Tips for Getting Outside Daily (even in cold weather)

It’s a proven fact that getting outside on the regular has immense benefits for mental and physical health alike. Even knowing all of these facts, it can still be one of the most difficult events to break the barrier of the doorway and step outside. On top of the day-to-day difficulty, the cold weather adds an entirely new obstacle to overcome.

We can be tough on ourselves and often think that it only counts if we go outside and hike a five-mile trail, bike for at least an hour, or do an overnight trip with friends. The biggest mistake we make here is not being kind enough to ourselves in the midst of everything going on every day. Here are some tips for getting outside daily to help everyone work on boosting their mental and physical health, even if it’s only for a short period of time. 

The Benefits of Getting Outside

Studies upon studies have looked into how the outdoors is beneficial for the mental wellbeing of humans. Programs like the Children and Nature Network work to bring these benefits into public knowledge, but here is a shortlist of the benefits these programs are trying to make common knowledge. 

  • Improved relational skills
  • Reduced stress, anger, and aggression
  • Increase in Vitamin D
  • Promotes resilience
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Decreased depression

If you’re in the same boat as a lot of us, seasonal affective disorder is a real issue that needs managing when the winter hits. SAD, rightfully named, results in increased levels of depression as the days get shorter and the cold keeps us bundled up inside. 

All of the mental health benefits of the outdoors work towards relieving the symptoms of SAD and can even target the root causes by exposing your brain to the natural elements and helping it produce the chemicals needed to keep yourself strong through the winter. 

In addition to the interactions of nature and mental health, we see these tips for getting outside daily as a way to connect yourself to the world around you and engage in more environmentally responsible behaviors. In the long run, getting outside helps preserve our world to continue enjoying it. 

8 Ways to Get Outside Daily

Enjoying nature all winter can be made easy when you find the activities you love to do. Here are eight ways that can easily help you find your way outside every day. Remember that only 20 minutes of outdoor time a day can start to bring about all of these benefits that we’ve been discussing. A combination of these activities, or a single one, can easily reach your goal of 20 minutes. 

Walk your dog

Whether you have a dog or not, a walk outside is an easy way to take time to yourself and decompress or prepare for the coming day. Starting your day with a walk can help to clear your mind and allow you to go into the day with a positive mindset that can shift your entire mood all day long. 

Grab some tea or coffee to go

Hot drinks in the cold weather are a savior to us all. Hot drinks can act as hand warmers and can heat us up while we drink. Using a hot coffee or tea as an excuse to get outside also allows you to stay warm if it’s a chillier day. Take a walk or find a bench, but be sure to drink that coffee outside. 

Plan lunch at the park

Meeting others for a lunch date is common as we often have the time to take a quick break from work. Plan to meet a friend at the park where you can each take turns bringing lunch every other week. It’s a great way to catch up with friends and utilize the outdoor spaces that most cities offer. 

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Ride to work

Riding a bike to work is one of the best ways to help you reach your physical fitness goals and boost your mental health. The Netherlands is considered to be the cycling nation of the world. Over 27% of all trips are made by bike. The obesity rate is one of the lowest in the world. Some studies show that swapping out only 12% of short car trips with a bike ride can increase lifespan by 14 months. 

Take your break outside

Throughout the day, everyone needs to be taking mental breaks. Everyone knows what it feels like to be burnt out at the end of a long work day. These short breaks are the perfect opportunity to step outside and get some fresh air. Even if you stand there, the fresh air also has impressive health benefits. 

Find local hikes

If you’re looking for more adventurous ways to get outside, local hikes should be on the menu. Getting outside in cold weather can be made easy when you know what to expect and how to prepare. This time outside can be a quick in and out trail, but you can also extend the trip to last for miles. 

Do normal tasks outdoors

Try bringing your normal everyday tasks into the outdoors. Put a nice bench on the porch or in the yard or find a cafe with outdoor seating and start reading the newspaper there. Any work done without the quiet of an office space can also be moved outside. 

Plant a garden

Gardens are incredible for helping people get outside because it gives them a reason and purpose to go out. Tending to a garden takes immense love and devotion, meaning time. If you start a garden, it can be a reason to get out and spend long chunks of time in your yard working for something that you can enjoy later on. 

How Can I Keep Snow Out of My Boots While Winter Hiking?

Warm and dry feet can make all the difference when winter hiking. Keeping the snow out of your boots is critical in achieving optimal levels of comfort and happiness on the trail. Walking through feet of snow and keeping your feet free of snow can seem like a difficult task, but fortunately, there have been many that have come before us and figured out the secrets to happiness. 

Keeping the snow out of your boots comes down to finding the right waterproof footwear, wearing the right accessories, such as gaiters, and layering your waterproof pants in a way that sheds snow away from the boot. The key is a combination of these different techniques rather than a simple answer. The result is guaranteed to make winter hiking a favorite rather than a dreaded activity, no matter the process. 

Wear Gaiters

Gaiters, commonly confused with alligators in common conversation, are designed to keep stuff out of your boots. This can be dirt, rain, and in our case today, snow. Gaiters are a simple design requiring only a low level of research before strapping them on and getting out on the trails. 

No matter what activity you’re doing in the outdoors, whether it be summer or winter, gaiters can be beneficial. They add a high layer of protection for various winter activities and should be considered an essential part of winter gear in general. 

Gaiter Type

While all gaiters will work to keep your boots clear of debris, certain gaiters are made for different activities. It’s important to get the right style of gaiter for what you are planning on doing simply to have the best experience possible. 

Colorado Springs has such a wide variety of terrain and climates throughout the year that you can potentially use these gaiters all year long. Not all hiking in Colorado Springs will require gaiters to be on your gear list, but they are a helpful addition, especially when you are attempting to walk through the snow. 

Hiking gaiters are made of lightweight and breathable fabrics that help to keep out most small-scale debris. This can be light rain, small rocks and pebbles, and dirt or grit. These are a good choice for summer trips that lean closer to the “dry” side of things. 

Mountaineering gaiters incorporate a much more heavyweight fabric that offers protection against snow and the cold. If keeping snow out of your boots is the number one priority, these are the gaiters for you. 

