February 6, 2015 / Comments (5)

How to Keep Warm on a Winter Hike


I am always asked how I stay warm while winter hiking. I ask myself the same thing each fall when the temperature begins to drop. “How did I handle hiking last winter?” comes to mind. When winter begins I am always surprised by my body’s ability to adapt. When I hit the trail, I pace myself to get the blood flowing but not overheat. Keeping my body’s temperature regulated is second nature. What many don’t think about is how you must keep everything from freezing including your toes, camera, water, and even your food! Avoiding this is a mixture of skill, preparedness, and a great deal of trial and error.

Water, in my opinion, is the easiest item to keep from freezing on a day hike. I switch over from my beloved Platypus hydration bladder that I use in warmer weather, to a wide mouth Nalgene. I fill that with warm water and put it in an EMS H20 Cooler upside down. The 32 ounce Nalgene bottles fit perfectly inside and is very easy to take out with mittens. I attach that to my pack strap to keep it warm by my body. Having it within reach is also a good reminder to stay hydrated on winter hikes. I recommend keeping another Nalgene in your pack close to your body.

I think food is the trickiest item to keep from freezing. I am always trying out new lunch items, bars, and snacks on the trail so I tend to bring more than needed just in case. One of my favorite parts about winter is you can bring food that would normally spoil on a warm weather hike. Tuna or chicken salad is delicious on the trail!

Here are some foods I have found that survive on a winter hike:

  • Smoothies
  • Anything in a thermos (bring a spoon for food like chicken noodle soup or the liquid will come out first followed by a whole lot of noodles)
  • meats (jerky, pepperoni)
  • bagels
  • cheese and crackers/cheese sticks
  • Trail mix
  • Fig Newtons
  • Chocolate
  • Jerky
  • dried fruit/fruit leather
  • fruit such as apples, bananas, clementines, grapes (who doesn’t like cold grapes!?)
  • Unprocessed bars (Probars especially) do well. Put one in your pocket close to your body.
  • Macaroons are a nice treat
trail snacks

One of the best things about hiking in the winter is how beautiful all the trails are. The last thing you want is for your camera to freeze. I have found some luck with keeping my camera in a small zippered camera case on my backpack strap next to my body with a hand warmer inside. I keep the hand warmer in the smaller pocket of the pouch so it’s not touching the camera, but still keeping it warm. Batteries don’t do well in cold weather. Bring spares for your camera and headlamp. Not being able to take pictures is a bummer, but if you find yourself on trail after dark in winter without a working headlamp, that’s a serious problem.

mt washington

Southern Presidentials in Winter

While it is nice to keep your camera warm enough to take photos, you must think about your well being first. Heat regulation is a skill you learn from a lot of trial and error. Every person’s body runs differently so there is no fool proof way to stay warm (but not too warm!) on a winter hike.

I tend to sweat on my back and feet so I focus on keeping those areas happy. It took some time to get the system down, but this is what works for me: I try and start of cold (but not too cold) at the trailhead to avoid having take off layers minutes after starting. I choose clothes that will serve a specific purpose and can be layered without restricting movement. I can either get down to just a sweat wicking t-shirt if I get really warm, or be bundled up in multiple layers of long underwear and mid layers with a synthetic jacket on top. Pit zips are your friend!

For my lower half I wear a pair of long underwear that I’ve cut to be just above my knees and Salomon Wind Stopper Tights. I also wear tall gaiters, wool socks, and insulated winter boots. Salomon Toundra Boots are rated at -40 Fahrenheit so I don’t even need to add toe warmers.


Happy hiking above treeline in negative temps!

My hands are always the biggest worry. I have found that the best solution is glove liners and mittens. Mittens will keep your hands the warmest, but when you need to manipulate something, you will still have protection from the liners.

Always be prepared with adequate layers on a winter hike, especially wool socks, mittens, and a spare hat. I’ve had branches almost steal my hat multiple times!

Happy hiking and stay warm out there!

Last modified: September 2, 2017

5 Responses to :
How to Keep Warm on a Winter Hike

  1. wes says:

    great tip with the handwarmer in the camera case — going to try that!

  2. Anthony L says:

    Hi. I’m new to your site. Good stuff! What do you use for glove liners? My hands are always the coldest part of my body when I’m out hiking.l can’t seem to find the perfect pair. And I have not tried mittens yet. They feel too restrictive, but maybe I should just bit the bullet, huh?

    1. allison says:

      I use liners only in conjunction with mittens. I feel they don’t do anything on their own in keeping my hands warm. I like to be able to take my mittens off to take photos and manipulate other items while still protecting my hands. Because of this, I actually wear bike gloves with the touchscreen capable fingers. I got mine at REI. I prefer outdoor research mittens- they are so warm! Hope this helps and you are able to keep your digits warm on the trail!

    2. Geeky Hiker says:

      Try Swix Men’s Avant-Garde Glove. No liners needed! Love those and I’m in Canada where our winters are for real 😉 Sold on Amazon.

  3. Chuck says:

    For really cold trips be sure to precut cheese into chew size blocks. I know of a person who almost lost a finger tying to cut frozen cheese. I did a 7 day cross country ski trip through Yellowstone and the air temperatures stayed right around 40 below. The trick was to keep the calories up. We were consuming 8,000 cal/day. Staying hydrated is the hardest. Each morning I would drink a quart of orange drink (Tang) along with a quart of hot chocolate with 3/4 stick of butter in it. In the cold fats are your friends.
    Some of my best trips are in the winter. Just be sure to bring extra batteries for your headlamp for the long nights of reading. Also get a wider mummy bag since you will have your water, camera, and boots in the bag with you.

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