keep your hiking needs in mind. I get winded easily so spent a lot of time on the treadmill running at max incline last winter. It wasn’t pretty but improvements were dramatic.
A workout plan may look different for everyone but in general you should incorporate;
- Strength training
- Yoga for flexibility
- Core workouts – an instructor I had once had a love for “Plank/Side Plank/Plank”. I can still hear the way she said it. She was tough but those challenging core workouts work magic.
- Squats, Lunges and Step-ups. You can’t do too many.
For some great movements to help you along your way try these.
Proper nutrition helps prepare as well. I focus on staying away from processed foods and eating a lot of protein. Find a good healthy eating plan that works for you and stick with it.
Remember to keep your goal in mind. It’s hard to find the gumption to leave your house for the gym at 6AM on a dark snowy February morning when summer hiking seems so far away. If you continue to keep your eye on the prize you will get there. Don’t let up.
Stay Involved in the Online Community
Stay active in online conversations or just read through trip reports from other hikers. When you’re having hiking withdrawals it’s fun to hop online and read what others are doing and look at the photos of their latest winter hiking adventures.
Hikers that are planning their summer trips may have questions that you can answer. You can share your knowledge and experiences with them. If you are plugged into the right online community you will be able to talk through your plans with the group and ask for suggestions. Bounce ideas off the experts and consider all feedback. I have changed some backpacking trips up dramatically based on conversations with other hikers in online forums.
Check out clearance racks for some summer hiking finds
Take a trip to the outlets. When the winter lovers are searching out a good pair of winter boots or the warmest expensive gloves you can be searching out the 50% off deals on all of your summer goods. Don’t be shy about checking out the back of the store clearance racks or online clearance tabs.
Summer hiking in sleeveless tops and light boots may be a far off reality but if you don’t mind weeding through the off-colors and limited selection you could score an entire summer’s worth of hiking attire for a fraction of what it will cost in June.
Plan a fun summer adventure
“Always have a fun goal.” I actually read this on a meme and it stuck with me. It’s a key to staying happy. It makes sense.
Different than the hiking goal where you plan to push your limits and grow, a ‘fun goal’ is all about including others, slowing it down and letting yourself get lost in the enjoyment.
This past summer my ‘fun goal’ was going in to hike West Bond. I was in the area last summer so knew I could do it and I felt very relaxed about it. We camped on West Bond spur and it was some of my best time spent all summer. It was pure magic. We hiked out past Zealand Falls and spent some time trout fishing and unwinding. It was wonderful. The winter months were the perfect time to plan this trip to perfection.
- Choose your goal however big or small it may be. It’s a personal thing.
- Set a tentative date for it.
- Invite others.
- If you can, make a weekend out of it. You may choose to make it a backpacking trip or you could look up lodging and invite non-hiking friends and family to join you. Check out restaurant recommendations and plan non-hiking related outings for others. It’s fun to bring your favorite people to your favorite hiking region and show off all your favorite spots.
Read some hiking themed books
What better way to pass the time on a snowy winter evening? You can find a list of great choices here.
And finally, just maybe;
Try a Winter Hike
Plan a hike that does not include summiting a mountain. This winter I plan to snowshoe to Lonesome Lake. To be honest, after we came off the summit of Jackson and warmed up a bit the hike out was fabulous. The hard work was behind us and the brutal cold of the summit disappeared. It was my first night hike using a headlamp. The trail had a light snow cover and everything was so tranquil. I loved seeing a bears footprint in the fresh snow on the trail. Without risking the perils of the vicious weather on a summit and a tough climb, I’d like to experience the lovely part of a snowy hike again.
Before you know it your season will be here. Utilizing these tips helps pass the time until then. Happy Trails!