Trail running gaiters are much more lightweight and function mainly to keep small pebbles and dirt out while running on a trail. These may be beneficial for running on a packed trail in the winter but won’t do much for you if you are post-holing to your knees in deep powder. 

Gaiter Height

There are three central heights that you’ll find on the gaiter market–over the ankle, mid-calf, and knee-length. For winter hiking, knee-length gaiters are the best option, as you will likely find yourself trekking through deep snow with even deeper pockets that you don’t expect. These will keep most snow out of your boots but can lead to some sweaty calves amid summer. 

Gaiters will be your ultimate protection for keeping snow out of your boots. These are a great addition to a snowshoe setup where you will be floating on top of the snow but can sink in softer patches. As we mentioned before, snow protection is a combination of different tactics. 

Photo by Emma Dau on Unsplash

Waterproof Footwear 

Keeping the snow out of your boots when it’s in the frozen snow form is an easier task than keeping it out once it’s grabbed onto your boot and starts melting. This is where it’s important to have a pair of the best hiking boots. This is another primary key to keeping your feet dry during winter hiking. 

There are plenty of reasons to keep your feet dry while hiking, and in the winter, these reasons become even more important. 

Find a pair of waterproof boots that are durable enough to withstand the snow. There are several different styles of waterproof boots on the market, and we suggest doing a hefty amount of research into finding the right ones for you. 

Without waterproof boots, all of the snow that you shed away from the inside of your boots will find its way inside through the fabric of the boots. Not all, or really any, boots will keep the snow from getting inside around your ankle, but the right boot can stop the snowmelt from penetrating. 

Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

Layer Waterproof Pants

Another small hack to keeping snow out is wearing waterproof pants and basing them correctly. If you’re already wearing gaiters and waterproof boots, this final level of protection will further ensure happy, dry, and warm feet during winter hiking. 

To keep everything as dry as possible, it’s essential to ensure that your pant leg isn’t dragging through the snow and absorbing that moisture when your body melts it. For that reason, tucking both pant legs into socks before throwing a waterproof layer on top is a great move. 

Gaiters should be the final step in the process (other than putting on snowshoes if you’re wearing them). Waterproof pants will add an additional layer of protection underneath the gaiters and between your legs and the snow. They also help shed snow away from your body rather than soaking it in and channeling the snowmelt down into your feet.

Cold Weather Injuries and Treatments

Social media and winter photography can make the winter seem like a wonderland filled with nothing but adventure and fun. The other side of the winter can be a dangerous trek for anyone who might not properly manage cold injuries. Knowing the signs of hypothermia and how to treat it are a small portion of the necessary skills to have under your belt before heading out into a snowy landscape. 

By the end of this, you may ask, “is it safe to hike in the winter?

We want to assure you that hiking in winter is a safe thing to do, so long as you come ready for the cold. Without this preparation, many cold weather injuries can get those who come ill-prepared. To ensure you don’t end up in a dangerous situation, here is a list of the most common cold weather injuries and how to treat them. 

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Hypothermia

The most commonly-known cold injury is likely to be hypothermia. We talk about it as a precautionary tale to anyone going out in the cold, but very few people are fully aware of what it is and what to do about it. 

The idea of hypothermia is simple. The prefix ‘hypo’ means less than normal or below. Thermia relates to temperature, and when applied to us, it’s our body temperature. Hypothermia then is having a body temperature that is lower than normal. This starts to happen in prolonged exposure to cold environments. Your body can’t make enough heat to make up for the heat loss, resulting in a decrease in overall temperature.

Once your body temperature reaches 95 degrees or below, you are considered hypothermic. Measures to prevent reaching this temperature should be taken beforehand, but once it’s reached, the job is focused on warming someone back up and preventing further heat loss. 

There are three main stages that hypothermia can be classified into. The first sign of hypothermia is what you can expect. There will be shivering and reduced circulation. In the second stage, there will be a general slowness that the body takes on. There is a slow pulse, slow movement, a state of confusion, and delayed thinking processes. The final stage is where one may lose consciousness and become unresponsive. 

Becoming hypothermic can threaten one to stay inside all winter long. Still, there are plenty of basic treatments that will allow you to travel around in the winter without ever feeling threatened. 

How to treat hypothermia:

  • Slowly rewarm with skin to skin contact
  • Learn how to make a hypo-wrap (like a warm person-burrito)
  • Take preventative measures to stay dry and warm
  • Use movement to warm up
  • Get to safety

Frostbite

Another one of the most common cold weather injuries is frostbite. This specific injury can range from frostnip to third-degree frostbite and limb loss. While most frostbite cases will fall closer to the frostnip side of things, it’s important to prevent any injuries before they happen. 

Frostbite can happen in surprisingly warm conditions. If it’s raining and your skin is exposed, it’s easy to grab a minor case of frostnip or frostbite in temperatures up to 50 degrees. Unless you’re drinking it, all water becomes your enemy at such low temperatures. Any tissue that reaches 28 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit will take on the symptoms of frostbite, but they can be observed earlier on as well. 

The first symptoms to look out for are numbness, tingling, and pain when rewarming the area. It’s common to get blisters when experiencing second-degree frostbite as well as a wooden or waxy feeling. Third-degree is a much more extreme scenario that often leads to loss of digits. 

Like hypothermia, the most important part of treating frostbite is preventing it. Wearing warm and dry gloves, scarves, and hats that cover the more commonly-exposed areas of the body is the best way to stop yourself from experiencing this injury. Bringing multiple sets on a long trip will help ensure that you stay dry and can switch out when necessary. 

After a cold weather injury like frostbite, you will likely have issues with that body part for the rest of your life. Because of this, we must repeat that prevention is the absolute best way to “treat” any of these injuries. 

How to treat frostbite:

  • Rewarm the area with skin to skin contact
  • Only thaw the area if there is no longer a risk of it re-freezing
  • Do not use excessive heat to rewarm
  • Keep all exposed skin covered and dry
  • Seek medical attention

Chilblains

For anyone that spends long periods in the wilderness, chilblains may be all-too-familiar. It may be a foreign concept for most, but it is still a risk. 

Chilblains are spots on the skin that result from extended periods of time with moisture and lower, non-freezing temperatures. The skin will develop small spots that are itchy, swollen, tender, and often painful. 

One of the best ways to diagnose this injury is rewarming and observing. While many of the symptoms are similar to frostnip or low-level frostbite, these symptoms aren’t resolved when rewarmed. 

The more often your skin develops Chilblains, the more likely it will happen in the future. 

How to treat Chilblains:

  • Rewarm the area and keep it dry
  • Prevention measures such as keeping dry and warm

Trench Foot

The final cold weather injury on our list is trench foot. This happens when feet are wet and cold for an extended period of time. They start to look like old raisins, full of deep wrinkles and crevasses that will be very painful. 

This can happen in the field for a variety of reasons. Anyone who gets their feet wet in the snow and fails to get dry quickly may experience low levels of trench foot. If it goes on all day, this can be a serious injury that isn’t comfortable or fun to even look at. 

How to treat trench foot:

  • Dry the feet and apply baby powder
  • Change socks often
  • Keep the feet clean
  • Stop hiking and go to an area to rest

Hiking with your Dog in the Winter

Leaving your dog at home isn’t a real option for most of us. You may tell others that your dog doesn’t do well away from you, but the truth is always that you don’t do well away from the pup. Regardless of the reasoning, hiking with your dog in the winter is an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. 

Winter hiking can be strenuous for seasoned hikers all around the world. Some are more accustomed to it, while others are better adjusted for tropical climates. The fact holds true when we start talking about your furry best friend as well. Certain dogs love the snow, while some won’t even leave the house and brave the cold. 

This quick guide serves to help first-time snow pups become lovers of the cold rather than learn to fear it. Soon enough, your dog will be crying to get outside when the flakes start falling. 

Paw protection

Before all else, your dog is going to feel the cold in its paws. Even with years of rough roads to toughen up their pads, the snow can be detrimental to a dog’s winter hiking experience. 

Many dogs that aren’t accustomed to winter will get snow trapped in between their toes, causing them to stop and try to remove it quite often. It’s a difficult thing to work with and is much better to prevent before having to pick snow out of their paws every ten minutes. 

One of the best ways to protect paws is to try on booties. A lot of different companies make booties, but they all fit differently. Remember that your dog’s front and back paws might be different sizes, so some booties only come in pairs.

There are other options for the dogs who rip the booties off immediately or have the kind of paws that booties fall straight off. In the North, the most popular solution amongst sled dogs is a salve called Musher’s Secret. Although it isn’t much of a secret anymore, it’s the perfect layer that protects snow from building up and damaging paws. 

Bundle them up

Malamutes and Huskies are well-equipped with a thick fur coats to keep them toasty all winter long. Even your Golden Retriever or Australian Shepherd might have enough hair to get them through more mild winters. If you’ve fallen for a short-haired pup, it might not be long before you see them shivering and trying to cozy up next to you. 

Many dogs love to be swaddled in a warm winter jacket that adds another layer of protection from the elements and helps trap the heat they produce while running around. In winter, hiking with your dog isn’t about making a big fashion statement, but it may require adding to your dog’s wardrobe.

Higher caloric intake

When people start asking, “is it safe to hike in winter?” they inevitably find an article that talks about eating. Food is the body’s main fuel source to produce heat, and the same goes for your dog. 

So, before you head out onto the trail, give your pup a few extra handfuls or scoops of their kibble. It can make a huge difference in helping to keep them warm and energized for a longer hike.

Even when your dog is fit and ready to go on long summer hikes, the winter is much more demanding when it comes to energy spent. Bring along a lot of high-fat treats (think “salmon jerky”) that will give a boost of energy to help your pup warm up. 

Train them properly

Another added danger on the trail in the winter is skiers and snowboarders. In the summer, your dog may avoid mountain bikers on the trail, but many dogs see skiers as a person to play a game with. Train them to stay away from skiers and other people moving quickly through the snow. 

Skis use a sharp metal edge on both sides to help dig into the ice. In the wrong circumstances, that metal edge can easily hurt any person or dog, especially at high speeds. 

It’s best to keep your dog on a leash, even if they are used to having free range. The transition to winter hiking with your dog can be a big one, and they need to learn the new environment before being left to roam freely. 

Have a backup

Bringing a dog along can sometimes be like bringing a small child. When they decide that they don’t want to hike anymore, you won’t be hiking anymore. So, you need to come prepared with a backup plan. 

One day your pup can be ready to take on any level of snow, and the next, they will be shivering at the sight of it. If you have another hike planned that might be drier or slightly warmer, head in that direction. Recognize that you need to be flexible and make smart decisions for your dogs because they won’t always do the same. 

Modify your first aid kit

One of the biggest parts of hiking safety is having first aid training and the supplies you’ll need. First off, a first aid kit is a must for any hiking, regardless of the season. When you add your dog into the mix, you “need to modify it to become a human and dog first aid kit. In the winter, hiking with a dog means learning proper hiking safety and first aid. 

A lot of doggy first aid is the same as human first aid. You’ll want to add extra gauze pads, athletic tape, cotton balls, gloves, and the rest of the normal gear. More dog-centered first aid would mean packing some of the following:

  • Hydrogen peroxide – Useful for inducing vomiting if they found anything they shouldn’t have gotten into.
  • Towel – Wet dogs are dangerous in the winter. They can freeze quickly, and it’s best to get them as dry as possible, fast. 
  • Soft muzzle – Any mouth injuries may be inflamed by eating snow, which they will likely try and do. This can also help reduce the licking of other wounds. 
  • Rubber booties – To protect any wounds that happen on their feet, have some rubber booties to cover them up. 

We all prefer not to even think about our dog getting injured, but the truth is that it’s possible. It’s best to come prepared and ready to treat anything as the vet is a bit more out of reach when you are in the mountains. 

Visibility

Visibility means two separate things here. First off, a whiteout snowstorm and blinding sunlight bouncing off the snow can be dangerous for your dog’s eyes. Second, short days mean longer nights, and you want to find your dog if they ever get loose in the dark. 

If you’ve hiked in the snow, you know how bright the white landscape around you makes everything. It can be difficult to see, which is why mountaineers wear those silly goggles with peripheral protection. 

Fortunately, you can get a pair of goggles for your dog for both function and fashion that makes them look ready to hit the ski slopes. Goggles will help to protect them from the dangerous UV rays that can quickly damage their eyes as well as the cold snow pelting through the air. They’ll look cool and be able to keep their vision.

Long, dark nights and winter go hand in hand. Maybe you don’t live somewhere like Alaska, where there’s barely any sun to be seen in winter, but the chance is still higher that you will get stuck out in the dark. 

Any time you go out with the potential of finding yourself in the dark, it’s best to have something like a light-up collar for your dog. This way, if they get loose, you can track them through the woods by the bobbing neon green light. It will simply help to ease your mind and know where they’re at throughout the entire hike. 

Winter Sports to Try in the New Year

With a brand new year and a ground blanketed with snow, there’s no better time to get outside and try out some new winter sports. Staying inside and making your way through the Netflix queue is an easy way to try and make the dark winter days pass, but you quickly feel the physical and mental effects. 

Getting outside in the winter is one of the best ways to stay in shape, and more importantly, stay mentally healthy. Downhill skiing and extreme winter sports can seem intimidating for anyone who isn’t accustomed to playing around in the snow.

The good news is that there are plenty of other great winter sports for beginners and experts alike to try for the first time this year. 

Start Slow

Winter Hiking and Walking

There’s no need to jump straight into bombing down the mountainside on a pair of skis or a snowboard. Simply getting outside to find a winter hike to try out is a great way to introduce yourself to a new winter snowscape. Get out on winter hikes with your friends and family, or even go solo in a well-maintained area to start. It’s great for all skill levels. 

A big part of starting new winter sports in the new year is learning to love the cold. You’ll often find yourself heating up as you start moving. Still, it’s an immense help if you can appreciate the ice-covered trees, frozen streams, and fluffy powder covering the ground—hiking and walking help get you in the right mindset for other winter sports. 

This is a great starter activity because all you need to do is learn how to dress for winter hiking, head to your closet, and straight out the door. There’s no complicated gear system or any technical skills you’ll need. Just stay in safe terrain on well-traveled trails, and you can start to challenge yourself from there. 

If you need a little extra traction as you hike, invest in traction aids like micro-spikes or yak tracks to give you more confidence on snow and ice-covered trails.

Snowshoeing

If you want to get deeper into the mountains, you may find that you start sinking in the snow. Flotation devices are common in the winter, and one of the most popular ways of staying above the snow is on a set of snowshoes.

Snowshoeing is an enjoyable choice with plenty of options of places to go. There are many winter activities in Colorado Springs, but with snowshoeing, you can explore the same trails you would in the summer but see them in a completely different light. 

Cross Country Skiing

Even if you have never been on skis before, you may find that you would love trying out cross country skiing. It can be a slow-paced sport, but it doesn’t have to be. This is one of the best winter sports for beginners because it keeps you warm and can be learned quickly. 

Once you start to feel more comfortable on classic skis, you can try out skate skiing. This is a much more active style of cross country skiing that will get you moving quickly and get a better aerobic workout than running in the summer. 

Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

Picking up the pace

Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding

Downhill skiing, or snowboarding, is a great winter activity that doesn’t need to be incredibly fast-paced. You can start slow, and Colorado Springs is a great place to start from. There are plenty of local areas where you can find lessons with affordable rentals. 

Fat Biking

Fat biking has become widely popular as biking technology has moved forward over the last few years. These bikes are designed with huge, fat tires that help to keep you afloat on top of deeper powder. 

You can travel on typical mountain bike trails in the winter with a fat bike, but you can also set out and explore other areas that you may not be able to access on a mountain bike in the summer. Fat bikes are also available to rent out from several different gear shops, so you don’t even have to invest in buying one. 

Ice Skating

Whether it’s on a frozen rink in the city or on a high alpine mountain lake, ice skating is a classic winter sport to try out. If you’re a beginner, it will take a good level of humility to be okay with falling and still getting back up, but once you get the hang of it, it can be quite fun.

Just be careful on mountain lakes if you are a beginner. It can be challenging to recognize safe areas with thick enough ice. Only go if you have someone experienced that knows how to determine the safety of the ice. 

Dog Sledding

Dog sledding isn’t something that many people have access to where they live. Still, it can be an incredibly fun activity to try out if you find the right people to go with. Many professional dog sledders will offer lessons or rides at a price. If you love your furry friend as much as your human child, you’ll understand why this is such a popular winter sport. 

Skijoring

Speaking of your furry friends, skijoring is another fun winter sport to do with dogs, but it isn’t for beginners. Skijoring is a combination of dog sledding and cross country skiing. If you like skiing but hate doing all the work of moving yourself forward, your dog can help pull you forward. You do need a harness for you and your dog to get started, but if you already know how to cross country ski, and your dog loves snow, this can be a great new activity to try. 

Skijoring requires an active and enthusiastic dog who loves running and working hard in the snow. If your chihuahua hates to go out in the cold to use the bathroom, you may want to stick to classic cross country skiing this winter. 

Photo by Jérémy Stenuit on Unsplash

Full Speed Ahead

If you’re looking at this list and feel that you need more, check out the sports listed below. We would categorize these as being closer to the “extreme” (and maybe just bizarre) end of things.

  • Kite skiing
  • Ice yachting
  • Snow kayaking
  • Ice diving
  • Snow machining
  • Ice ballet

There’s something for everyone out there, as humans have become highly creative with what they can do when our world becomes blanketed in snow. 

5 Tips for Staying Warm on Any Winter Adventure

Hiking in winter can quickly turn south if you don’t head out prepared. Sometimes you feel warm and happy until you’re miles from your car and the deep, bone-crushing chill starts to settle down.

A successful winter camping trip, or any winter outdoor activities, rely upon staying warm. 

No matter the conditions, it’s possible to keep warm for a long time. You only need to know-how. Here are five time-proven tips for staying warm on any winter adventure. Happy snow days!

Get your body moving

One of the greatest fallacies of all time is that you can stay warm if you throw on the largest puffy jacket there is and sit still. The truth of the matter is that clothes don’t produce any level of heat. All they do is trap the heat your body produces.

The more you move, the more heat your body makes. 

During winter outdoor activities, your body becomes a furnace. You’re making the heat that will help to keep you warm. Plan a trip that will have your body constantly moving. You want to use all the energy you’ve stored over the holiday season and put it into productive, heat-blasting movement. 

The catch is, you must be careful with how intensely you move. Moving uphill quickly, or putting high cardio levels into your day, can soon lead to sweat. In the winter, sweat is no longer your friend; it is exactly the opposite. Getting wet will increase the speed at which your body enters hypothermia. So, keep your movement consistent, but pace yourself and stop before you start to break a sweat. 

“Be bold, start cold”

The way you dress is also incredibly important for winter hiking. It will always be tempting to start hiking in a puffy jacket and thick fleece pants.

Why not, right?

It’s cold out, so you may as well be warm. Unfortunately, this is one of the quickest paths towards making yourself drastically cold. 

Experienced hikers and winter campers like to say, “be bold, start cold.” What they mean is, if you start hiking with fewer layers, while a bit cold, you’ll quickly warm up and thank yourself for dealing with the cold for a short period. 

Starting cold will help you to manage the sweat situation. When you stop, remember that all of the heat will be quickly sucked from your body to the cold air around you. Have a jacket handy that can be tossed on as soon as you stop moving to help trap the heat. Before you get going again, throw that jacket back in your bag, and then can you start hiking again.

Eat… a lot

Every furnace needs a fuel source. The more you feed the furnace, the more heat it can produce. What we’re saying is, here is the perfect excuse to load up on as many calories as humanly possible while hiking. 

Foods with high fat and calorie counts are optimal for winter camping. Butter becomes your best friend. Extreme mountaineering trips rely on a hearty stash of butter worth every ounce that it adds to a pack. If you aren’t into eating butter without pause, try eating a spoonful of peanut butter before sleeping and reap the warmth and benefits. 

Do your best to take a break from any eating restrictions you may have while at home. Hiking in general demands that you eat far more than normal. Hiking in winter means doubling the daily calories, not worrying about sticking to your New Year’s resolution. This is where brownies become an acceptable and encouraged breakfast food.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

The outdoors can quickly make you tired of hearing people tell you to drink water over and over. It seems to be the only solution to every problem you encounter. People are telling you to drink water to avoid overheating, drink water if you’re sick, drink water every time you breathe, and so on. That being said, if you want to stay warm, drink water.

The trickiest part of drinking water in the winter is wanting to. It seems counterintuitive to drink cold water while it’s cold outside and you want to stay warm. There are a couple of reasons why dehydration can be even more dangerous in the winter than normal temperatures. 

First, your blood relies on hydration to help move heat from your core out to your extremities. With less water in your system, it struggles to move heat around the body, resulting in cold fingers and toes that you may not even feel anymore. 

Not only do you need it to stay warm, but it’s also essential to drink water because you may not even realize that you’re getting dehydrated. Most people associate dehydration with sweating profusely. Contrary to popular belief, we lose most of the water in our bodies through breathing. In the winter, the steam that leaves your mouth is precious water quickly leaving the body.

One of the most helpful tricks to staying hydrated and warm is to bring a Thermos. It’s heavier, but it can often be a game-changer. Warm drinks like tea or hot chocolate will work to hydrate you and provide a separate heat source. It’s one of the few things that makes it easy to forget about weight. 

Bring extras

Extra socks, hats, and gloves should be in every winter camper’s backpack. These are some of the easiest pieces of gear to misplace or get wet. The moment your beanie is gone is the moment you start to lose a considerable percentage of heat. 

Having extras will allow you to keep warm and, more importantly, stay dry. If you get extremely cold feet, try changing socks halfway through the hike to get rid of all the sweat and cold that comes along with it. 

How to Set Up a Tent in the Snow

A winter camping trip brings about a massive list of perks and small adventures. A short, mile-long trek can quickly turn into hours of tromping through deep snow and laughing with each other as you posthole your way to camp. It’s a trip to be remembered, and if you want to remember it fondly, you need to come prepared. 

Your general skills and knowledge will go a long way when you try to get comfortable in a winter wonderland. If you’ve already figured out how to dress for winter hiking, it’s time to continue adding to your toolbox. 

One of the first steps in the entire process is setting up a tent in the snow. It’s a task that becomes drastically different once the snow hits, and you’ll be developing a brand new set of skills than those you need in the summer. 

Site Selection

Once you’ve arrived at camp, it’s time to look around for the best tent site imaginable. The snow brings a lot of new elements you need to navigate to stay safe while asleep at night. In the summer, it’s watching out for bears or other critters, while in the winter, you’re watching for avalanches. 

Pick a site as far as possible from any slopes, and therefore any avalanche potential. Even a lower angle slope can be triggered at night, leaving you to wake up partially or fully buried. A safe winter camp is far away from any possible avalanche terrain. Even if you’re planning on going up the mountain in the morning, basecamp should be a safe distance from any potential slides. 

Another hazard you need to watch out for in the winter is snowfall from trees. If you’re below the treeline, pay even closer attention to what’s above you. Dead trees are less obvious to spot in the winter, and you now need to watch out for trees that may break under the weight of snow and ice. Even the snow sitting on those branches can be dangerous if it’s filled with ice. 

If you’re sleeping in an area with a large amount of snow, you’ll need to consider what’s underneath you. At higher altitudes, you’ll often be sleeping multiple feet above small trees and bushes that have been buried. The plethora of landscapes you can find below the snow can lead to one major issue.

Depending on how the snow has packed down, you may be on top of some voids that are waiting to collapse inward. If this happens while you’re sleeping, you’ll wake up a few feet lower than where you started and probably covered in a decent amount of snow. To avoid this nighttime disturbance, probe around and try to find a spot that seems like it’s above flat ground rather than rocky terrain. 

Pack it Down to Put it Up

Now that you’ve found a spot, it’s time to make the footprint. If you’ve been hiking in snowshoes, you’ve got the best tool for the job strapped onto your feet. Using the snowshoes, stomp around and flatten out the ground where you will soon put the tent. This will help create a more stable, flat surface where you can sleep. 

Expand the footprint out a bit past where the tent will go. This will give you some more stable ground to walk around on. Be careful when you get out of the tent at night for the bathroom, as it’s easy to forget you’re in the snow and will soon be up to your waist in it. 

The snow shouldn’t pack down any further when you start to walk around on it. Remember, this is where you’re sleeping. You don’t want to start sinking while you sleep. 

Once your area is fully packed down, you can set up your tent. 

Tent Setup

In general, a freestanding tent is better than relying on a staking system. With a freestanding design, you don’t need to worry about staking out the tent without access to solid ground to hammer a stake into. Snow can be tricky to work with, but it can also be incredibly useful. If you’re looking to use a tent that requires staking, look at snow tent stakes. 

These stakes are ingenious. First, you dig a small hole and place the stake horizontally in the snow. After you’ve attached your tent line, you will pack the snow down onto the stake firmly to cement it into place. 

The only drawback to this kind of stake is that they can be difficult to remove in the morning. If there has been any level of melting and freezing overnight, they may be inside a solid block of ice that you’ll need an ice ax to get through. 

Set up Your Dream Camp

According to Leave No Trace, snow is the most durable surface you can travel on. This is because it will melt and disappear without a trace of you present. This means that you can do just about anything with your camp in the snow, and you won’t be creating a huge impact. 

With enough snow, time, and shovels, you can create benches, tables, and full-blown snow castles to enjoy your time in. Whatever you can imagine, you can create. This is one of the best things about winter camping. You’re able to create an entire kingdom in the snow without needing to worry about ruining the campsite. It also makes winter camping a fun-filled activity to do with kids. They get to create their winter wonderland, where they can stay overnight. 

Can You Mountain Bike in the Snow?

The appearance of snow on the ground often covers the dirt tracks that we live to ride during the rest of the year. The disappearing trails will move most to put their mountain bikes away for the season and pull out skis or snowboards as a replacement. What many people can often look past is the joy of mountain biking in the snow and how it brings an entirely different level of enjoyment to the sport. 

Winter mountain biking can be challenging for those who struggle with the cold. Many recent trends point towards needing a fat tire bike to go out biking in the snow. Fortunately, you don’t need to make a considerable purchase to go out riding all winter long. With the right precautions and winter biking tips, you can spend beautiful snowy and bluebird days on your bike doing what you love most. 

Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

Keep a good attitude

First and foremost, keep your spirits high. Of all the winter biking tips you read, keeping a smile on your face and a resilient attitude will be the most important.

Your winter ride will be slower and most likely filled with a fair number of falls and slides that will get you cold and wet. Regardless, this can be the most fun you’ll have all winter if you remember to keep smiling and focus on the positive.

Lower your tire pressure

If you’re feeling strapped for cash or want to try mountain biking in the snow without spending a huge amount of money on a fat tire bike, you can start by letting some air out of your tires. Take a look at the sidewall of your tires and find the lower number on the pressure range, then drain the tires to that level.

You’re going for more surface area and contact between your tires and the ground. One great way to do this is to lower your tire pressure and let the tires sag a bit more, and hug the ground. 

The biggest thing to look out for when flattening your tires is pinch flats. A great way to avoid this easy problem is to go tubeless. Tubeless tires are relatively new, and replacing the tube with a sealant makes getting a flat much harder. Not only is that great for lower tire pressure, it means you’re much less likely to get stranded on a snowy trail in the middle of winter!

Widen your tires

Winter mountain biking may be your next big sport, and you may feel that it’s worth it to invest. In that case, buying a fat tire bike is the best way to truly enjoy the snowy drifts that the winter months have to offer.

The wide tires on these rigs allow for more surface contact between the bike and the snow. That way, you’re able to float on deeper powder and slide less. It’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll slide around a bit while biking in the snow, but this way, you can control it some more. 

That being said, fat-tire bikes are expensive. They aren’t totally necessary, and you can bike without them. They’re also incredibly fun to ride and shift the experience to a much easier ride. 

Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

Opt for flat pedals

Clip-in pedals aren’t the best option for cruising on slippery trails. You’re going to do some sliding, which means you’ll need the option of throwing a foot down for stability much more often and faster than normal. With flat pedals, you can get a foot in position quickly and keep yourself upright.

Steel-pin flat pedals allow for the extra grip that is mighty helpful in the slick and icy winter. They’ll give you plenty of traction and the ability to dismount. They also allow for a lot more space, which means the potential for bigger, warmer boots is there. Even riding at your hardest, it’s likely to result in cold extremities if you’re tackling trails in the dead of winter. 

Pay attention to trail conditions

One of the most important parts of riding in the snow is getting to know what you’re riding. True, you can go out and check the trail conditions firsthand, but you may want to save yourself some time and choose the right trail from the start. 

With winter mountain biking being one of the most popular winter activities in Colorado Springs, you’ll be able to find loads of trail information on the web. Mountain biking forums and Facebook groups will certainly have someone on them that has checked out the trail before you have. Use their experience to your advantage and look around before throwing your bike on the car and heading out. 

What you’re looking for is a beautiful snowpack that either allows easier access to the ground or a hard pack of snow. In the middle of winter, you’ll be more likely to find the latter. 

Two to three inches of powder is ideal for biking in the snow. It gives you a nice layer of snow to cruise through but allows some interaction with the ground. As it starts to warm up or the snow gets too soft, you may spend more time picking yourself up than biking. The softer the snow, the more your bike turns into a sled.

Trails that take you on a cruise and slightly hilly rides are much better than those that demand steep climbs and fast, aggressive descents. You’ll find your tires slipping as you push to climb, and the moment you hit an icy patch on the descent will be the end of your riding for the day. Choose a moderate trail that will let you stay on flatter terrain. 

How to Dress For a Winter Hike

When the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the breeze cools your skin, it’s easy to get outside. Hiking in the winter can be a completely different game. The cold, snow, and often the wind can all come together and make it difficult to motivate yourself to shut Netflix down and head out on the trail. If you are a beginner, be sure to check out guided winter hikes and get a feel for what it’s like before heading out alone!

Your biggest key to success in those cold dark months is learning to wear hiking in the winter. A wardrobe that keeps you warm and dry can be a complete game-changer. It turns a cold and miserable day into a pleasant tromp through the wilderness with breathtaking, snow-capped vistas every way you look. Winter hiking is personally one of my favorite things to do, incredibly as the trails clear of their typical summer crowds and the world seems a bit quieter altogether. 

Dressed in the proper attire, you will end up barely noticing the cold, and soon it can be just you out there trekking through the snow back to your cabin with a warm mug of hot chocolate waiting. 

Photo by Elijah Hail on Unsplash

Layer up

Layering for winter hiking is an absolute must if you want to do it right. Layering allows for temperature regulation that you don’t get from wearing your heaviest coat with a t-shirt underneath. The goal is to add and remove layers as you like. When you stop, it can be easy to want to sit and cool down, but immediately throwing a layer will help trap all the heat your body is producing. 

It helps to think about your body as a furnace. The more you move, the more heat it will produce. When you take layers off, it’s like opening up all the windows. When you’re moving, it’s okay because the furnace is still pumping at its top-notch. Once you stop, the furnace stops, and the heat starts to disappear through those open windows. If you shut them too late (adding a layer after cooling down), your furnace is still shut off until you start hiking again, and it will be tough to warm back up. 

In all honesty, dressing for winter hiking isn’t that different from prepping for some other seasons. It can be similar to what to wear hiking in the Fall, just with a few more mid-layers and remembering to take extra precautions all around.

Get the right shoes on

When the winter comes around, tire shops rejoice because everyone is prepping and putting brand new winter tires on their car. Hiking in the winter should be no different than driving. You need the right shoes for the job. Snow and ice interact with the bottom of your feet much differently than dry dirt or mud. I strongly recommend against going out on a trail with your summer sneakers or even summer hiking boots. They simply don’t have the proper insulation or traction.

One way to add traction is through additional traction devices designed to dig into the snow and ice rather than interact with the surface. YakTrax and other versions of microspikes act like a lighter version of crampons used for mountain climbing. There are great traction devices for hiking, trail running, or running in the city. 

Not only is traction a completely different game, but your feet are also prone to getting much colder, much faster, in the winter. The ground is essentially a heat vacuum, sucking all of the warmth through the soles of your shoes away from your feet. Winter boots have a thick insulating layer in the sole that helps to reduce this heat loss. They also are better insulated all around, ensuring that the heat your feet make stays in the boot. 

Protect your extremities 

Boots are one way to help your feet stay happy and healthy during winter hiking. Feet, toes, and fingers are often at the highest risk of developing frostbite due to the poor levels of circulation and presence of fat in them. That means we have to take extra steps to protect all of our extremities. 

To protect your feet, wear wool socks, or at the very least, wear synthetic socks. Thick wool socks help provide a huge amount of insulation, even if your feet get a little bit wet. Make sure that the thick socks don’t make your boots too tight, as that can quickly lead to a cutoff in circulation and a faster route to frostbite.

Pack at least two extra pairs of socks, and change them halfway through the hike to make sure your feet are dry. In the winter, dry means warm.

Fleece or wool mittens with an outer waterproof layer are the best moves for the hands. I also bring an extra pair of mittens if the interior layer gets wet while I’m out there. 

Included on the list of extremities will be your ears and nose. These spots are also highly susceptible to frostbite or at least frostnip. They can be easily forgotten when dressing, but you’ll feel them get cold quickly on the trail. You can wear a neck gaiter with a fleece layer that covers your nose and cheeks with a hat or headband to take care of your ears. An easy cover-all is a balaclava, but I like to wear these in the extreme cold and add a layer for more ears over that. 

Everything else we’ve all forgotten

Other items to check off your list before hiking would be:

Sunglasses and sunscreen: The sun can be brutal in winter, especially when the snow reflects it. 

Gaiters help keep snow out of your boots and, therefore, keep your feet dry. 

Batteries die much faster in the winter as the cold will drain them. Bring spares and keep the ones you have close to your body. 

Headlamp: Daylight is sparse in the winter, and it will sneak up on you if you aren’t ready for it. Always have a headlamp, so you don’t get stuck in the dark. 

Is It Safe To Hike in the Winter?

Blankets of snow are starting to cover the ground, tucking the world in for a long winter break. Getting out on the trails we have become familiar with over the summer and fall automatically becomes a much more difficult task. Not only are they harder to find, but it can be tremendously difficult to motivate yourself to get out and hike in the winter. There are many steps to getting ready, and the experience is entirely different. 

With the right winter hiking safety tips, you can step outside with the same confidence you take in the summer. A lot of people talk about seasonal depression happening over the winter. Still, the real secret is, getting outside and hiking in the winter is a magical experience that will keep you fit and happy. 

This guide to winter hiking will bring all of the safety tips you need to get up and out with a completely different attitude about winter. 

Photo by Sead Dedić on Unsplash

Winter Hiking Safety

For starters, it’s important to point out that some aspects of winter hiking are the same as going out in the summer. You need to go prepared, check the weather, bring all the proper gear and follow the trail you choose.

While the general ideas are all the same, some specifics make hiking in the winter a completely different game. 

Check the weather

Winter weather is a tricky beast that can sneak up on you anywhere, especially in certain parts of the mountains. You are cautioned against lightning storms and heavy rain in the summer, but the winter brings whiteout snow blizzards that can sometimes last for days. 

Don’t only look at the weather that’s coming, be aware of what the past few days have brought as well. If there was a fresh dump of several feet of snow, it might require taking extra gear or precautions before hiking. A huge snowfall also means increased avalanche risk, so adjustments need to be made to your hiking route. 

When you look ahead at the weather, it can be incredibly tempting to get excited about the first sunny and clear day that winter has brought you after many clouds. What can easily go overlooked here is that clear skies often bring frigid temperatures. Those clouds you hated so much we’re holding the heat in, and now it all has gone. 

So, while the sun can feel like the greatest gift possible, it can also bring some dangerously low temperatures along with it. Don’t forget to pay attention to all the aspects of the weather, not just the little emoticon they paste in by the day of the week. 

Time your hike with the sun

Colorado is chosen by winter lovers all around because of the number of bluebird days it gets. The snow seems to magically appear overnight and leave by the time you wake up, leaving you with fresh snowfall and a bright blue sky to enjoy it under. 

As we get closer and closer to the winter solstice (December 21), the days are getting shorter and shorter. Colorado’s shortest day of the year will see only 9 hours and 21 minutes of sunlight. This is a drastic difference from the longest day of the year, where we see just under 15 hours of daylight every day. 

On top of the fewer hours of sun, the snow can make things a little trickier as well. As the sun sets, there can be an onset of “flat light,” which makes it much more difficult to see the texture of the snow and where there are bumps and grooves, making hiking in the snow a bit more difficult.

Timing your hike with the sun in the winter is incredibly important. Start your hike right when the sun comes up, and make sure you can get off the trail before the sun comes down. It will limit the length of your hikes, especially as you tend to move much slower while trudging through knee-deep snow than you can in the summer. 

Stay hydrated

One of the more challenging winter hiking safety tips to follow is to stay hydrated. No one in the world wants to drink the cold water from the cold water bottle on the exterior of your pack when hiking in the cold. Everything at this point is simply cold, and we’re trying to avoid that.

Well, yes, we’re trying to keep as warm as possible when hiking in the winter. The problem is, you need to stay hydrated to stay warm. Proper hydration allows for your blood to flow around your body smoothly. Your fingers and toes need as much blood as they can get in the wintertime to avoid getting dangerously cold. 

If you’re hiking in the extreme cold, you’ll run the risk of a water bottle freezing while you’re moving. Try wrapping your Nalgene in a wool sock to insulate it. Also, remember to buy an insulating hose cover for your water bladder. Otherwise, the water may freeze in the hose and make drinking is impossible. 

One way to stay hydrated without having to sip on one giant ice cube is to bring a thermos. They may weigh a bit more, but hot liquids will help warm you and make hydrating much more enjoyable. A cup of hot tea on the trail is one of my favorite things about winter hiking. My thermos becomes one of my best friends, going everywhere with me, even into the deepest parts of the winter backcountry. 

Try bringing tea, hot chocolate, spiced chai, or hot cider. The drinks that bring warmth along with calories are a bonus. 

Load up on Snacks

Working through the cold, your body will need to use a significantly higher number of calories to stay warm. That means that hiking in the winter is the greatest excuse this world has ever seen to snack like it’s the last day on earth. Bring all kinds of snacks along with you, especially those you don’t usually let yourself have. 

Calorie-dense snacks that you can eat while you hike are optimal for winter hiking. You can get the 280 calories that a Cosmic Brownie has to offer while on the move. Stopping often means letting your body cool down, especially if you’ve followed the old-time rule of “be bold, start cold.” 

Not only will you feel much colder if you stop more often, but it’s also harder for your muscles to start warming up again after you’ve stopped. That means making your hike even harder on yourself. Eat on the go and forget about whipping up a trailside feast while hiking in the winter. 

Dress the Part

The clothes you choose to wear out are one of the most important parts of winter or any hiking. Knowing what to wear hiking in Colorado is a skill that needs to be mastered all year round but becomes even more important when the cold sets in. 

Utilize the layering system to prepare yourself for the stop-and-go moments of a winter hike. You can throw another layer on quickly when you stop, doing so before you start to feel cold, and take it off right when you start hiking. Layers allow for more controlled temperature regulation while hiking, and that’s an essential aspect of being outside in the winter. 

The main difference in dressing yourself in the winter is that you need to remember to dress your hands and feet. The cold can make your toes and fingers highly susceptible to injury, and wearing the best socks, shoes, and gloves can be a lifesaver. Wool is the winter hiker’s best friend, as it won’t hold sweat and keeps you warmer than most other fabrics. 

Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash

Winter-Specific Safety Risks

There are some specific risks that you will inherently take by being outside in the winter. This is one of the biggest reasons we highly suggest going on any guided winter hikes before setting out on the trail by yourself. If you’ve never hiked in the winter before or maybe want some more experience at it, these guided hikes are one of the best ways to get the knowledge and skills you need. 

Avalanche Risk

Snow-capped peaks are stunning to see and photograph, but they can also be unforgiving. One of the more dangerous aspects of winter hiking is entering into avalanche terrain without knowing it. Avalanches are widespread in Colorado, and the past couple of years have been considerably more dangerous than others. This is only one of the many reasons everyone who goes out in the winter should be well-versed in avalanche safety. 

If you choose to go without a guide, we highly recommend taking an AIARE (The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education) Level One course before heading into the mountains. This course teaches you how to identify avalanche terrain, what factors increase the risk of avalanches, and how to stay safe in the backcountry. It also is a great resource to learn how to use avalanche safety gear to save yourself and the partners you hike with. 

One of the best things you can do is check conditions before heading out. Avalanche.org is a fantastic resource that shows you the level of risk in particular areas. The trick here is knowing what you are looking for, which brings us back to taking an avalanche safety course. 

To attempt to provide you with enough information about avalanches to provide the level of safety needed. What I can say is, be careful and stay out of avalanche terrain unless you genuinely know what you are doing. There are plenty of beautiful places to go with little to no risk of avalanches. 

Hypothermia and Frostbite

Cold injuries are much more common than we give them credit for. Hypothermia and frostbite are the most common and most well-known cold injuries, but conditions such as Chilblains can happen more quickly and more often. Chilblains is the inflammation of blood vessels that results in swelling, pain, and itchiness from cold exposure. While it isn’t as “serious” as frostbite, the more our bodies are exposed to the cold and not appropriately treated, the easier it is to get more injuries. 

Hypothermia is any time your body temperature starts to drop below 95 F. There are a couple of sure-fire ways that you can distinguish hypothermia from other issues while in the backcountry. 

The main signs of hypothermia will start with uncontrollable shivering that slowly moves towards slurred speech and lethargic movements. Keep in mind that this only describes mild cases of hypothermia, and when your body continues to get colder, you will experience worsening symptoms. 

Preventing hypothermia and frostbite is all about dressing appropriately, staying dry, and keeping your body fueled with food and water. Learn more about treating and preventing these two common cold injuries by taking a wilderness first aid or first responder course.